Looking to nature

Looking to nature
Jacqui van Heerden

Things are changing in our world, particularly our environment. Questions are posed.   What is the new way forward?

The current hierarchical growth at all costs systems which favour the few and which we have participated in, are obviously not working for the natural environment, nor us because our wellbeing is intrinsically linked to our planet’s wellbeing.   

To paraphrase Einstein, “problems cannot be solved with the same way of thinking that created them”. Most of us have been educated in a system that grooms us to contribute in the current paradigm, so where will the new knowledge or thinking come from?

We can’t all run to the hills to start again, hide, or opt out, especially now with prices in the bush and on the coast favouring a few and travel to potential untouched lands limited.

Nature is a self-organising system that keeps regenerating itself powered by the sun’s energy and will continue to exist beyond our short time on Earth. This occurs despite how we have wreaked havoc on nature since the Industrial Age with our excessive consumption and lack of foresight about setting limits.

Survival of the fittest is giving way to a more scientifically accurate and more positive theory of evolution, one that emphatises the role of cooperation, interaction and mutual dependence among all life forms.

New insights are disputing the dualistic worldview of “survival of the fittest in the struggle for life” and genetic mechanisms as the metrics determining species’ survival.

This has seen us pit ourselves against each other for the prize, giving scientific legitimacy to the use of power, greed and violence to “advance” civilisations.  Epigenetic science and the Human Genome Project is showing cooperation as the impulse to how our world evolved.

Nature is full of these examples. Trees in a forest share resources with each other through their roots even with species different to them. See the documentary Intelligent Trees featuring German forester and bestseller Peter Wohlleben and researchers from the University of British Columbia.

In a simple compost pile, there are insects and microorganisms that each work together to break down a certain part of the organic matter into something that they can use and then something than can be used by another organism ensuring each organism is “fed” and plays their part in the whole. Each having different characteristics and “gifts” that keep the whole system going.

In a disturbed landscape – nature sends in the weeds or pioneer plants that have robust characteristics that other plants don’t. They populate the area with their prolific seeds and deep tap roots to crack the disturbed land creating pathways for water and air to flow so that the soil structure changes, and different plants (the grasses) can then inhabit. And so forth – succession occurs to move nature to a stable state suitable to that climate – stable old growth forests like those remaining in Russia where no-one prunes, burns, adds fertiliser, tills – what do they show us?

Seasons and the moon indicate to nature times to move on things, times to be still, time to reflect, time to adapt and wither. Plants respond accordingly to these rhythms with root, flower, seed and leaf growth. As our body comprises a significant amount of water, does the moon provide a cycle for us to follow to ensure we are rejuvenated, less stressed and can move with clarity and optimal wellness?

Sunrise and sunset are other significant timings in nature where nature responds accordingly an indication for certain creatures to go to sleep and others to awake – each fulfilling a niche that complements and provides space for each other.

Plants require specific growing conditions for them to thrive and grow – certain amounts of sunlight, soil conditions, some plants don’t like windy spots, wet feet, root competition or are heavy feeders. And each plant plays a particular role in the overall system. Plants get diseased and struggle when the conditions are not right i.e., when they are stressed. Companion planting and guilds show us how plants can work together.

Each seed, however small, contains within it all the information it needs – it knows how to grow its roots, when to flower, when to grow leaves, the form and structure of its flowers and leaves and it knows when it’s time to bear fruit and seed.

Creatures move under, over, through these various systems. Thousands of insects move across our gardens and landscapes spreading a thin mist of their fertilising manure.   

Working with and observing nature everywhere there is underlying harmony based on working together and an understanding of roles and the niche fulfilled to ensure the overall wellbeing of the whole. An order, timing, one system supporting another to support the whole. Everyone has seen enough David Attenborough documentaries to understand this pattern.

We are the only component creating disharmony. We have lost our orientation to the whole.

How do we return from a consumptive linear growth structure to a cooperative, collaborative nature-based way of being? Are some of the ways nature operates a guide for us in these times? •

The Bridal Lament opens at Arts House

The Bridal Lament opens at Arts House

May 15th, 2024 - Georgie Atkins
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