What did the land you live on look like before humans arrived? Was it forest? Prairie? Desert? Wetland?
How did the Native people treat that land? And then what happened when the new culture arrived? Did it become a monoculture farm? A suburb? A place to extract a natural resource?
Is there any way that humans are ‘supposed’ to live on the land?
I reflected on this question as I participated in a native prairie planting over the weekend.
My partner and I focused on flats of two species in particular — the New England Aster
and Narrowleaf Mountain Mint.
The experience got me thinking about the fact that all animals have roles to play in keeping their environments balanced, thriving, and diverse. For example, birds help to move seeds around, insects assist with pollination, and predators keep populations of small mammals in check. When one species overexploits its environment, there are consequences, often with a die-off of part of the population until balance is achieved once again.
Recently, humans have taken a very exploitative approach to our environment and our population numbers are booming. This continued growth and the fact that so many of us can lead such extravagant lifestyles has been made possible by the availability of cheap carbon resources (oil, coal, natural gas) that allow for massive food production and a complex medical system that is able to keep so many people alive.
There are some problems with this, however. The resources that made this growth possible are nonrenewable (and we may have passed the peak of production), and we know that this approach to maintaining human livelihood is leading to the pollution of our air, water, and land, the destruction of natural environments, and countless species extinctions. We also know that previous cultures that did not respect the limits of their natural resources are no longer in existence.
Is there a different way to approach our relationship to the Earth?
If all animals have roles in keeping nature balanced, it may help to reflect on potential ways that humans have evolved as part of ecosystems.
Perhaps instead of being dominators of natural cycles, we are intended to work with nature to create more healthy and vibrant ecosystems for ourselves and other organisms. These big, long-term planning brains must be good for something beyond our own survival, and I don’t think it’s necessarily the ability to analyze stock market trends. Perhaps the human role in the ecosystem is to function as a sort of ecosystem engineer that could bring greater diversity and balance to areas in which we live.
After all, we can foresee long-term trends and we understand complex cause-and-effect relationships. As far as I can tell, we are the only species that seems to know that if we take a seed, plant it and add water, that it will grow. We can use these planning abilities to take care of the planet in a much better way than we have recently. We should also get better at using this ability to understand the dire consequences of continuing on with our current behavior, and to learn from the mistakes of cultures in the past.
I believe it is possible for humans to live as constructive co-creators with nature.
We can take a field of grass, envision a thriving habitat, and find ways to create it.
Go and be restorative!