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May 21, 2011

By the time you read this, I will be out in the garden planting tomatoes and peppers – finally. In between the rain showers, the storms and the cold front that moved in last week, dropping night time temperatures into the high 30s and low 40s, I managed to get the garden turned, composted and fertilized. We’re still expecting some rain every day next week, but the temperatures have returned to normal and look as if they’ll stay that way. Time to get those veggies in the ground.

We have a fairly long growing season here. The first hard frost doesn’t usually arrive until mid October, so I’m hoping that getting the May vegetables into the ground a week late won’t do much of anything but fool those bugs that time their arrival to certain stages of plant growth. I’m grateful I haven’t been flooded out, at many people in the surrounding area and those along the Mississippi River have been. But the last two weeks of trying to work around the rain got me thinking again about adapting.

In the meantime, I read an interesting article by John Michael Greer, over at the Archdruid Report blogspot, titled The Tyranny of the Temporary.  If you haven’t read it, it’s worth checking out.

In the article, he talks about our penchant as a species for “treating temporary phenomena as permanent conditions” and how dangerous that is, especially in light of the problems we face, now.

To that danger, I would add our penchant for confusing our ability to adapt nature’s resources to our needs with our need to adapt to nature and its resources. They are not the same and, in that assumption, we have removed ourselves from within nature and placed ourselves outside it. Draining a river or an aquifer to grow crops or build cities in the desert may temporarily “adapt” nature to our needs, but it does not mean we have adapted to nature. In the end, the natural process of desertification will recur and reclaim the land as we drain away the water and destroy the environment that natural processes built there – not only for us, but for those life forms that had adapted.

Nature is a blind series of processes – earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, fire, hurricanes, tornadoes – that, as a byproduct, continually build, destroy and rebuild the environments in which life evolved and in which life can sustain itself. Either life adapts as those environments change or it dies off. All living things use resources in their environment to sustain themselves. There is nothing inherently “wrong” about that, but, as Greer points out, if we assume those resources and that environment are permanent, that we can use them without understanding their cyclical or impermanent nature, we are in for a world of hurt.

Some people, seeing this, think we must “save the environment,” as if nature were the particular environment or climate we exist in right now. I don’t think this is true. I think that, if we changed these environments, this climate cycle in such a way that every living thing on the earth died off, the processes of nature would go on – plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanoes, the water cycle and climate cycles – would continue on without us. Perhaps in the far future, life would evolve again if an environment conducive to it evolved; perhaps not. However, nature would still be building, destroying and rebuilding until the sun spent its last fuel.

My best guess is that what we have to save is our ability to, once again, adapt to and live within nature and the environments it creates; that we will not save anything by insisting that we exist outside of nature and can somehow “re-adapt” it to our needs if we just tinker with it enough. We’ve altered our environments and changed the climate cycles in ways that may lead to our extinction. We won’t be able to change them back. If change comes in time, it will only be by changing ourselves and our relationship to those processes that brought them about. For a long time, I thought the environmental movement might “save us”. I no longer think that. I truly believe that we must each save ourselves.

This is why I garden, why I forage my own yard and work to understand and adapt to the changing cycles of climate and environment I exist within right now. I work to change and simplify my lifestyle in light of diminishing resources. I do what I can to encourage others to seek out their own path back, but nature does not adapt to us; we either find a way to adapt within it, or we die as a species. I truly believe it’s that simple and that profound.

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2 Responses to Adapting

  1. John Ludi says:

    Very well said…and very true.

    In the here and now I decry our seeming inability to choose a gentler path in the world (if only out of enlightened self-interest), but when I take the longer view I understand that the Earth has it’s own cycles of destruction and renewal.

    Who knows…maybe the next wave of explosive post-cataclysmic adaptation will bring a whole host of beings that will be able to adapt to all the plastic and radiation we leave behind.

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