Almost

Witch Hazel

Our bushes arrived from Fedco this week, and today we were going to plant them.  Last winter, we ordered four witch hazel bushes, five spicebushes, and two winterberries.  We wanted to expand our mini-forested edges in the back and on the side, and thus we needed species that grew well in the shade of other tall trees (which these do).  We hope they will enhance the privacy of our yard, and also provide food for pollinators, butterflies, and birds, as well as beautiful flowers and berries to see.

We had done some preliminary work before we ordered them, to decide where they might be planted, and today Margy and I went around to confirm the spots, to make sure each bush would have enough room when full grown.  We marked them with flagging and markers. We unpacked the box of young plants and were delighted that they were more than just sticks with roots. They looked healthy, and we stored them in dampened shredded paper.  The photo is our witch hazel bushes.

The land in our yard has been soggy and wet for the last week.  But, when I tried to dig holes, I could only go down about five or six inches before I hit a barrier of ground frozen solid.  I guess we aren’t planting these today!  Still, it was in the 60s out there, and it was marvelous to just be outside in the sun–and then it was too hot, so we pulled out our shade umbrella for our patio table.  We turned to other tasks in the garden, and listened to birds singing, and I dug up the old kale plants that had overwintered.  Before I came in, I noticed that the holes I had dug were now filled with water.  I am curious as to whether the holes I dug will thaw faster than the undug ground.  We’ll see.  We are expecting no freezes this week.

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Fractals Teach Us That We Matter

Oak MJ DSC03499There is another reason why fractals matter. Fractals teach us that we matter. By becoming aware of the fractal patterns throughout the natural world, we can see that all things are connected. The circulatory system of the human body branches out like the limbs on a tree. The patterns of waves on the shoreline are similar to the patterns of radio waves beaming through space. Even though we are infinitely small in comparison with the rest of the universe, what happens on a small scale reflects what is happening on a larger scale.

Some of these patterns may seem to be unchanging and eternal, but there is also unpredictability in the system. Scientists use the word chaos to describe this unpredictable behavior. Without chaos, there could be no creativity, because creativity means the emergence of something new and unpredicted.

Perhaps you may have heard of the “butterfly effect.” This phrase was used by Edward Lorenz to describe the impossibility of predicting the weather, despite creating complex computer models that looked at multiple variables. Lorenz found that a small change in the initial conditions would produce large changes when the patterned cycles repeated many times. It was expressed in metaphor as the butterfly effect: a butterfly flapping its wings in South America can change the weather in Maine.

We have creative power as human beings. That means that what we do within our patterns has an effect on the rest of the fractal network. We are part of an interdependent web of all that exists. If we change a pattern in our lives, it reverberates through the rest of the web; it ripples out like a stone thrown into a pond. We have the power to create more beauty, more love, more truth, and more goodness in the web. We never really know what greater effect we will have on the future of the universe. We cannot control the ripples that flow out. But human beings for centuries have observed that acts of kindness multiply into more kindness in the world.

There is a fable told by the ancient Greek storyteller Aesop:

A sleeping lion was awakened one morning by a mouse running over his face. The lion became so angry that he grabbed the little mouse in his paws and was about to eat him up. The terrified mouse begged for his life. “Please let me go,” he cried. “If you do, one day I will repay you for your kindness.” The idea of such an insignificant little creature ever being able to do anything for him amused the lion so much that he laughed out loud and good humouredly let the mouse go.

Then, one day the lion got caught in a snare set by a hunter and was unable to get himself free. The mouse heard and recognized the lion’s angry roars and ran to the spot where he was. He went right to work gnawing at the ropes with his teeth. Soon the lion was set free. “You laughed at me when I promised to repay you. But now you see that even a little mouse can help a lion.” So remember: no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.

What we do matters. No matter how small we are, we are intimately connected to the vast universe. We are part of its beauty and its creativity and its love. The patterns in the stars live in the patterns of our hearts. We do not walk alone. These are the lessons I learn from the beautiful geometry brought into the world by Benoit Mandelbrot. May these fractal mysteries teach us ever to be mindful of our power.

Imaginal Buds

Change is already happening. There are millions of people and groups who are in some way involved in a new vision of community, and we can be a part of it. David Korten calls our attention to the familiar story of the caterpillar and butterfly. We all know the story. The caterpillar spends its days gorging itself on nature’s bounty. But then it attaches to a twig and forms a chrysalis around itself in order to become a butterfly. What we might not know is what’s happening inside the chrysalis to shape the butterfly.

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis Photo by Armon, Licensed via Wikimedia Commons

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis
Photo by Armon, Licensed via Wikimedia Commons

Korten, drawing on the work of evolution biologists writes:

The structures of its cellular tissue begin to dissolve into an organic soup. Yet, guided by some deep inner wisdom, a number of organizer cells begin to rush around gathering others cells to form imaginal buds, initially independent multicellular structures that begin to give form to the organs of a new creature. Correctly perceiving a threat to the old order, but misdiagnosing the source, the caterpillar’s still intact immune system attributes the threat to the imaginal buds and attacks them as alien intruders.

The imaginal buds prevail by linking up with one another in a cooperative effort that brings forth a new being of great beauty, wondrous possibilities, and little identifiable resemblance to its progenitor.

Korten sees our cultural transformation in a similar vein. Individuals wake up from the prevailing social systems, and begin to align their lives with the values of partnership and earth community. At first they experience a sense of isolation, but eventually they find others who share those values, and form what Parker Palmer calls “communities of congruence.” Those small beginnings attract others—they are like the imaginal buds of the new culture.

The old culture perceives them as a threat and often attacks their work. But as they network with others who share in the new cultural values, change begins to happen. Korten says that the cultural transformation we need is already in process—we can see the evidence of its beginnings in the great social change movements of the last half of the twentieth century—for civil rights, women’s equality, peace, environmental balance, and economic justice.

I saw a cartoon the other day. Four people were sitting in a boat that had tilted precariously and was filling with water at one end. The two people at that end were bailing furiously. The two people at the other end were sitting high and dry—and one said to the other, “It’s good that our end of the boat isn’t leaking.”

We are all in the same boat—this planet earth. The only real security we can create is a common security. When we finally realize that we are one family, one interconnected whole, essentially united with each other and with the earth, we will be able to find a way forward together. I believe we are already on the path. May we find the courage to take the next steps before us.

David Korten quotes from The Great Turning, p. 74-75, & 84-85.