“The earth is not in trouble. We are.”
An errant plant can deliver a very powerful message. I realized this a couple of days ago as I walked the asphalt trail skirting the desert and my neighborhood. I usually go late in the day to enjoy a beautiful sunset, and I travel alertly. A beautiful white Samoyed I walked with for fourteen years taught me to pay attention, and I have discovered that nature often has an eloquent voice.
The trail is well-constructed and may have been established as long as five years ago, but I have been here only about a year. I soon realized that two different kinds of cacti have found amenable flaws in the asphalt, but something entirely new is afoot this spring. A plant with frilly leaves as gritty on their surface as a nail file has begun to erupt like a volcano under pristine surfaces. This seems to be a community effort, with eruptions in clusters.
As I kneeled to take a picture of the tough little invader, I felt a surge of respect. This is a familiar feeling in the desert simply because survival is such a challenge–or so it seems to the human observer–and things are getting a lot more so. The daily temperature has been many degrees warmer than “normal” for most of this spring. It varies by neighborhood, but the maximum amount of rainfall recorded in the area is just over one inch so far this year. I suspect that there has been less than half an inch out here.
One notices that the plant specimens vary widely annually depending on rainfall, the character of winter, and temperatures. This weed must have started from a seed beneath the asphalt, a toxic zone of impenetrable darkness. Just imagine the will and the mobilization of energy required to burst through into the sunlight. Why now? Is there something about soil temperature that has signaled opportunity? Has the deepening drought spoken to it in a special way? Has the specimen’s consciousness worked out a strategy over several years that has finally succeeded?
A friend who is a master landscape architect has written a beautiful little book called Removing My Seed Coat about the teaching for humans in the traumatic moment when the seed splits and growth begins. A question is posed: “Am I a mistake/Or a gift?” I decided that the weed was a gift. I could have pulled it up to preserve the path, but I found its presence oddly comforting.
I have just finished reading this wonderful book by environmentalist Paul Gilding called The Great Disruption. He is an Australian, and I like the blunt way he puts things, namely that the global climate crisis will bring the end to economic growth and very soon. That will be the least of our problems, however, as simple survival becomes an issue for billions dependent on inadequate food supplies.
Near the end of his book, Gilding recalls how early environmentalists tried to mobilize the public with the call to “Save the Planet.” However, he points out that the planet is just fine. It may take a million years or a hundred million years, but it is perfectly capable over time of eliminating every trace of our existence here. The earth is not in trouble. We are.
So I left the weed untouched. It reminds me of the respect we should feel for all of nature–for the beauty, the complexity, and the resilience that has enabled just over half of its diversity to survive in spite of our dominion. If it ultimately destroys the asphalt trail, so be it. Our path through this world has been extremely invasive. Perhaps the repair has begun.
(Removing My Seed Coat by Elizabeth Robecheck is available at www.eartheartworks.net.)