Mother Nature’s borders are like rivers, fluid and changeable.
Season by season, they alter, erode, condense, the shifting of light, variable activity with each sunrise and sunset, environments change throughout the day. Animals move through them, migratory and territorial, boundless. Even territories are fluid, dependent on weather patterns, availability of food and shelter, competition and predation. Geological formations seem to be the closest thing to a border that nature creates, but as you observe a river, blocking the movement of a land based animal, all you need to do is look to the canopy above, the corona of trees creating the bridge, uniting one side to the other.
For some reason human beings love this concept of borders. We can study Neo-Lithic peoples and what we can understand from what is left of them is that they didn’t have the concept of land ownership. We romanticize who they were. Goddess worshiping peacekeepers… But we, and in our current world paradigm, we exist within boundaries and borders.
What is a border? Linear, land borders, political borders, socio-economic borders, fences, walls. Our creation of borders has shaped the face of the world. 12,000 years ago, humans shifted from being predominantly hunter-gather, nomadic communities to land based agricultural ones. The great domestication of plants and animals, the breeding and selecting of traits that benefit our idea of borders, gave us food security, in that we believed we owned our food. When in fact we became more food insecure than ever (to read about this theory check out Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind by Yuval Noah Harari). We bred the spirit out of wild animals, kept the docile ones, killed the aggravators. We beat and bred them to submission so they wouldn’t jump the fence, so they wouldn’t escape the border. By placing animals in confined spaces we removed their wild self, compare a domestic dog to a wolf, or a bred turkey to a wild one, a potbelly pig to a boar. The primal instinct is present in wild animals, in their quest for food, shelter, pack and mate, their survival depends on their ability to adapt. Whereas domestic animals, some bred for thousands of years, no longer have the survival instinct, no longer know how to find their own food aside from garbage in alleys and the crunchy nibbles we buy in pet stores given to them three times daily. Let your chickens run completely free and see how long they last. Set your dog free and watch it become a parasite ridden street beggar, set your cat free… well cats are a different example, they are elevated beings brought to us by the Egyptian Gods of old, who would become the dominant species if humans disappeared (check out The World Without Us by Alan Weisman for his perspective on that). Plants, fit tightly into productive rows, those who escape the garden bed, plucked out, weeded away, out of line. Millions upon millions of rows of plants, in industrialized systems are supposed to feed the world, yet all they have done is provide semi-nutritious calorie sources void of resistance and resilience, produced for ease of harvest and immediate processing. How do we keep them in line? With self terminating genetically modified seeds, and with agrochemicals: fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides and pesticides. Borders have made our plants and animals weak, susceptible to disease, flood and drought, unable to defend themselves and unable to adapt quick enough to changing conditions.
“Bring down the Wall! Bring down the Wall!”
Human beings believe borders offer them security, a mark stating this side me, that side you. And what have borders done to humanity? Fortified towns, walls, East-West, more walls, The Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall, Trump’s Wall, refugee camps, work camps, us, them, mine, yours, keep in, keep out. “This land is my land, this land is your land, From California to the New York island; From the Red Wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters, this land was made for you and me.” only if you have the right documentation. Mine and Yours. Border patrol, do you belong here? Where are your papers? Illegal immigrants, terrorism, trafficking, smuggling, laundering, escaping, borders closed, borders open, gated communities, security fences, visas, property lines. Where are your papers!? You don’t have permission to be here. I find that borders and boundaries make us want more and more to be on one side or the other, to taste what we are not supposed to have. It makes us chose allegiances and identities. Tells us which language to speak and which way to think. What sports team you represent, what zip code you reside in, what taxes you pay, what school you go to. The borders tell us who our people are, tell us where we belong. Borders cause war and conflict, fights for ownership and “rights”. In school, keep your colors within the lines and the bubbles on your state tests neat. Check the box: Caucasian, African-American, Asian/South Pacific, Latino, American Indian, OTHER. Maybe, it is because I always checked the OTHER box, that I feel boundary-less, if I didn’t have a border stating my ethnic background, delineating me from the other kids, then who needed a border anyways. My grandpa broke his family rules and married a white woman, what that meant for us? No Chinese heritage growing up, disowned, diluted the genetics, crossing boundaries. Pure breeds, mixed breeds, this race and that race. Borders, limitations, what have they done to us? They have made us completely and utterly crazy.
Aren’t we all from ONE planet Earth?
I want to pose the question and the possibility, of what if human beings, the dominant species on the planet decided that we were going to take down all borders and really, like we declare in Permaculture philosophy, mimic the perfection of Mother Nature, where there is no linear time or spaces, only cycles and fuzzy edges and ecotones.
Ecotone… Many of you may have never heard of this word. It isn’t a word we were taught in Social Studies, Biology or Geography class, not that I heard of, and I am studious. It wasn’t until the study of Permaculture that the concept was brought to the forefront of my consciousness. An ecotone is where two ecosystems meet, merging two diverse biological regions, the ecotone has flora, fauna and cultural specifics from each bioregion while also embodying its own unique diversity. They are the areas that are a little less comfortable. Take a plant for example, living in the center of the field, where the conditions are just perfect, the right amount of sun, the right amount of rain, soil with the perfect amount of nutrients. That plant doesn’t have to increase or decrease its chemical makeup to adapt to change, it has everything perfect. The same species, living along the edge, by a large tree, perhaps in a boggy area of soil, constantly being nibbled at, reaching for sunlight, coping with flooding, has to adapt to its conditions, by perhaps increasing bitter alkaloids to prevent bugs from eating it, has had to stretch a bit higher to find the sun. That plant is adaptable, ready for change to its conditions, ready for something a bit easier. One season, the rains wont stop falling, the plant in the middle of the field, unaccustomed to such inundation becomes waterlogged and rots. Climate change has set in, each summer is rainier and rainier. The plant on the edge, survives, it drops its seeds, adapted, they take over the now changed landscape.
Ecotones exist on the edge, the margin.
The greatest diversity is found on the edge, in the ecotone. Take Costa Rica for example, this beautiful country I call home, exists on the Isthmus of Panama, a land bridge formed around 3 million years ago by the movement of the Caribbean tectonic plate and volcanic activity, linked the massive North and South American continents, opening up the way for the Great American Biotic interchange. Due to the formation of this land bridge, species, including Hominids (that’s us) began migrating North and South. Some species along these exploratory and migratory routes found the spaces in between to be more than suitable for permanent habitation, settling, species adapted and evolved within the newly created territory. In response to changeable geology, plants also adapted to their conditions. Today, Costa Rica, an ecotone is home to 6% of the world’s biodiversity on just 0.03% of the global landmass, we can find species from both mega continents as well as species only found here, in this peaceful little country. An example, only 990 species of birds can be found in the United States and Canada, Costa Rica has 918, 650 of which are endemic. Compare this number to landmass, 12.2% v 0.03%… and this is only considering birds!
Ecotones also apply to human populations, think about the spaces between neighborhoods, towns, suburbs and cities. I lived in Philadelphia throughout my 20’s. A diverse city like many others, has its abundant neighborhoods. Fishtown, Old City, Center City, the Gayborhood, South Philly, North Philly, Manayunk, China Town, Germantown, University City, and many more. Homes to various waves of immigrants from Italy, Poland, Ireland, Vietnam, China, Laos, Cambodia, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Haiti, Jamaica, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Liberia, Ivory Coast, descendants from the African slave diaspora, Palestine, Turkey, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, to name just the majority.… I remember in college looking around campus at how beautiful everyone was, how language and background didn’t seem to matter that much, that the ecotone of Temple University was offering a breeding ground for relationships to blossom, ideas to be exchanged. Located in North Philadelphia, an area of the city where the majority of the households live below the poverty line, there is the air of change. Fuzzy edges between privilege and drive, between desire and expectation. In the margin, the uncomfortable places, the diverse places are were we find the ability to cope, to be resilient, is where we can find humanity at it’s rawest and ready. In most cities you can cross from one street to the next, experiencing different vibes, different languages, different scents and shops. Different sounds, different wall art, different style. Beautiful people everywhere. Gentrification and hipster take over has had some profound influences on our cities, making housing unaffordable and coffee shops more abundant. I can’t say I know a solution for that, besides maybe suggesting that developers take into consideration context and need of the neighborhood they see as “up and coming”, allowing for people to integrate and have a say. Check out the Permaculture Action Network for perspectives on Social Justice and City Repair Project for regenerative urban development.
Permaculture Principle #8 Integrate Rather than Segregate
We teach and practice in permaculture to design beyond our borders, allowing for plants, animals and humans to interact with each other in ways that are harmonious. Planting enough food for the animal, for the neighbor, for the thief and for yourself. Always knowing that on the interconnected web of life, everything influences and effects everything else. There are no borders in nature, it is through symbiosis, collaboration, cooperation, competition, predation and parasitism that the forest stays healthy, and forever changing. We can be like the forest.
Within the ecotone we can hold onto our personal identities if we want to, but also celebrate the identity of others and let them walk and reside in our spaces. There is strength in diversity. There is no monoculture in nature. The more we share our cultural heritage, our food, our language, our art, our music, our ideas, our love, our style, our dreams, perspectives and ideas, more resilient we will be as a species. We need this. Human beings have caused our planetary systems to fall into a state of crisis, with eroding coast lines, warming oceans, increase intensity in weather, we are watching collapse happen before our eyes. We caused and are causing this. We have the ability to allow our internal and external walls to disintegrate. As we follow the flow of each hour in each day, being flexible to variable conditions, sometimes predictable, forever changeable, we erase our borders, and allow them to be fluid, like the flight of birds over state lines and maybe within those fuzzy, diverse spaces, we can find peace and fall deeply in love with life.
by Sarah Wu