February 4th, 2015
The place that I live is short grass prairie. A place is the sum of the sun, wind, rain, rock, and the plants and creatures that live there. Each part interacts with the other parts to make each place unique – but we classify them – and my place is classified short grass prairie. It is a place with too little water and too much fire to grow trees on its own. On its own this place climaxes with grass – disturb it and then leave it alone and it will return to grass.
I have lived in this place some 55 years. It is home to me. The long hot clear summer days. The long delays between moisture. The dry mild winters. I try to observe its patterns. I try to understand how all the parts interact.
When my family moved here in '54 there were no trees. Our acre was subdivided from a bigger farm – this place was the turkey yard. Since then we have added things – trees and flowers, lawns and gardens – some things take hold – some things die out. I work at gardening here. I have had great success with some things some years and then I have had years when the hail flattened the garden just when it was showing promise. There have been years when the voles or the squirrels seemed to eat most everything; years when it is too cold for some things; years when it is too hot for some things.
I live in this place. I create it but in truth, it creates me.
This concept I am playing with – living in place – is not unlike the concept of living in the moment. It is being aware of the forces playing out around us, only we follow those forces from moment to moment. Living in the moment seems to imply that we are merely observers and not actors. To live in place requires us to act – or rather interact. We react to place as it reacts to us.
My place supports me and I support it. We are a team – the sun, wind, rain, rock, plants, creatures and me – that makes our place unique. I know that I can enhance it and I do what I can. I know that I can diminish it and I try not to do that. I know that I am not in control – the best I have is influence – the place will be what it will.
When I read descriptions of enlightenment – realizing oneness and releasing desire – I sometimes think it must be like living in place - to fit fully and completely within the forces playing out around and through us. But those descriptions seem to make the enlightened solely observers – living in the moment. Compared to living in place, it is a abdication of responsibility to interact – to create place as you are created by it.
A prairie builds soil by maintaining a balance between grass leaf and grass root. The more leaf there is the more root is grown. Then, when the buffalo come by and eat the leaf, the grass plant sheds root, and the roots decompose, and in the spring the decomposed roots hold the moisture to support the growth of new leaf and new root. In my place we honor that process. We let the grass grow each spring as tall as the moisture will let it – and then cut it once – and let it go dormant. The grass I cut is mulch for the garden. The grass plants that go dormant will shed root that will build soil that will support more grass next spring – and my interaction enhances the capacity of this place to produce grass – like the buffalo did before me.
Each part of this place interacts with every other part of this place. The place itself expands and contracts in the volume of life from season to season and, if I do my part, increases the opportunity for new life over the years. There was a time when our elm trees were badly infested with elm beetles and I thought about cutting out all the elm trees but this place adjusted and new bird species came to eat the beetles and they are no longer a problem. There were a few years without late frosts when the ash trees were severely infested with ash saw fly – but we have had late frost recently and no saw flies. Nature will balance itself – one way or another.
I do not use poisons in my place. It is clear to me that using poisons diminishes the capacity of this place to produce life. And the more life the better. People talk about using beneficial insects instead of poisons in their garden. They think of it as if they could hire a sentry and have them stand guard. It doesn't work that way. The only way to have lady beetles is to grow aphids. The only way to have a full and healthy array of living things in a place is to welcome all life there.
That transaction between plant and aphid and lady beetle is not mysterious. It makes sense to us in terms of our own place in the food web. But consider how the sum of all transactions in a food web creates this thing that we call ecosystem, or environment, or each unique place on earth. It is truly a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.
We generally do not, however, carry the understandings we gain from nature into the interactions between humans. If you ever ran a business you will understand parts of this. In each economic transaction there are those same sorts of relationships – except it's not about predator and prey. When you are trying to sell a product or service to a customer, your primary concern is not about what the business gets out of it. It is about what value you can deliver to the customer. Unless you can deliver that value you will lose the customer, and all the referrals that a happy customer might make. If you lose enough customers, then you can't pay your bills, and the economy contracts. On the other hand if you can deliver that value, you will attract more customers, possibly expand, buy more supplies and the economy expands.
Living in place does not stop at the relationships in your garden. My place also includes other people. And other people have things and skills and needs. And this thing we call economy is the sum of the transactions between people that occur in this place – in the same way that an ecosystem is the sum of the transactions between plants and creatures in a place. We can enhance the economy by participating in it. We can diminish the economy by preventing the transfer of value. No one of us is in control but living in place means understanding that we create the economy as we are created by it.