In Our Nature

“They say I’m old-fashioned, and live in the past, but sometimes I think progress progresses too fast!”

                                                ~ The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

When I first started a garden, I rented a rototiller to break up the stiff soil, made neat rows and added fertilizer with every seed. It worked out reasonably well, but I couldn’t help but notice the garden of the old guy down the block that was just incredible. I would walk down the alley to see what he did that was special.

I never saw him using commercial fertilizers. He turned the soil with a garden fork, mixing in the compost from a pile he maintained at the back of the yard. His watering system was pretty much just a hose and sprinkler, with a strategically-positioned lawn chair pulled up under the shade tree. Once I saw him spraying some plants, and asked about it. He told me he pulled weeds by hand and never used pesticides or weed killer. He noted that he had some aphids, but was killing them with water and some dish soap. He liked the old ways.

I started my own compost pile with fall leaves, mown grass, kitchen scraps and most of last year’s debris from the garden. There was no fancy equipment or even periodic turning. After the first year, I was able to collect a fine mass of loamy, aromatic, rich soil that I turned back into the vegetable garden. Now I find that I have enough to spread the compost into the flower beds, shrubbery, and even share with my neighbors who periodically add their own debris to my pile.

It feels good to work in the garden, to get dirty and sweaty and feel that you have accomplished something. I like to think in terms of working with nature, not against it. Some plants just want to be in a certain place — so I let them. The critters that live in my garden support the idea of collaboration, as well.

The Guardian’s Amy Fleming quotesresearcher Shoshanna Saxe, “For many of our challenges, we don’t need new technologies or new ideas; we need the will, foresight and courage to use the best of the old ideas.”

Fleming adds, “Saxe is right. In fact, she could go further. There’s old, and then there’s old — and for urban landscapes increasingly vulnerable to floods, adverse weather, carbon overload, choking pollution and an unhealthy disconnect between humans and nature, there’s a strong case for looking beyond old technologies to ancient technologies.”

Human civilization has brought with it a whole bevy of induced problems, from air and water pollution to global warming. We’ve concentrated population into smaller and smaller areas with heightened densities, and have often crowded out the very features that made those areas livable. Congestion and pollution, flooding, heat islands — all are exacerbated by dense urbanization and removal of the original natural features.

However, many are now seeing that a so-called return to nature can have striking benefits. Fleming pronounces, “It is eminently possible to weave ancient knowledge of how to live symbiotically with nature into how we shape the cities of the future, before this wisdom is lost forever. We can rewild our urban landscapes, and apply low-tech ecological solutions to drainage, wastewater processing, flood survival, local agriculture and pollution that have worked for indigenous peoples for thousands of years…”

“There are so many different ways you can rewild cities,” says lecturer Julia Watson, ”… and it’s not just a case of plonking an ancient system in a city, but rather adapting complex ecosystems for different types of places with their own unique requirements … You can leapfrog and embed local intelligence, using a nature-based traditional Chinese technology that’s climate resilient, ecologically resilient and culturally resilient. And we can make beautiful urban spaces with them as well.”

“A study in Madison, Wisconsin found that urban temperatures can be 5 percent cooler with 40 percent tree cover. Green roofs with high vegetation density can cool buildings by up to 60 percent. Or you could just think like a bug: architects are mimicking the natural cooling airflows of termite burrows.”

If we understand what nature can do for us — is doing for us now — then maybe we can learn to adapt  our ways into nature’s. Use vegetation to reduce heat islands. Use wetlands to reduce storm flows and absorb pollutants. Adapt to the environment you have rather than changing it into something else.

 After all, it’s in our nature.

Additional information:

Amy Fleming, The Case for Making Low-Tech ‘Dumb’ Cities Instead of ‘Smart’ Ones, January 15, 2020, The Guardian

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