Nature

"Nature abhors a monoculture"

I’ve said many times, probably more than a couple of times in this blog, “Who is this guy?” referring to myself. For the first third (?) of my life, I was a sullen, cynical couch animal, whose only blazed trail was the triangle connecting refrigerator, television, and misshapen seat on the sofa.

That guy could never have envisioned this one, the one who glowingly quotes the Georgian farmer featured in a film by Maryn McKenna on The Plate, National Geographic’s food-focused website:

“In my mind, monocultures are the hallmark of what’s wrong in agriculture today. I learned in college physics that nature abhors a vacuum. I learned out here that what nature really abhors is a monoculture. Nature loves the symbiosis of many different species — microbial, plant, animal — all living together, one benefitting from the other.” ~ Farmer Will Harris, White Oak Pastures

Exactly! (Just to be clear, he knew it first, and I’m celebrating his words.)

I would add just a little perspective implied in his comments: Harris implies that what nature “thinks” is important, which is a point I make at the podium. By what evidence? Nature has been sustaining life on earth for 3.8 billion years. Humans arose out of nature, and are a subset of nature, just live all the other lives, and as such, should be trying to fit in, instead of trying to subvert the realm we sprang from.


Where is the line, between environment and us?

Nobody admirers a hijacker, so I’m being imprecise, at best, when I opine that “environmentalists have hijacked sustainability.” I don’t meant to impute evil at all — hell, until very recently, I’d have self-identified as one, and our aims still essentially align. And I don't mean it literally.


Wendell Berry and Allan Savory, brothers to me

A central part of the message I deliver to audiences is that nature is the only teacher of sustainability we will ever need. It’s been sustaining life on earth for 3.8 billion years, while humans have been upright only for about 200,000 years; the experience gap is obvious.

 I am not, of course, the originator of this idea, that humans are part of nature, not apart and certainly not above it, and the most prudent direction for all of us is to follow nature’s lead. I wouldn’t cast that as an absolute, but only because absolutes are bad every time.


For friends of the apple, a must-read

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In my waning days as an editor at the Hartford Courant in 1993, I was invited into the uber-geeky, somehow uber-cool Les Amies du Pomme (that's French, and I'm not, so I'm sure at least part of that is wrong). It was a cabal of nature-loving colleagues who would buy heirloom apples from rural Connecticut roadside stands and bring them to our private sampling table in the break room.


LEED controversy, the sequel

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When you write for a big newspaper, you get fact-checked by your readers if something slips through the lines of defense that editors represent. That sometimes happens on a blog, too, but since I haven't yet reached the hundreds-of-thousands-of-readers-per-day stratum, I also try to send my posts to the people most described or affected, so they can point out my errors, should there be any.

I sent last week's report on NESEA's public forum to Henry Gifford and Brendan Owens, who each, very nicely, pointed out facets of the report they thought could be better.


A naturalist who doesn't love the outdoors

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In addition to my continued opening to the biomimicry movement, I'm presently reading "Naturalist," E.O. Wilson's autobiography — I was moved, in part, to pick it up recently because I knew that he would be closing the GreenBuild conference last month with Janine Benyus, the biologist who is credited with coining the term biomimicry and who, with Dayna Baumeister, founded the Biomimicry Guild.

Before they sat together, Wilson and Benyus each addressed the very large crowd separately, and she opened her remarks remembering the "microwilderness" behind her house in suburban New Jersey, and how she used to spend as much time as she could out there, observing and communing with the organisms who lived there. Very quickly, she conveyed her love for that place, and the sorrow and offense she felt when the bulldozers came to start phase two of her subdivision.

The story dovetailed (note bio allusion!) very neatly with the tales Wilson tells in his book at greater length, the substance of which he acknowledged when they came together on the stage couch. Both these people went out of doors and fell in lifelong love. I can't relate. I played out of doors too, climbing on rock faces and playing war in the brush in places that also have since fallen to the dozers' blades, but I somehow missed the forest for the trees. They were just there, and so were the animals — musta been. But they didn't capture me.


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