The Invasion and The Courtship of the Land
If a doctor says to you “the procedure is non-invasive” there is usually a sigh of relief.
The reason for that is that the word “invade” or “invasive” has an aggressive and hostile sense to it. Whether the invaders are direct (zombies), swarming (insects), tiny (viruses) or massive (aliens from space) there is a definite sense of “it would be better if you weren’t here.” Even if the invasive procedure is welcomed you still wouldn’t wish for it.
Which is why when the word is employed towards people in a political sense ie “our borders are being overrun by invaders from country XYZ” (which is employed by politicians all over the world to stir up animus) there is a specific effect that is sought that pivots on the power of the word: invade, invaders, invasive.
There is a book called “Beyond The War on Invasive Species: A Permaculture Approach” written by Tao Orion. I’m not done with the book yet but I think I get her broad argument.
One of my favorite “maxims” from permaculture that embodies the approach is that if you have too many snails and slugs in your garden what you actually have is a duck deficiency. Meaning that rather than try to go to war with fighting snails and slugs with traps or any other method, you might consider deepening the ecology of your space by bringing in ducks which eat snails and slugs.
Obviously this isn’t always possible or practical to get ducks but it points to a different way of thinking. Lateral. Additive. And in my estimation and experience, there can be tremendous wisdom in its judicious application and implementation.
There are plenty of fascinating examples of invasive species that have unique applications in their new environs. Japanese Knotweed, for example, besides being a ferocious grower that chokes out local plants, is not only edible but also useful in treating Lyme disease. The fact that Japanese Knotweed has emerged primarily in the Northeast of the United States in about the same time frame as Lyme disease exploding is, for Orion, a sign that there is a greater intelligence moving the plant to potentially heal the disease.
And whether there are such intelligences moving and communicating could certainly be so. But Orion seems to be an absolutist in that in her mind, seemingly, in that every single case of an invasive species has a purpose and a reason why it has arrived even if the damage they do is great and immediate. Dutch Elm disease and Chestnut Blight were both invasive fungus that devastated US temperate forests in less than fifty years. Asian carp in the Great Lakes region are making native fish starve to death because they eat so much and so fast and reproduce quickly. Fisherman can’t catch enough of them. Green zebra mussels now in US waters cause huge algae blooms because they eat every kind of algae except for the most aggressive kind of grower which means that other animals can’t eat but the ones that survive get smothered by algae blooms. Those environs were made over tens and hundreds of thousands of years and wrecked in an infinitesimal fraction of that.
All this came to mind when I read about Hamidou Abdoulaye Maiga and how he points towards a different way of being with a place that isn’t about control alone but perhaps courtship. Maiga is a refugee from Niger who ventured from his home due to poverty and war, (despite having an accounting degree) to land in Montreal. While it doesn’t seem like he was considered an invader, he was homesick and the seeds that he brought with him were even more foreign to the land than he was.
He started by borrowing plots of untended land and dusty corners of greenhouses growing small holdings of crops that the land might recognize – cucumbers, basil, peppers but the ones from Niger. Slow. Slow as the tendril of a cucumber curling towards support and the sun. But with time he has introduced, in city plots, more and more of the plants from his home – fonio, sorghum, okra, cucurbita, ground nuts and more. Maiga himself and the plants are foreigners to the place they now reside but slowly they have made a place for themselves by not rushing in and claiming but by feeding the ground. By feeding the holy.
The cows that make Primal Derma are not originally from here either but through some slow courtship (but not only slow courtship) they have found a place in the ecosystem.
This slow way. The feeding path. This might be one way out of the war against the invader by courting the homemaking skills that are truly refugee in this time.
Thanks so much for reading. If this piece brings up any questions or responses please send them my way. They’ll be happily responded to.
Put into a letter or a postcard a word or a phrase. Anything at all.
boring things – sock drawer, Coke, hopscotch
adjectives – thin, tattered, ravenous
verbs – lacquered, roasted , boast
poetic things, sciencey things, technical things, historical things…truly it can be anything.
That said, maybe don’t try to be profound with your suggestion. No questions or quandaries either.
And once you’ve got an idea or ideas… please send them to
Matthew Stillman attn: The Oxbow
249 West 123rd street
New York, New York 10027
Your letters will make this happen.
The Oxbow: Where the rich sediment of things that shaped this time and place slows to feed the verdant delta of culture.
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