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.

And so the phrase “invasive species” has a particular heft to it. They. Are. Coming. For. You.

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.
If you’ve never heard of permaculture, it is a systems approach to agriculture design that is interested in the growth of ecosystems in self-sufficient and sustainable ways. Permaculture practitioners draw inspiration from natural systems to create spaces that are diverse, productive, sustainable and resilient to shock from weather and climate and other impacts.

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.

Orion seems to be of the mind that what is usually called an “invasive species” is simply a misnomer that emerges from a mindset that is generally hostile towards the earth and the tellurian rhythms therein and that we haven’t come to know the reason for the plant or animals arrival yet. But there is a reason, somehow, for each seemingly out of place creature – as food, as medicine, as soil remediator. As something good. A striker of new balances in an unbalanced time.

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.

Orion’s plea is that we just need to figure out what good these animals or plants are doing and that we just need a bit more time and creativity. But I’m not so sure. Lionfish kill coral reefs in Florida by eating all the small fish that eat the algae on the reefs, leaving the reefs overgrown with algae and then quickly die. Orion’s unfailing faith in nature seems to proclaim “If nature is doing it, it must be doing it right,” is the swing arm of “humans must subdue nature and hold it in dominion” which is a deep cultural story that emerges from Genesis. It is the same story of control. Either humans are controlling it or nature is. This perspective sees humans as outside of nature and not having any capacity to be as related to their environment as a bear or a salmon or an oak. There is no real relationality to it. Or at least no capacity for it.
But Orion is absolutely right in one regard – the animals or plants or fungus – are innocent. They are not to blame for their arrival on fast ships in ballast tanks. They can’t be faulted for simply trying to go on living. But the speed and the thoughtlessness that seems to be the sidekick of modern international commerce has a consequence.

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.

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Put into a letter or a postcard a word or a phrase. Anything at all.

boring things – sock drawer, Coke, hopscotch
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verbs – lacquered, roasted , boast
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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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