Sunday, July 1, 2007

And Nature Fights Back...

It was a glorious morning here in the District of Columbia--one of those cool, delicious July mornings that we always wish for--so I grabbed my hat and went outside to turn the compost pile.

There I noticed these tomato plants sprouting amidst the decomposing grass clippings and shredded leaves and kitchen scraps.

Tomato seeds are remarkably resilient. Last year I had several "volunteers" in the garden that delivered an unexpected bounty.

Besides the young plants in the compost heap, my wife has a couple growing in her ornamental planters on the back deck. They probably arrived there via the compost she added to her potting soil, demonstrating, once again, that for all our efforts to grow tomatoes in an organized fashion indoors--under grow lights at the first sign of spring, pampering the seedlings with lots of water, warmth and artificial light, then carefully and ever so gingerly acclimating them to the outdoors so they might thrive in the garden--for all of that, our human intentions just seem laughable when you see tomatoes springing up everywhere all on their own.

In addition to the volunteer tomatoes, we have a cucumber growing out of a crack in the concrete outside the front door. Others have sprouted in unexpected places in the vegetable beds and are wending their way through the garden. Ditto for some of last year's Ox Eye daisies that are now blooming contentedly in the yard, having migrated from last year's flower bed.

I am delighted by Nature's pushback in light of so much bad news about the planet. It tells me that no matter how hard we work at destroying Planet Earth, or, in the alternative, turning it into a park-like setting for all our preferred plant and animal species--the ones we haven't already killed--Nature occasionally reminds us that we humans can't control everything.

I like that idea. I also like the idea that when humans are gone (and does anyone doubt that we are engineering our species' own demise, perhaps the first case of auto-genocide?), the rest of the plant and animal kingdoms won't miss us. We contribute so little to the circle of life. We are takers, not givers.

In a similar vein, Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Edward O. Wilson was in our city this week to speak on the subject of the mysterious disappearance of honeybees. Wilson notes that the passing of humans would be very little noted in the insect world. But if too many insects disappeared, we would be--pardon the expression--in deep shit.

"It's unlikely a single insect species would go extinct except three forms of body and head lice," if humans disappeared, Wilson said. But remove pollinating insects and many plants would vanish as well, and with them many of the creatures who turn dead matter into life-giving soil. Civilization would descend into chaos, humans killing each other over food.

Wilson speaks of "an ecological dark age" where "the survivors would offer prayers for the return of weeds and bugs."

I'm hoping not to be around to see that. I'm hoping the bees and the sow bugs-- the bacteria and the nematodes, the tomatoes and the daisies, the salmon and the tuna--win in the end. I'm rooting for Nature.

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