Sunday, September 5, 2010

Zen and the Art of Conservation

I returned home from Shepherdstown, WV, where Hurricane Earl veered to the east, only to find that over 10" of rain had fallen across the Ozarks. The official total for my community was 8.25 inches. The clear, rippling rivers and streams became murky, and sediment-filled flood waters rapidly made their way downstream.

The corresponding plant growth following the heavy rains was predictable and exponential in its intensity. My suburban lawn responded in different ways, depending upon the make up of its plant species. When we purchased the home a decade ago, the monocultured fescue sod in the front yard gave the home a fresh green, albeit sterile look. The back yard was prairie remnants of the old Bingham farm with its highly diverse and well adapted flora. Today, the front yard appears brown and lifeless. Where fescue once dominated the landscape, hardy invaders are making their way into the landscape in a variety of forms, colors, and sizes. Then there's the backyard! Even prairie wild flowers remain. Green as can be, every species that one finds on the Weed Killer label flourishes in abundance! Goldfinches munch on crab grass seed stalks; their brilliant yellows enhanced by the golden light of the morning sun.
I digress. The people that became my new friends last week were truly remarkable, with liquid wisdom flowing from their words and actions. Daniel Dermitzel, a self-described urban farmer, comes to mind. In describing the act of hoeing the garden, he conveyed so much about living in the willful act of joining the hoe in a rhythmic dance. He searched for the words to describe it, but we both knew the essence of what he was talking about.

In the classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Persig experienced the same sensation with a complex machine (tool, if you will) while caring for and riding on his motorcycle in a cross country father/son journey of self-discovery. Those "tools" that we use, and value, whether they be hoes, motorcycles, binoculars, cameras, or self-designed curriculum plans, become an extension of our authentic selves, revealing much about our inner dialogue, our dreams, our purpose.
I know that my mower is one of the worst contributors to air pollution, climate change, and who knows what else, but when I am mowing, my mind enters a zone where thoughts come into ever sharpening focus. My task becomes secondary to the ramblings of my mind.
Yes, here in the Ozarks the grass has quickly grown. During the retreat near DC, an analogous event occurred. Metaphorical torrential rains fell, and grass grew unimpeded. The waters overflowed the banks, and my thoughts tumbled across the rocks. It was only when I let go, that I found that my waters moved downstream with effortless action, and, with patience and perseverence, actually smoothed out the edges of the rocks.

I always find myself in the middle of things. That's where I choose to be. The mid-point between urban and rural, front yard and backyard, elementary kids and high school kids, water and land, Persig's rational and romantic, past and future. Wherever I wander, I am innately drawn to the conversion zone. I guess that's why I love beaches, merging land and water. Or trees and mountaintops, both bridging earth to sky, or art when it joins science, and vice versa. Or when the past meets the future. ....... now....

Our green coalition is one that embraces all and shares a common vision of a just sustainable world. Since conservation is about people, we stand midway between the forces of continued unsustainability and an irresistible, biodiverse, dynamic, and living planet Earth. We reach our hands out, hoping that others will extend theirs to us.

It's not for the faint at heart. May we all have the courage to endure the torrential rains, and the passion to envision the rainbow at the end of the storm.

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