Complexity is an Opportunity

We stood under a covered porch as rain misted down in a steady, drenching drizzle. The roof was thick, and the rain was soft, making it inaudible except in our absolute collective silence. It wasn’t so much the rain itself that we heard but evidence of it, confirming what we were seeing, as the tiny drops made the air visible, softly pinging as it collected in the metal gutters and sluiced through the downspouts at each corner. 

We were at a three-day course in soil health, listening to a young woman whose job it was to count birds through auditory mapping of their calls. She patiently sketched a diagram to show us how she chose a fixed landmark, such as a large tree, to which she returned every other year, carefully plotting her position so that her listening spot was identical each time so as to accurately diagram the location and number of bird calls she heard. The auditory mapping techniques seemed wonderfully simple and impossibly complex at the same time. Every so often during her presentation, she signaled us to be silent as she cocked her ears to listen, eyes sparkling, and pointed out the rain-muffled peep or squawk of the birds who were calling through the downpour.

The Rancher tells us that the way we manage animals and plants shapes our management of water, Earth, food and community. Soil scientist Walter Jehne says that one can manage land by managing its water cycle (through cover crops, perennial grasses and proper grazing practices), and that managing water for cooling the Earth is far more effective than managing the carbon cycle. 

Pure rainwater has a ph of approximately 7. Ocean ph hovers at around 8 and the ph of human blood tends to be between 7.35 and 7.45. Of course, rising acidification due to the climate crisis has begun to knock these baselines off kilter. For the purposes of this conversation, it is interesting to note the close similarities between these three forms of life-giving fluids. 

The molecular structure of chlorophyll and blood are nearly identical except for the nucleus: In humans, the nucleus is iron. In chlorophyll it’s magnesium. And in hemacyanin (the life blood of arthropods, which include insects, spiders, and crustaceans such as lobsters, shrimp and crabs) it’s copper. I never knew we were so nearly identical to life forms so unlike ourselves. My mind can barely hold these tangible indicators of Life’s intricate filigree of interconnectedness. 

I have read that bird calls in spring cause new leaves to open. Healthy soil means healthy vegetation means places to nest. Robust populations of raptors are beautiful and keep rodents in check. Other birds feed on insects. Everyone’s poop is fertilizer. Beneath the soil, microbes communicate and feast and, yes, play. I once heard it said that complexity can only be held by community. The Rancher says, “Complexity is an opportunity for multiple points of view that are all valid.”