Strawberries, Tao, and fundamentalists

Lately we’ve been blessed with crisp, clear weather.  Great for star gazing and really makes us look forward to the September 27 total lunar eclipse.  But the dry weather isn’t good for strawberries.

3746652-yin-yang-symbol-made-of-fresh-strawberries-and-bog-bilberries-Stock-PhotoMost of the crops we grow for food are finishing their growing season.  We’re harvesting like mad as the dry weather makes the produce higher quality by reducing insects and diseases.

Strawberries are totally different from most crops.  They aren’t producing fruit now, but it’s a crucial time for them.  They are producing the tiny flower buds which will become berries next year.  It’s easy to forget your strawberry bed this time of year, but your harvest next year depends on having healthy plants producing lots of buds in the fall.

These crisp, dry fall days mean you need to make sure they have enough water.  I noticed last weekend that some of my strawberries were lying wilted on the ground.  Immediately I brought them back to life with my sprinkler.  I soaked the soil really deeply because I had some weeds I needed to get out.

I like to keep my strawberries growing as many years as I can.  Nineteen years is the longest I’ve kept them growing without having to buy new plants.  But growing perennial plants means that you have problems with perennial weeds.  You can’t just plow the ground and get rid of the weeds.

My strawberry’s worst weed enemy is creeping bentgrass.  It sends out long creeping stems which then root wherever they find bare soil.  They are tough to remove by hand because their underground stems break apart easily and remain in the soil to grow new plants. I admire their tenacity, adaptability and resilience, but I want them out of the strawberry bed.

If you pull them up when the soil is dry, all you get is the top of the plant.  But if you irrigate heavily and let the water soak in deeply, you can pull the bentgrass up gently and get all or most of the root.  Pretty satisfying to pull that long root out and know it will not be bothering your strawberries anymore.

While I was letting the irrigation water soak in last weekend, I got cleaned up and went to church.  Nearly all churches in the Ozarks and most in Arkansas are pretty fundamentalistic.  They have pretty rigid views about creation and evolution.  So I get into good discussions with preachers.

One basic belief is that “the wages of sin is death”:  all was fine until sin entered the world and brough death with it.   In ecological systems, death is required.  All organisms are food for other organisms.  Some fundamentalists deal with this fact by trying to separate man and nature.  They construct theologies totally inconsistent with ecological reality.  They remove man from nature.

“Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” illustrates this type of theology. The word “subdue,” in the original Hebrew, is kabash. Its meaning is irrefutable; it means “subdue” or “enslave”, and even connotes “molest” or “rape.”

This mindset is rooted in the brutal past experience of man learning to work with nature. In the search for food, life sometimes meant starvation and scrounging for anything edible. Our mastery of nature means that today’s corn and melons are thousands of times more productive than those of prehistoric man. Today it is easier to farm and our yields are greater thanks to those who came before us and their desire to subdue nature.

The attitude of dominating or subduing Nature has had the unintended side effect of creating pollution and destruction of entire ecosystems.  And when these ecosystems are destroyed, so is the society which was built on it.  Witness the thousands of dead cities and barren lands where civilization first arose in the Near East.

At Meadowcreek we focus not on conquering but on working with Nature.  All natural systems afford consistent and recurring opportunities for symbiosis, or mutualism. In order to manage a common threat, many systems of nature can and have become willing accomplices. They will always join with us in goals which also help them achieve their goals of reproducing, growing and maturing—e.g., fulfilling the adaptive cycle. We can unite with other species to create more productive, more resilient systems. When we enlist other systems, their resilience become ours, just as ours become theirs.

The creeping bentgrass I eliminate from my garden beds is the perfect grass for golf course greens.  In nature, plants aren’t bad or good.  They all fit into certain situations very well.  We just have to use them where they fit and discourage them where they don’t.

Identifying enemies or “the Enemy” and blaming them for what goes wrong will not lead to resilient systems.  Only understanding your opponents and the foundations for their behavior will enable you to put them to good use.

After church, I went back to pulling bentgrass out of my strawberries.  I used what I have learned about bentgrass to get it out of my strawberries while enjoying the nice lawn it creates around the strawberry bed.  I think about the Taoist parable:

A farmer gets a horse, which soon runs away. A neighbor says, “That’s bad news.” The farmer replies, “Good news, bad news, who can say?”

The horse comes back and brings another horse with him. Good news, you might say.

The farmer gives the second horse to his son, who rides it, then is thrown and badly breaks his leg.

“So sorry for your bad news,” says the concerned neighbor. “Good news, bad news, who can say?” the farmer replies.

In a week or so, the emperor’s men come and take every able-bodied young man to fight in a war. The farmer’s son is spared.

Good news, of course


For more on working with nature (ecological integration) see Chapter 5 of our free online book at this link.