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Temple Trees of Thailand

Becoming Native To This Place

by Wes Jackson. Counterpoint Press. 1994. 121 p. $12.50

Here is a fine work, packed with pearls of wisdom and presented with
eloquence about what it means and what it will take to become native to a place. Short and non-technical, reading it still takes effort: thinking required.

Becoming is foremost a book about culture and how we must harmonize our society with the environments upon which we depend. But Jackson’s perspective is beyond anthropocentric. It is not even biocentric; it is biospheric, arguing "either all the earth is holy or none is. Either every square foot of it deserves respect or none does".

Jackson is a farmer. On The Land Institute, his farm and research center in Kansas, he and his followers have been trying to mimic the ways of that prairie landscape, to create a productive, diverse polyculture of perennials. He admits that he is a long way off, but defends the creed of "nature as measure", maintaining that "when we don’t know, we should apply the mimic approach, because by following it out we are more likely to employ undiscovered ecological principles". His efforts to restore a worn out, abandoned farm are meant to serve as a catalyst, or example, of the deep fidelity and love needed to heal the land.

Jackson also has a Ph.D. in genetics and he is not especially enamoured by the genetic engineers, noting "it is fair to ask how long it will take our biotechnologists to come up with the equivalent of the ozone hole". No trivial question.

"It has never been our national goal to become native to this place. It has never seemed necessary even to begin such a journey. And now, almost too late, we perceive its necessity. Unfortunately, the nature of nativeness toward which we must work has not merely been altered but severely compromised.

"It is time for a new breed of artists to enter front and center [as opposed to bureaucrats and technocrats], for the point of art, after all, is to connect. This is the homecomer I have in mind: the scientist, the accountant who converses with nature, a true artist devoted to the building of agriculture and culture to match the scenery presented to those first European eyes."

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