I also hear from many human and non-human communities that this is not happening. There are humans affected by racism, patriarchy, war, drought, brutal police and military presences, and economic exploitation who are screaming out to be treated with dignity. There are multitude plant and animal species who are no longer able to survive on our planet.
So I keep asking myself: How can I both embrace the change and flux that is an inevitable part of life, and also make clear choices about how to honor the dignity of all beings and my personal desire to support a thriving planetary ecosystem.
I find myself faced, as I'm sure you do, with many decisions each day. Shall I move a plant? Shall I reduce it's size? Which birds are using the plant for forage or shelter? Which pollinators are using that plant right now, what eggs might be laid on it already that end up in the yard waste if I cut it back? How can I navigate wanting a garden to attract and support songbirds and knowing there exists an overabundance of domestic cats prowling for those very same songbirds?
In sifting through what guides me through these questions, I've begun to synthesize a framework of guiding principles. I'd like to offer you some beliefs that I see commonly motivating what I would call "domination-based gardening" and offer a partnership-based way of seeing. I'd like to acknowledge leaders who have informed this framework, including herbalist Susun Weed and her teaching of the Wise Woman Tradition which has reached me through EagleSong Gardener. I've also been the fortunate recipient of countless stories of navigating power, beauty, wildness, control, and humanness in general and the tools that have been borne of these lives lived. Perhaps that list is for a separate post, since it's too long and complex for me to grapple with in this small space.
Here is a humble attempt at naming the beliefs I see forming the basis of many people's unintentionally dominance-oriented approach to land care, and what I'd love to see replace them (in bold). I'd love to know what you think!
1. The unknown is scary and to be avoided. A good gardener gets the results they meant to get. The unknown is an integral part of the unfolding of life. Encountering mystery evokes awe and inspiration, and leaves room for new and unexpected (emergent) solutions. Honoring the sovereignty of other beings over themselves means being willing to be surprised. A good gardener stays observant and curious, and creatively responds to all outcomes.
2. An "expert" is useful to lessen the risk of the unknown occurring. Cultivating more awareness from direct observation and interaction allows us to feel more at-home in an ever-changing world filled with glimpses of the abyss. People who are dedicated to observing and interacting with particular parts of the world (gardeners, health practitioners, teachers, etc) can help guide the building of relationships with parts of the world we're unfamiliar with.
3. Health is the absence of disease. Disease is an indication of an impetus to change. In the case of plants, it's often a need for different conditions or care. A thriving garden has multitude ever-changing conditions and relationships between plants, so it's normal that some plants become susceptible to disease at times in their lives.
4. Productivity can be measured by what's harvested. "Productivity" takes many forms, many of which are invisible. In each successional stage productivity looks different. Early pioneer plants rejuvenate, stabilize, and aerate soils, attract and stabilize insect populations, and feed herbivores who then return their manure to the soil. In this way, a path is formed for later-succession plants such as trees to thrive. Different harvests relate to different successional phases, and none are inherently better than others.
5. The gardener gets to choose what goes in the garden, and is responsible for delineating between which plants are "weeds" and "desirables". The gardener humbly seeks alignment with patterns used by nature (see 7 layers in Forest Gardening) while seeking yields that will support her own thriving. This means certain niches will be filled in the garden, and the gardening will be easier if the gardener supports each niche to be filled. When niches are unfilled, the gardener creates extra work and stifles the flow of life between each life form. Examples of this are perennials and deciduous trees forming autumn mulches, insects and worms digesting large organic matter in the soil, large trees taking up water and releasing it as humidity to sustain surrounding plants and control temperature fluctuations. Each missing function creates tension in the garden ecosystem.