Living in “Ecological Time”

With the arrival of all of the interns and the start of the children’s camp this past Tuesday, Aspen T.R.E.E can really begin to settle into a routine, and I can begin to understand how this internship, and consequently my research, is beginning to take shape. Arriving by 9 A.M. at Aspen T.R.E.E allows the interns to have an hour of class time before the campers arrive. The subjects covered in class so far include the principles of permaculture, the development of edible forest gardens, and, as something not explicitly covered but I have an obvious interest in, ideas that help expand ecological orientations. I will expound on this more later.

When the campers arrive our workday effectively begins. Since there is much work that needs to be done at the site and because not all of the interns are needed to watch the kids, us interns are typically split up. Those who do not help with the camp on a given week are assigned to do the daily tasks ­— taking care of the baby chickens and turkeys, watering the garden beds and berms, planting, weeding, etc. — as well as special projects such as leveling the floor for an eventual kitchen and constructing a stand for a parabolic solar cooker.

Admittedly, it is sometimes hard to connect these ostensibly trivial tasks to both the principles we explore in the morning and my research. However, it helps me to remember that Aspen T.R.E.E, in some ways, is still very experimental. Sure, the principles they are applying have seen success elsewhere but, like the plants the non-profit grows, Aspen T.R.E.E is still fighting to be successful and relevant, proving it fulfills a crucial niche, as it continues to spread its roots underneath the soil to develop a solid foundation to work from. At its current stage, it needs care and attention to ensure that it continues to be successful; it’s not something you can start and then leave alone to grow independently. With the dynamic nature of both this line of work and Mother Nature in general, it’s becoming intuitive that it should require constant upkeep. If this were not the case the consequences would be profound, as Gary Snyder suggests in his book The Practice of the Wild. Taking note of how dynamic, or “impermanent,” nature is, he connects the condition of being free with the impermanence of life, “For in a fixed universe there would be no freedom” (Snyder 5).  If life were permanent it would necessarily mean it was stationary, a photograph rather than the flowing river of time we feel as we tread water while being pulled along by the current. In a society as fast-paced as the one we live in, we often forget that most processes, establishing a non-profit included, takes many years. It evolves according to ecological time.

“Ecological time” was one of those ideas briefly explored during class that I gravitated toward and felt helped me better understand what it meant to have an ecological orientation. The idea came up as we discussed planting trees as part of edible forest gardening. For our instructor, planting a tree was seen as living in right relation to ecological time because you would not plant a tree expecting an immediate yield, or even a yield altogether. The greatest output of the tree will probably not be experienced in your lifetime and thus you are planting a tree less for yourself and more for future generations. It appears to be a truly self-less act because you are literally giving the fruits, or nuts I suppose, of your labor to the next generation. A similar idea is explored in Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac when he describes the process of sawing through a dead oak tree. He notes that their “saw was biting its way, stroke by stroke, decade by decade, into the chronology of a lifetime,” marking a point of intersection between our comparatively fast understanding of time to that of the ecological time experienced by the oak tree (Leopold 10). Through his narration of the years the man is reliving as the saw cuts through each ring of the tree, Leopold reconciles the two temporal scales and allows us to understand ourselves through ecological time, done by looking back at our own history. The author effectively describes and demonstrates for us the way humans can simultaneously live in our own time while taking ecological time into consideration. Its hard to overstate the importance of understanding our history as human beings, and this is just another variation of that theme.

While I continue to learn and hopefully get a chance to interact with the young campers, I also need to plan my next courses of action to make sure I do not lose track of my research while I fulfill my obligations to the internship. This is easier said then done given the vast amount of work that needs to be accomplished and the projects that need regular attention when you are working in such a dynamic environment. Most of what needs to happen is in the form of networking, as well as following up with the various people I have had the privilege to meet so far. On the networking side, I would like to contact the stewards of the New Castle Community Garden I mentioned in my last blog post and maybe even some of the other gardens mentioned in the article. I would also like to formalize some of the mostly observational research I have done up to this point by following up with the many people I have met during my time in the Valley in an interview. One woman I had the privilege to work with on a day we applied edible-forest-gardening principles to the medians in the Carbondale Colorado Mountain College parking lot, discussed briefly her time traveling across the country and teaching children to maintain gardens. I would love to know as much about her efforts as possible and, luckily for me, this valley seems to attract many similar people with these unique experiences and important insights. I just hope I get to meet as many as I can.


Works Cited

Leopold, A. (1968). A Sand County almanac: And Sketches here and there. London , New York: Oxford University Press.
Snyder, G. (1990). The Practice of the Wild: Essays. San Francisco: North Point Press.