Biomimicry, pesticides and emotions: a fairly profound thought (for me)

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Walking in to work this morning I had an aha moment; I was watching someone spray their yard with Roundup and memories started to flood back. Sometimes Monkey mind can provide a great journey.

Several years after finishing a degree in Environmental Studies I decided to go travel and teach. My goal was to spend time in Nepal and the first organization to respond to my request to do voluntary work suggested I learn something about Permaculture before arriving in Kathmandu. I chose to study in Australia where the concepts had originated and in particular to go and meet the man who had initially pulled the ideas together. Bill Mollison is an incredible person, not so much an original thinker as a watcher of natural processes and a collector of amazing practices and he had created a two week Permaculture Design Course (PDC). This did more to give me a framework for all the random bits of information that I had collected in my lifetime than 3 years in college ever did and also the tools to make the rest of my travels positive for myself and the farmers I met along the way. Something it might help to know is that Permaculture is based on watching what nature does, recognizing her patterns and endeavouring to have her do work for you.

One vivid memory I have sees me in a remote village in Nepal. I am sat on my haunches on the mud floor of a simple straw hut surrounded by farmers and their sons. I am telling them about how the chemicals they have been sold by western companies to help their crops have been banned in the west, in fact they are known as the dirty dozen; there are tears sliding down my cheeks.

Something I learned during the PDC was to ask why things were happening the way they were. If a certain weed is growing it is providing something that is needed by the soil, if I can figure out what the soil needs then I can take care of it, if I poison the weed, then ultimately I am going to poison the soil around it. The bottom line is that things happen for a reason.

I have another vivid memory of a session in a hot, dry Australian classroom that explained natural succession and planting accordingly. Two years earlier I had planted oak trees for an organization in cold, wet Wales, and it did not seem right. Now half way around the world, armed with a simple model I was able to picture the whole natural succession that allows an oak to grow. Firstly, a weed; often bracken, grows, sending down enormous tap roots, deep mining the soil for minerals and then leaving a dense mulch layer on the top. Then a plant like gorse pops through, it is a nitrogen fixer and is prickly and keeps animals away. After a while, birch pushes its way up through the gorse. Birch grows for 30 years, it spaces the oak and helps these big trees grow straight and tall before it too dies out and gives the oak the space it needs to thrive. The take home lesson is it might be more productive to plant one of the earlier species in the succession rather than the tree you want to grow, especially if the soils are not ready to provide for it.

Wandering past this lady with her Roundup, I was wondering what the soil actually needed, I was also debating what the end result of her actions were going to be. She certainly was not solving the problem, even if the symptom was going to “disappear” for a while. What were the side effects? Was her dog going to notice what was happening to his stomach having inhaled the fine mist? I believe we become desensitized to the idea of pesticides because it is now so mainstream. (Red Herring Alert: How sad is it that I have to go out of my way to buy food that is natural and unsullied by human tampering?)

Here though is my realization. If I consider my emotions in the same way that Bill helped me to see nature then rather than trying to deal with symptoms I need to see what is underlying them. For a number of years I have been trying to fix things that I see as problems, basically I have been spraying Roundup. Now I need a different model for dealing with the “issues” in my life. The difficult part is going to be finding a framework that worked as effectively as figuring out the natural succession of a Welsh oak wood while sitting in a room in Australia. Another friend of mine who is the chair of a psychology department suggested I start with Erikson & Maslow – I love both men’s theories however I am looking for something that I can figure out for myself, based on my own observations, in the same way as I did the oak wood.

I do not have a question for you today, I will though happily take suggestions.

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