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  • Live and Let Live

    Environment, Environmental Design

    I have come to believe there are two kinds of gardeners. The first kind is constantly plagued by pests. Slugs eat her lettuce, white flies devour her broccoli, and birds steal her blueberries. She sprays her plants with every known pesticide she can find, chases the birds away with screams and tantrums, and generally tears her hair out over every berry eaten or hole made in her lettuce leaves. It is an ongoing war, with this gardener and her plants on one side, and the pests that plague them on the other.

    Then, there is the second kind of gardener: the kind who plants enough for everyone.

    The primary difference between these two gardeners is their world view. The first sees a world of scarcity: every berry lost to a predator is a berry that should belong to her. The second gardener sees a world of abundance: although she too has slugs and aphids and birds, she plants extra, and there is always more than enough for everyone.

    How amazing is nature, that functions on an ROI of a hundred or more? One broccoli seed can not only produce four or five heads of broccoli but, if let go to seed, the plant will produce hundreds of seeds for a hundred more plants. Most beautifully, it does this all with sunlight, carbon dioxide, soil nutrients, and water; it produces no toxic waste in the process, and when its life cycle ends, it gives back every nutrient it’s taken and then some. Has anything humans created ever matched this amazing process?

    I have not been gardening long - about three years - but it’s a funny thing to live and let live. I planted my first garden for myself, only to realize that in doing so, I had inadvertently planted a garden for all the other creatures that live in my backyard as well - some of whom have lived there longer than me!

    The Native Americans, they say, sold their land to the white man cheaply because the sale of land was such a foreign concept to them. Sell the land? How can a person own land? The slugs, the bees and birds, the weeds and seeds, they all invade my garden whether I like it or not. If anyone “owns” the land, it’s the creatures who live in and on it. Having realized I am not the only stakeholder on “my” land, I make it a point to plant extra. It costs me a little more time and money, but so what? The price of abundance is practically a steal when you factor in the value of harmony and peace of mind. Biodiversity, more often than not, produces enough for everyone, and then some. Last summer I actually had to compost some cucumbers because I couldn’t give enough away! Perhaps it is this belief - that our own point of view is the only one that matters - that starts wars in the first place (as Ray LaMontagne says, “This fist begets this spear...”). Daniel Quinn uses an analogy of the lion and the gazelle to shed light our seemingly clueless self-absorption; he says some days, the lion catches the gazelle, and though the gazelle dies, the lion lives. Other days, the gazelle escapes, and the lion starves to death. Although this has been going on for hundreds of years, neither lion or gazelle wastes time or energy bemoaning its fate. Humans, on the other hand, presume to know when and why the lion should live or starve.

    Does it matter to a snow pea if it is eaten by an aphid or a human, or even the earth itself, should it rot on the vine? Humans, in their arrogance, presume that all gifts of the earth should belong to them, that their labor’s rewards should not be shared with other creatures. Where does this selfishness come from? What of the pea plant’s work? Does it grow solely for the nourishment of others? Or is it like the gazelle, just trying to survive long enough to propagate and retain its presence in the gene pool?

    Who are we to start a war, to hoard nature’s bounty for the sole enjoyment of our species? Sometimes I think we humans are the maddest of creatures. We not only fight with other animals; we fight among ourselves! We are like the first gardener, seeing only scarcity. If we truly looked at nature, we would see she is in the habit of producing enough for everyone, providing we share.

    Every time I am in my garden, I learn something. This morning, for instance, I noticed that, although one out of every four strawberries I picked was half-eaten by a slug or worm, I still got three perfect ones. Let the slugs have the fourth, I say.

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