Adapt or die – I see that phrase in many contexts. The business and financial realms are especially fond of it. This evolutionary imperative has been on my mind a lot lately. On the minds of many, of course, are the political earthquakes – not to mention the geological ones – shaking many parts of the world, leaving us slack-jawed by the pace of change. I’m more concerned about the impacts of rapid change on my beloved green world.
Around the globe, the natural world has been taking more hard hits to its stability than humanity has ever had to deal with before. Whole ecosystems are disappearing, species extinction rates are soaring, and of perhaps more immediate concern to humans, water availability and potable quality are no longer givens in parts of the world and even my own United States. Arable soils are becoming more rare, air quality more erratic. And increasingly unpredictable weather patterns are creating difficulties for humanity and the natural world.
One thing seems certain: we can’t go back. Humanity has irretrievably altered the blue-green jewel upon which all life depends. Our choices are clear: adapt or die. Thus, my Thanksgiving meditation this year is to try my best to be grateful for change.
No, this is not some Pollyanna pipedream. I am not suggesting we all don rose-colored glasses. I am suggesting that we recognize that change is almost always an opportunity for growth. New ideas can rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of chaos – ideas that can create doors to new worlds.
For the last several months, I’ve been reading a lot, and thinking hard about how I can contribute to a transformation that will permit much of my beloved green world to survive without any remaining wild lands on our planet. A number of good minds are working on this. You can see the evidence in a growing number of places around the world – green roofs that grow food, solar panels generating clean power, wind turbines that don’t kill birds but still generate energy, sustainable agricultural practices. These are exciting developments – and I am grateful for all of them.
But where does this leave native wildlife? Where do the native pollinators – without which our food chain breaks beyond repair – shelter, feed, and reproduce? Where do the native birds that eat pest insects shelter and raise their families? Where will the forests and prairies, the trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses be able to thrive when they are being increasingly displaced by bulldozers and concrete, invasive non-native plants and animals, and climate change?
Many experts believe the answer lies with the force that disrupted the Earth’s natural processes: humanity. But for this to work, all of humanity must agree to change old ingrained habits, replacing them with new adaptations that will improve the survival chances of the natural world – and the humans who rely on it.
“But,” I’ve been asking myself, “I am one plant-obsessed gardener in the southeastern piedmont region of the United States? What can I do?”
I am starting by doing my best to be grateful for change. I am endeavoring to embrace this new reality as an opportunity to advocate for the implementation of a new gardening paradigm that every suburban homeowner, urban condo-dweller, and farmer can adopt. In short, we must transform every speck of green space remaining into actively managed gardens. We can work to make them as self-sustaining as possible, but with the clear understanding that natural processes on this earth are now too disrupted to maintain themselves without at least occasional human intervention. These green spaces will never resemble the wild places of even fifty years ago. But they can serve as the critical refuges needed to maintain the insects and animals we need to put food on our tables, to clean our air and water, to keep Earth’s biological engines running.
In future posts, I will describe some of the changes I am planning to make to my five acres of southeastern piedmont. I am basing these plans on some of what I’ve been reading, but attempting to adapt it to work for small landowners. For this change to take hold and work, even suburban homeowners with quarter-acre lots will need to revise their thinking about their landscapes. And the real estate industry, home-owners associations, government regulators, and construction industry must join us in the 21st century, accepting that old practices cannot be sustained in the face of the rapid deterioration of the natural world upon which, ultimately, we all rely.
I invite my readers to join me in this challenging exercise of being grateful for change. You might want to add these two books to your winter reading list. I’ll be writing about both of them in future posts:
- Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West
- The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben
The green world has always been a refuge for me. It is where I have always turned to lift my spirits, nurturing me body and soul. It has never failed me. This blog has been part of my way of giving back some of the blessings I have received from my lifelong relationship with the natural word. But now I think perhaps it is time to try to do more, and pray that others will join me.
This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for change, because it has given me the opportunity to do more than merely describe all the aspects of the natural world that I love. Now I have a chance to try to help preserve it. Of course, I may just be a dotty old woman tilting at windmills, but in this adapt-or-die world in which we all now live, I feel obliged to holler “Charge!” and see where this mission takes me.
I know I cannot stop change, nor do I wish to. But perhaps I can help steer the changes impacting the natural world toward less devastating directions. Random change can be terrifying, but metamorphosis is miraculous.
May we all find ways to create positive transformations for ourselves — and our world.
#1 by Donna Deal on November 24, 2016 - 8:19 am
Catherine, you continue to inspire me. I am certainly thankful for your writing, and for the encouragement for us all to find a positive way to put our energy and emotions.
#2 by piedmontgardener on November 24, 2016 - 8:25 am
Thanks so much for your kind words, Donna! I appreciate them greatly. I am thankful for readers like you, especially the ones who leave comments — thereby reassuring me that I’m not merely talking/writing to myself. 🙂
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!
#3 by pussytoes on November 24, 2016 - 11:01 am
This is a brilliant post. It makes me even more excited about our new professional relationship. You will be popular in these parts when your columns start circulating. Have a lovely harvest day.
#4 by piedmontgardener on November 24, 2016 - 11:33 am
Thanks, Mara! I, too, am excited about this new opportunity.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.
#5 by Mike Sepelak on November 26, 2016 - 9:22 am
A pragmatic look at our new realities. Enough with the hand-wringing and lamentations about what is lost. Let’s do what we can, as individuals (for that’s where it has to start), to not lose any more. Thanks for this, Cathy.
#6 by piedmontgardener on November 26, 2016 - 11:31 am
Hi, Mike! It’s great to hear from you. As always, thanks for your support — and for stopping by!
#7 by Alan on November 28, 2016 - 9:57 am
Excellent and inspiring post. Thanks for the reading suggestions…I’m also planning to check out “The Living Landscape” by Rick Darke. It was mentioned on one of my favorite episodes of Growing a Greener World. Keep fighting the good fight!
#8 by piedmontgardener on November 28, 2016 - 10:18 am
Thanks, Alan! Rick Darke’s book is another excellent choice; his photos are spectacular. And for anyone unfamiliar with the great PBS show Alan mentions, here’s a link to get you started: http://www.growingagreenerworld.com
Thanks for stopping by, Alan!