Our patterning on general versus specific seems to wax and wane collectively with the rest of the living world- from seasons to breath, predictable patterns create stability and abundance. In the current world economy of exponential profit growth, our natural rhythms of survival have been thrown from the tracks, slowly evolving into mindless indulgence.
Our species, the human species, embraces blindly, but quite passionately. We’ve been lead into complete darkness, shown cave paintings of paradise. Outside these dark caves, the seasons keep changing, and life as a whole goes on. Humans have stopped adapting and started consuming. It’s been a slow invasion. Tribal bands roamed (and still do), leave little trace. The light footed symbiotic relationship between people and their home turned into gluttonous indulgence for a few at the cost of everyone, and everything else. Once a people settled in, concrete blocks covered the soil to hold permanent shelter off the ground. Petroleum rivers of asphalt parking, utility meters humming away- as soon as we gave up transience for stability in community, we gave in to governance.
There are so many currents to swim against, political, personal, professional, and fighting drains us like the waters pouring down a slope into churning rivers. When the waters flood over banks and into backyards, we keep fighting, and anger at environment grows. Why sit and suffer the obvious consequences? Perhaps because we the people are taught our wisdom and dominion reign over this earth. Yet we trivialize the very weather, which in this time of great change, rocks the very foundations of our city infrastructure. Should we keep building walls to hold back an ever rising tide? That’s the human model- retrain and pacify the wilds for our organized computing. Our economy wants easy profit, whatever the cost to nature, a bound resource- bought and paid for as object. Human desire compartmentalizes the world into slices of pie, and if we’re playing the scarcity game, there are not enough slices for everyone, which is why we implement laws and armies to oversee these critical resources.
A project much closer to home has recently brought this aggro-control short sighted human flaw to EEC Forest Stewardship. When planning out earthworks at the start of restoration on this land, swales, catchment basins, and a pond were dug, we knew the soil content would not be conducive to holding the water in, as glacial till littered the landscape with gravel and sand. Out pond design was ambitious- 30′ diameter and 15′ depth- large enough to swim in, keep fish, offer fire defense, and retain a large amount of water on the landscape for wildlife. Blue Heron, Kingfisher, Hooded Merganser, Wood Duck, Mallard, and Swallows have used the water feature since implementation. We’ve kept a population of fish and seen them reproducing with success. The water level can drop quite low in summer, but never dries out completely. Seasonal springs and multi-day rain events fill the pond, but it never reached spillover or retaines full volume for long. That’s where the human meddling goes a bit overboard in the quest for linear reduction– simplification.
Our brains have such capability- for better or worse. The environment has been working exponentially, not unlike our primitive computers, but infinitely more complexly. People have refused to accept that we are limited by our environmental controls. Granted, we have inventive adaptation skills, which have recently created some pretty “smart” technology. I’d not want to turn away from our understanding of modern medicine either, but it’s been crippling our relationship to ourselves, each other, and the outside world- the only world that we can successfully live in- even if we do colonize the moon or mars. We have to justify our big brains and reason, which is not a bad or good thing, just a fixation, sometimes distraction, from instinctive survival. Nature runs on instinct, yet people have learned that reptilian response can be negotiated into repressed reaction for the sake of methodical thought. In thinking, we choose less reactionary impulses, which leads to a more peaceful world, with thriving civilization, but at the cost of the natural world which sustains us. What a philosophical merry go round.
Returning to the pond project, it was always the plan to line the hole for optimal water retention. We calculated summer evaporation, slope of the walls for stability and volume, and my designer had built ponds before, so there was general experience all around. Humans assume that if we “master” a technique, or at least claim familiarity- that we know something. We can sit in the driver seat and steer the wheel, no prob! That’s when our thought, the very skill we’re staking sanity and order on, becomes linear. In that moment, we loose sight of the big picture, a necessary step when focusing on one issue or plot line. Good for novels or instruction manuals, not nature and all her complexity. The pond could be a pool for human enjoyment with sightly management, or a hole with water in it, filling and draining along with the rest of the landscape in the ebb and flow of seasonal tides.
We’d already resharpened the landscape to hold more water, and it was, but the look and feel was not cosmetically convenient. The project would only be complete with a liner, landscaping, and a lot of other manufactured controls. Why? To look “good”, to fill a number of other expectations? Yes, that’s what the design implied. However, the implementation becomes one mitigation on top of another, leading to a superficial look without substantive function. Plastic liners were out- not just because of the physical material, but how it would block the springs and divert them down hill beneath the pond- not our goal in digging the hole to slow the flow. We would then have to line the liner edges with a massive importation of stone. Our sandy beach would not hold sand (too much slope)- any beach design has to be flat or the sand will run down hill. My PDC instructor/designer did not get that memo- so even experts can overlook the obvious.
But what about clay? Clay would also block the springs and divert them. We would not be able to wade in the shallows- too mucky with clay, and if you puncture through with your foot, you’ve created a leak. It’s also a lot of mass to have trucked in, but doable. We’d still be topping off the pond in summer from our well. The pond is supposed to be added irrigation bonus if needed, not tapping our well in summer drought. For a decorative water feature, we’d also have to skim leaves and needles off, treat bacteria with a UV filter, and cycle through a pump system to maintain clear depth. Chemical additives are also optional to reduce algae build up. The list of controls for this project start to make the whole idea of an artificial pond lunacy, yet it’s a thriving industry. Here in The Pacific Northwest, water retention ponds are required in large development plans. You have only to visit our local pond lining company to see the breadth and scope of water management options for any building project.
When people come to EEC for our tours and classes, they often remark on the pond and ask when it will be finished. Well, it’s already in full working order on the landscape, catching, slowing, and holding water year round. “Why don’t you line it?” Always comes up- and I hope this writing responds to that simple quandary. Will we line it in future- probably not, a in time, it will continue to hold water, disperse it, and all without any inputs beyond the initial big dig. Rains come and go- the size of the pond fluctuates accordingly. No filters, liners, rockeries, or chemicals needed. That’s keeping to the larger flow of landscape as a whole. The costs that would have gone to lining, rocking, and maintaining a cosmetic pond are saved and put to use in other direct restoration projects- replanting for rewilding. EEC Forest Stewardship continues its slow evolution back to forest, with limited human cultivation in support of ecological restoration. That’s as linear as things get in this place, and it’s spreading like mycelia to strengthen soil health.
In conclusion, how simple can it be? In nature- it already is, and does not need to be. Humans have lost is (single whole) and pivoted to be (me). This slow evolution away from wholeness, because everything is connected and effected by all, tears at our very structure. As people, collective, working together for all, we became something. Then we jumped outside of nature and made ourselves the other. Extract to extend distance from self and each other. Take what already is and stream line it for convenience. Once this implemented simplification takes hold, the rich, complex web of life is reduced to a pale shadow of its former, vibrant self. Nature has been honing her craft for millions of years; human nature has been dismissed as primitive, that people can evolve into higher selves through the exploitation of nature. If instead, we learn to observe natural systems already well established by cooperative evolution, we might yet learn better ways to live within the finite ecosystem that allows for our survival. By restoring, and there by replenishing our ecosystem, we could find ourselves in an abundance of fully regenerative living systems that support and enhance our survival once more.