Like any love affair, loving the Earth, being kind to it, is hard work. This has been brought home to me over the last couple of months as the weather has warmed and various landscaping projects big and small have called. Two projects, in particular, have conspired to draw my attention to this particular application of the ways of love and effort.
The first was a six month project to remove invasives and replant something more native on the hill behind our house. It’s pretty steep back there and even just to get back there. There’s a four foot stone wall half way up (a kind of invasive on its own, I guess, but necessary for building the house). All in all, it meant not being able to bring all the modern leverage of engines and hydraulics to bear. It was a lot of handwork with axes and shovels, hand winches and carts to remove the thirty plus stumps, several dump runs worth of weeds, extract one medium sized boulder, distribute 15 cubic yards of mulch, and plant 10 trees from four to six feet tall. Let me tell you, a six foot tree with its root ball is a weighty matter, not to be lifted by mere muscle and intention. The same is true of that boulder which took two days of persuasion to roll itself out of the dark earth and over to a central position on the hillside.
The second seemed simple in conception, hand weeding some common areas in our neighborhood in order to avoid pouring out the poison commonly known as Roundup around our homes. Not so much in implementation. Life, even as manifested in weeds, or maybe especially, is nothing if not persistent. That and several years of inattention, led to some fairly robust root systems to be reckoned with. What started with a rake and small potting shovel ended up with all that plus two larger shovels, a rake, and a sharp axe. All for about 10 square feet of progress down a 40 foot median. Sigh.
The rain chased us off the weeding work with no love lost, but it got me thinking about the work of loving the Earth. Push come to shove I’m guessing I could have gotten a bobcat up the hill or bought it done, but I wanted to do that in a more tender, personal fashion, per love’s dictates. Same with the weeding. By choice, I turned back the clock to somewhere in the 1800’s, where all the work to be done was done with muscle and intention and some of the basic principles of mechanical advantage.
I guess I kind of knew that was a harder life to lead, but doing it in my own backyard brought that home in a whole new way. It’s a full-time job, no matter how much you love the Earth, no matter the passions involved. Nature painted a pretty clear picture of shorter life spans, and slighter bodies that couldn’t keep up with the caloric requirements of hard physical labor, day after day after day. And even with all that, I’m absolutely clear that there are those who, even in our “modern” world, know hard physical labor as a matter of survival in a way I do not, even now.
So. Love and eco-privilege. Having the time and resources and inclination to do right by the Earth. And there’s that invasive wall, and digging deeper the invasive Anglo-ness I carry around, along side the suspicion that any number of species would consider homo-sapiens invasive if they cared to think that way. In the shouting match that passes for our contemporary culture, it’s hard to find the softer edges between privilege and duty, between capability and accountability. We’re too quickly engaged in brush strokes as broad as the side of a barn in 1 bit color. Perhaps like history and victors, invasiveness gets written by the gardener.
There’s more than a little of paying dues and opening eyes in the physical work necessary to be with Nature, to being in love with anything, including the Earth. Thankfully, Nature has a way of filling in the details, illuminating the nuances in ways that resist even our most cherished ideologies if we care to notice. When we step aside from all the noise and fury of our highly leveraged, machine driven life, Nature is ready. The question is are we? Nature is undeniably red of tooth and claw sometimes, and physics and biology are not particularly forgiving of casual inattention. Maybe that’s why the hard work is necessary, to capture and focus our attention on what matters. Just like Nature to be a self-correcting system and as the old saying goes, Nature bats last, whatever our pretensions.