The Brilliance of Resilience
Lately, trying to get anything done has been a challenge. With everything I do, there is this tiny thing that gnaws at me. When I wake, it gnaws. When I work, it gnaws. Climbing into bed, still it gnaws. Even as I type these words, it gnaws. This tiny thing is not the winter blues, or my laziness, or the heavy drag of the dismal political climate. This tiny thing is an adorable, tyrannical puppy. It doesn’t matter the tone, volume or number of times I say No! She still finds a way to bite back, if only at the air in protest. Despite the frustration and occasional sharp pain this stage of pup-hood provokes, there’s a minuscule part of me that admires her ability to bounce back in the face of resistance.
Resilience is a beautiful word. It feels like my tongue does rhythmic gymnastics when I say it. It’s got grandeur. It’s got zeal. Really, it should be re-zeal-ience. More beautiful than its sound is its concept. Resilience tells us not to laboriously pull ourselves up after a fall, but to leap up with a force as strong as, or stronger than, that which knocked us down.
There is the resilience of material, measured by its elasticity to resume its form in response to deformation or compression. Some plants are more resilient than others in their ability to withstand foot traffic, for example. A blade of grass you can step on without killing. A tomato seedling? Not so much.
A resilient garden takes the ecological definition; that is, a measure of the system to respond to disturbance by resisting damage and recovering quickly. We build resilience in a garden by increasing diversity and adapting to the greatest degree to the local environment. Diversity improves resilience by confusing pests and creating barriers in the spread of diseases. Different plants also attract different insects or create conditions that can be beneficial to other plants, which is the essence of companion planting. Adapting to local conditions to increase resilience can mean planting cold-hardy crops in the shoulder season, providing mulch during drier periods of the year, or selecting plants that are known to grow well in soil conditions specific to your area.
To build and maintain a resilient garden, it also takes resilience on the part of the grower to keep on keepin’ on in the face of countless setbacks such as pests, drought, torrential rain, hurricane winds, early frosts, among others. A resilient grower must anticipate these events and be prepared to respond. In this sense, resilience takes on the emotional/psychological definition; that is, our ability to bounce back after a jarring setback and resist defeat.
On the boarder scale of our food system, the sociological definition of resilience applies; that is, the degree to which a social entity or group can withstand or cope with change. Again, this comes down to the group or entity’s ability to anticipate change, plan for it, be adaptive and adjust to local conditions. The more localized and diverse a food system is, the more resiliency it has. If our food system relies heavily on imported fresh produce from California, and California continues to experience record-breaking periods of drought, our food system for fresh produce is more vulnerable than compared to one supported by a diverse array of local producers, where the mechanisms for adaptation are in-house.
Resilience in all forms of the definition implies flexibility, adaptiveness and recovery. What resilience does not imply is power derived from rigidness, control, domination and singularity. This kind of power when faced with a resilient resistance that is diverse, flexible and adaptive, will struggle to bounce back and will likely reach a breaking point and snap.
As I finish this rant, I anticipate the excitement that will ensue from my pup as I get up from my desk, and those needlepoint teeth that may implant themselves lovingly somewhere in the vicinity of my Achilles’ tendon. I’m reminded of the Greek mythology of Achilles’ heel; his weakness in spite of great strength and the toxic arrow that led to his downfall. Resilience, on the other hand (or should I say on the other 'heel'), is our strength in spite of vulnerability. It is the antidote to our weak spot. It is our flexing bow that sends the arrow soaring back.