A professor of mine, let’s call him Professor S teaching ecological restoration, emphasized connection to place and the power of love. That lesson dawned on me today as I thought about the love I felt for a parcel of woods my family and I recently invested in. I considered how my love for the place drew me to work with it, enjoy it, improve it. When we conventionally consider ‘improving’ land, we’re talking about turning the natural environment into the build environment. As I considered this, I realized a lesson that applies far wider than my situation: love what grows.
To improve the parcel, I could buy bricks and bring tools. Or, I could use what grows on site to satisfy my necessities. The trees which provide wood also provide so many other goods – tangible and abstract benefits to both me, the place itself, and the surrounding environment.
Professor S told a story, an example of ecological restoration. Here’s a story about that story: Our class had just arrived at a tropical resort of sorts, during our ecological restoration field trip to Chiapas, Mexico. This resort felt embedded in wilderness – on the way to our cabins I saw an owl, a frog, a small mammal I’d never seen before, and heard howler monkeys in the distance. Our professor said the forest had not long ago been degraded as pasture – cattle ranching is a status symbol and apparently lucrative business for a wealthy few, laying bare vast tracts of Latin America. When the current stewards gained ownership of the land, the place was highly degraded1. Professor S asked these stewards what the key to their success was, and he was half-surprised to hear “love”. Such a simple answer, he asked for more complex details. There were hardly more details to give though, just stories about loving specific things and in-turn enjoying their success2.
In light of Professor S’s story, at that time about two years ago, I was deeply touched by the power of love to bring about growth. Now I see this from another angle: the power of growth to bring about love. I think in traditional ecological knowledge, indigenous peoples have such deep love for that which grows – the forest and its inhabitants – because it has stood the test of time and proven resilient, providing a complex array of goods and services.
The airplane decays. The bird grows. Even the bird dies, but its generations grow unto the ages. Love the bird. The airplane decays too, with it having no real ‘growth’ once it has been ‘born’. Love not the airplane, but the living idea and concept and engineering of the aircraft, for that abstract essence is a thing which grows.
There is no need to hate the airplane, or the shovel, but we do well to not worship or admire these stagnant things too fondly, for these things decay and are no greater than the human hands and creations that craft them. Love what grows, and see where it goes.