Lessons from the Urban Wilderness

by Marty Kraft ©July 2000

I recently testified for my neighbor in court. She was prosecuted under a Kansas City weed ordinance for having unattended growth over ten inches in her yard. She is in the process of allowing a natural yard like my Urban Wilderness develop. See http://www.allspecies.org

As I accompanied my neighbor through the code defense process I got to observe the mental/emotional/spiritual processes that I have gone through over the years as I allowed the wisdom of nature to be expressed in my yard. There are significant lessons to be learned.

The lesson I am working with now arises out of the code’s focus on “unattended” plants. Attended, somewhat narrowly defined, refers to plants being cultivated or somehow physically manipulated in accordance with the “owner’s” intention. In trying to understand or experience the wisdom of nature both my neighbor and I have followed similar paths. As nature takes her course many plants appear whose ecological role is unknown. What is their purpose? Why are they here? What is nature doing? A discovery process begins, a learning process. We both agreed that we had to allow the plants develop in their community context to discover their value in the process. There was a watchful surrendering of our control over nature to discover a deeper wisdom.

In a publication by the Land Institute, observations of establishing communities of prairie plants were discussed. It seems that they couldn’t just plant various prairie plants in the ratios found on the prairie and expect them to flourish as communities. Occasionally their plantings would develop somewhat as they had hoped. But in the great majority of attempts they found that the ratios would shift significantly and the variables affecting the process were overwhelming. A discussion of chaos theory followed. Their conclusion as I remember it was that ecological communities are very difficult to establish. They are self generating, self organizing and self maintained pointing to a deep wisdom in nature.

The typical lawn in Kansas City is of one species of grass cut every week or so. A person with this type of lawn has little to discover. The purpose is to manage nature efficiently and eliminate diversity. A whole perspective has grown up around this efficient management model including the city’s code. The code does not tolerate allowing vegetation or native ecology to take its course, all but eliminating gaining any wisdom which lies beyond the efficient managerial model.

Nature has evolved over billions of years. Each generation has been a trial and error opportunity for nature to perfect her design and store that information genetically. In a sense each creature alive today is the result of winning its own chain of millions of lotteries without ever losing. The wisdom gathered and held by nature is worthy of at least deep admiration if not reverence. The best human tinkerers have roughly 25 to 70 years of trial and error learning under their belts when they design their improvements on nature.

These code laws designed to control nature to conform to this simplified model seems to cast aside all this wisdom. In the typical urban/suburban setting where can a person experience the wisdom of nature?

Serendipitously (There are some powerful coincidences that have occurred in relation to my yards development.) when I returned home from court I picked up a book I was reading called Diamond Heart” Book One by A. H. Almaas. It’s about spiritual growth. I turned to the next chapter and to my surprise the title was Allowing, the word that I thought should replace attend in the code. The chapter says that as we pursue our spiritual growth we imagine that we will have an experience of enlightenment or something that we have read or heard of. Almaas says that by holding that image we block the natural unfolding of our own unique being which might be quite different than what we expect. In other chapters Almaas says that we must allow the weeds (my paraphrasing) of negative emotions flower in mindfulness so that we might find our true essence underneath. The negative personality aspects will be replaced by aspects of our essence which take over. Sounds like climax vegetation taking over from pioneer species to me. To expect or control the outcome of your own growth is to deny and lose the wisdom that lies within you for your development. Our beauty is more profound than any image we could set before us. We must trust and allow that nature to come forth.

The main lesson that I am drawn to in all this is the importance of developing humility for openness to step outside the walls of culture and learn from something wiser than our data bases and libraries. Here is a teacher that says hold. Let that grow. Watch. Discover. Relax your need for efficiency and control and you might learn something more from this small patch of nature than you ever thought possible. The natural regulation of life is ever active inside your body and throughout the world. Its purpose is life, our life, all life. Its guidance doesn’t sleep or even pause as the unfolding continues. Because of this constant unfolding, even our hard won knowledge and wisdom fails us in understanding nature within and without. As we are forming a thought about nature or ourselves we are ever unfolding past that thought and the next one and the next one. We are surfing on experience, an endless wave that we cannot fall off of.

What a wonderful wonder is Nature, within and without?

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