Monday, May 3, 2010

Making choices: pruning & oil spills

The catastrophe of oil spilling into the gulf waters has brought a lot of attention to the choices we make, the risks we are willing to take to fulfill our desires, and how we see responsibility for the outcomes.

Oddly enough, pruning involves these same aspects. The action involves cutting into a living thing in order to suit a desired purpose, taking risks on behalf of that living thing and in committing our energies, in so doing. Sometimes it is hard to tell the winter die-back from the not-quite-juiced-yet early spring twigs. Sometimes the growth that is stimulated by cutting off the ends of things can result in a skipped year of blooming, an invigoration of the remaining plant, or an overly exuberant growth spurt out of proportion to the supporting stems. Cutting can open a plant to infection from a variety of bacteria or insects. And so, convincing ourselves that it is for the health of the plant or for beauty of form or an increase in output, gardeners prune the shrubs, fruit trees, roses and other perennials and live with the results. Sometimes the outcome is not what we expect, losing the plant, thwarting the intended result, or requiring a more intense or vigilant effort -- an even deeper involvement -- in order to get what we want, deal with the difference, or salvage the situation.

Our desires for energy, car and plane travel, long-distance shipping, constantly increased electronic connectivity, more packaged products and profits in all its forms, in addition to a seeming proclivity to deny the role our choices play in the problems from which we suffer, all seem to boil down to that same equation: the choices we make, the risks we are willing to take to fulfill our desires and how we see responsibility for the results. A couple things seem clear, we don't usually consider widely enough the ramifications of our choices, nor do we find it easy to recognize the depth of self-centered desire embedded in those choices. In terms of gardening, though, I think we are likely to be aware that we make these choices in order to serve our purposes, in other words, to bend the plant to our desires even if we don't think through fully what fuels those desires or might result from them.

Perhaps it is helpful to think about pruning, starting with recognition that the world in which we live is, in essence, living organisms and inter-dependent systems that are not separated by names or our ways of making distinctions among them. Like choosing to plant something in a spot that is not conducive to the culture it requires, first we must recognize that we are not in charge of everything nor do we know all there is to know when it comes right down to it. Then, either we must take responsibility and make the deep commitment to ensure that the culture is appropriate so that the plant will prosper, or we must look again at our motives for putting it in that spot, and reconsider our desires in light of the risks we cause. The life of the plant hangs in the balance, as does our desired outcome.

The role we play is part of the natural process of living organisms in this earthly context. Elephants and beavers reorganize the natural habitat to suit their purposes, and suffer the wider ramifications without taking responsibility for changing the habitat for others or displacing other species of flora and fauna. Humans have the ability to see this especially now that we do have hundreds of years of experiences and research to draw upon. As if holding those pruning shears in hand, we have the ability to see our choices, and act in the interests of the plant's health rather than in service of our ever-changing desires for larger fruit or bigger blooms.

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