by Mike Nickerson, Contributing Author • Ontario, Canada • with help from Louise Einnes.
The fast moving excitement of smart phones and computer screens eclipses the slow motion of the natural world. What the natural world lacks in speed it makes up for in depth. Over billions of years it has developed intricately cooperative associations upon which we humans have always depended. Perhaps the hard knocks of climate change will call us back to Earth before we drift off into Cyberspace.
Watch closely over a season as a seed germinates, grows to maturity and bears its seeds. It isn’t as fast as a Google search, but it will provide experience that can enrich your life and provide insight to enable following generations to enjoy their place under the Sun.
Consider a single bean, covered with moist soil. The germ – the sleeping essence of the plant – wakes up and starts to grow. It takes multiple doublings in size before a first root emerges to tap into the soil.
With the plant anchored and moisture assured, the first leaves rise up, unfurling their solar collectors to absorb sunshine and feed further growth. With each new leaf, more sunshine is captured, accelerating its growth until it is big enough to support flowers and produce seeds. Seeds, like the one we started with, except there might be 40 or 60 of them on the single plant. A significant multiplication capable of sustaining our lives.
By composting the unused parts of plants, along with our bodily by-products, and feeding them back into healthy soil, the vast array of organisms resident there support their lives by metabolizing it into basic nutrients that can be used again by plants. This cycle has sustained earthly life for billions of years. It can sustain the human project for generations to come.
The wonder expands when we realize that chloroplasts, the green parts in plants that bind sunshine with carbon into sugars, is a separate life form from the plants they inhabit. This cooperative alliance was formed hundreds of millions of years ago and has come to power most life on Earth. Of similar importance are the symbiotic relationships between plants and mycorrhizal fungus which mine essential minerals from rock and deliver it to plant roots in exchange for a portion of the sugars the plant produces.
Deep cooperation goes even further! Thought to have started out as bacteria, hundreds of millions of year ago, mitochondria have a remarkable ability to process the energy caught up in organic matter. They were so effective that almost all fungus, plants and animals formed close alliances, absorbing them at the cellular level. Their partners provide nutrients and the mitochondria make energy available in return. Passed down generation to generation, since the earliest beginnings of complex life, they continue to power the show. They enable you and I to process our food, to move and to think.
Add to this the friendly virus, bacteria and fungus that protect our skin, and enable digestion and one might wonder if we humans are independent beings or complex communities of beings that cooperate to enable our lives.
Over the eons, life forces have cooperated to enhance life’s presence. What better way to celebrate the wonders that combined to bring us to this place than to examine our relations with plants and animals and with each other and cultivate the cooperative relations that will enable the generations following.
Let’s slow down and smell the roses.