The Way of the Gardener

I am in pain. The world is in pain. It’s moaning, and it seems it’ll soon be roaring. Is our beginning leaning towards its end? I turn on the radio after reading about the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report thinking I might hear more about it. I don’t. Instead, I find myself listening to a news item about the importance of making rugby league an international game. What the fuck is going on? We are killing ourselves and our planet and we’re talking about sport?! It reads like a bad comedy skit, but it’s not. I make jokes about it because I don’t know what else to do.

For a long time, I’ve wrestled with saying something, saying nothing, not saying enough. I’ve always been terrified of standing up, being looked at, being judged. I still am. Right now, I don’t know what to do other than write. Write out my grief, my anger, my fears. Write this: we are killing our world. This is not emotional hyperbole. This is fact. It’s a fact I’ve been too scared to look at, eye to eye, for a long time because it’s paralysing.

According to the IPCC report, we’re hurtling towards climate disaster. If nothing changes, our planet will heat by over four degrees by the end of the century. “The IPCC is right that two degrees marks a world of climate catastrophe” writes David Wallace Wells in the New York Magazine. “Four degrees is twice as bad as that. And that is where we are headed, at present — a climate hell twice as hellish as the one the IPCC says, rightly, we must avoid at all costs.”

The Great Barrier Reef won’t exist if we hit two degrees or more of global warming. According to the IPCC report, 16% of plants, 18% of insects and 8% of invertebrates will lose over half of their geographically determined climatic range. Food insecurity, water insecurity, extreme weather. Hundreds of millions of lives are at stake. I could list statistic after shocking statistic until the cows don’t come home, but I don’t have the stomach.

I know that I, like all humans, am implicated in this increasingly hot mess. I know I am part of the problem. I feel guilt and great sadness.”

I catch myself closing off to the endless stories of environmental and human pain filling the news, my Facebook feed, my inbox, because I don’t know what to do. I shut down, because it hurts. I write good news stories because they make me feel better. Perhaps I write them because I’m scared of looking at the truth of the situation we’re in? It’s likely.

My intent with The Planthunter has always been to offer ways of seeing and engaging with the natural world that are positive and respectful. I’ve strived to inspire change through seduction, not fear. Through beauty, not guilt. I don’t know whether I’ve done anything, changed anything. I write about beauty whilst the world burns and at times it feels ridiculous. I garden and I think and I write and I grieve for the pain we’re causing ourselves and Mother Earth and I question whether anything I do matters. But I keep doing it because I know, deep down, it does.

Small things matter. How I live my life matters. How I care, matters. How I express this, matters. It matters how I consume, how I travel, how I eat. It matters how I look after for the land I live upon. My, our, personal actions right now, in the face of tremendous uncertainty and fear, will define the future of our planet and our species. I don’t know that anything matters more than this.

The end of the story of our species not already written. We are writing it. This is why I choose love, not cynicism. Love, not hopelessness. Love, not ignorance.”

I choose to love the messy, complex, mysterious and incredibly beautiful planet we call home, because it matters.

In an interview a few years back, eco-philosopher and Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy made an analogy that has stuck with me ever since. She spoke about how, if your mother is seriously ill in hospital, even though it’s incredibly hard, you go to her. You spend time with her, caring for her. You do this because you love her. It’s love that underpins your actions. The earth, she said, is in pain. She needs our love.

If I, we, turn our hearts away from the pain of the world because it’s too hard, because it hurts, who will care? How can we see what and how to heal, if our eyes are closed? They’ve been closed long enough as it is. A culture with a commitment to linear economic growth, earth as commodity and consumption as king, illustrates a deep disconnect to the truth of what it is to be alive, in relationship to all other lives on earth. Any awake gardener can see this.

And so I garden, and so I care. As a gardener (and I am fully aware of what a privilege it is to be one) I am directly engaged with the health of the ground beneath my feet. I know from observing trees, vegetables and cicadas that linear growth doesn’t exist. I know from experience that decay enables life, and that a healthy garden requires attention, faith, action and care. Each day I am reminded to respect the laws and the whims of Mother Nature. I cannot ignore the beauty and wonder and madness and pain of the world because I am engaged in its care. I live in relation to it. I love it, and today I grieve it.

We are killing the earth and ourselves. I have felt unable to write this, say this, look into this, for a long time because I don’t have anything grand to say. I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know much at all.

This is all I know: I am committed to tending to this world as a gardener. I am committed to cultivating new shoots, new stories, new hopes, new futures. I do this work with dirt under my nails, with curiosity, reverence and respect.

And I wonder, is there any better way to be in the world right now than the way of the gardener – aware, engaged and in love?