The other day, an older white male was wandering by a Merewether verge in which several Acacias (Wattles) have been planted. The predominant comment this man made was… “Wattles?! Why would you plant those useless things?!” This reaction is one that I have some across a number of times now, and I believe that it comes from the meeting of a few societal trends and a lack of ecological understanding which I will try and rectify in this article.
This attitude meets with something I’ve encountered fairly frequently in plant selection (outside Permaculture circles at least)… people can be uneasy with plants of shorter life-span. Be it for the reason of wanting to keep their paid-for product around for as long as possible, or the whole concept of death seen as solely a bad thing and an uncomfortable reminder of their own inevitable demise.
Without getting overly philosophical, western society generally seems to have a disconnect with the transience of life, despite that cycling of life and death providing for our very existence. This is probably a reflection on our increasing disconnection with nature and our supporting environment. It is likely that this in turn has a lot to do with ego, individualism and consumerism. More fear of loss is present and death is then regarded as the ultimate loss. Marketing for Funeral Insurance and other death-related industry play upon and exacerbate this fear. Ie; “Don’t leave your surviving family to pay for your excessive carcass-processing fees! Pay us lots of money BEFORE you die! It could be at ANY MOMENT!!”
Railing against the truly inevitable is a profound waste of physical and psychological energies, so I believe it is worth shifting our approach to the transience of life. To be comfortable with change as change is inevitable. EVERYTHING is impermanent and without death, there would be no new life. A wise guy from times of old named Heraclitus once said, “the only thing that is constant is change” which rings very true to me.
A healthier approach to transience is observed in South America, exemplified by the Mexican Festival of the Dead, where birth and death are regarded more as a continuum → No matter what we are in life, in death we are all the same…. Fertiliser!! ;-P
I don’t mean, ‘once you’re dead we should all just forget about you’, but rather, instead of getting morose beyond mourning, we should celebrate what the dead-in-question loved in life and how that life is now providing the building blocks for other life.
Look at the bush or a garden… it isn’t a painting, it is a living system that is always in flux and that flux holds its own distinct beauty. So really an individual’s value isn’t so much about how long it hangs around, it’s about what that thing achieves in that limited time and how many other lives it supports and benefits.
Wattles are a great example of this, generally very fast growing and comparatively short-lived trees. The old adage ‘live-fast, die-young’ applies very well in that a single Acacia can produce food and habitat for thousands upon thousands of various animals and plants, during and beyond its lifetime, all the while acting to quickly protect and regenerate highly disturbed environments.
Throw in that beautiful floral display and pollen that isn’t actually that likely to cause allergies compared to say Rye-grass that flowers at similar times… why on earth wouldn’t you plant some?!?!