I was reading a permaculture manual last night in which the author describes needing to put some time and effort (and muck) into a new food garden before things went ‘pop’. I laughed as I realized that this describes what has just happened in the forest garden that takes up a third of my allotment. In a permaculture design you’re advised to put 80% of the work into the design and initial structure so that you only need to put in 20% of your energy into maintaining it – unlike most systems which are the opposite. After two and a half years (and some before that by Chloe and Tilo, the previous owners of the allotment) of mulching, feeding, planting and weeding, I now have a garden that is more of a steady state, where weeding will become reduced as the perennial clovers and self sowing bee-attracting understory of phaecelia, annual clovers, borage and poached egg plant have settled in.
That ‘pop’ view of systems reminds me of my friend Mike Grenville’s talk to Transition Town Lewes last week. Change doesn’t happen slowly, incrementally along a timeline, he told us. Rather, the pressure to change builds up when an old system resists change. The more it resists, the more the pressure builds up, until it can’t resist any longer and it inevitably ‘pops’ or flips into a new state, with a period of turbulence in between. So Transition, he said, is totally different to the old environmental model of trying to persuade more and more people to change. That doesn’t work. Most people don’t want to change until they are forced to. Transition Towns are about engaging people, when they want to, to help each other create resilience in their own communities: preparing for the pop, so to speak.
He told us a story that’s apt for this time of sudden and unexpected change: The Hungry Caterpillar. When a caterpillar is nearing its transformation, it begins to consume ravenously (sounds familiar?) It becomes bloated, shedding its skin many times and, unable to move, attaches itself onto a branch, forming a chrysalis. Within the chrysalis, cells which biologists call ‘imaginal cells’ begin to appear. These are completely different to caterpillar cells. At first the caterpillar perceives these new cells as foreign and attacks them. But the imaginal cells increase, bonding and clumping, until the caterpillar’s immune system is overwhelmed. The caterpillar’s body then becomes a nutritious soup for the growth of the new butterfly.