Odd Thoughts: Compromises can compromise us

If we don’t arrange to take care of the environment, it will arrange to take care of us… in the way that a movie-style Mafia don arranges to have things – or people – that annoy him “taken care of.”

That doesn’t mean we have to go as far as Dr. Albert Schweitzer is rumoured to have gone. He became so fixated on the sanctity of life, it is said, that he didn’t even kill the weeds in his garden – he transplanted them to spots where they wouldn’t interfere with the healthy growth of his vegetables and flowers. And they all lived happily ever after.

Most of us with gardens don’t feel we have the luxury of going that far. It’s hard enough to cut down on the dandelion and plantain populations in our lawns without transplanting more of them from the garden.

So I try to convince myself, with my most Schweitzer-like inner voice, that I’m actually transplanting the dandelions, the plantains, the sheep sorrel, the lamb’s quarters, the chickweed – and all the other inhibitors of optimal vegetable and flower growth – into the compost box.

If they don’t survive there, well then, that’s not really my fault, is it?

(Buttercups, meanwhile, are transplanted into hard pathways, onto concrete slabs, or in the compost bins that are picked up every Tuesday and hauled as far away from my understanding of reality as possible.)

Creatures that refuse to be conducive to the overall health of my garden receive similar Schweitzerian treatment: slugs are invited to live out their lives in the compost box, where they can help assimilate the transplanted vegetation into their new environment.

Elsewhere, they are persona non grata.

To treat them otherwise is to invite disaster on an environmental scale.

Once upon a time, we only had slugs – no snails.

When the first snail settled his mobile home off to the side of our driveway, Donna and I were smitten. Beautifully marked and coloured, he was imposingly large – perhaps as much as three centimetres across his yellow, green, and black spiralling stripes.

We knew he was a “pest” and that, left to his own devices, he would breakfast on our favourite vegetables, lunch on our leafy borders, and sup on our prettiest flowers.

And that would only be his first day’s menu.

We knew that, when he came out of his shell, he was really just another slug.

In retrospect, if he really was a he, it probably was not an exclusive condition.

Nevertheless, we didn’t kill it.

I tried – I did! – but I found myself giving in to protests from Donna (which I secretly welcomed, having very few of the hunter’s genes that kept our species alive between the tree-dwelling and village-farmer stages of our existence).

I regretted my weakness when, the following spring, I turned over a chunk of concrete near where we’d spared the life of that hardcover slug. He – or she – or both! (slugs and snails can do that) had been keeping a love nest there. A solitary existence had morphed into an entire village. And over the years, that village grew into a city, and spread out into a regional network of suburbs.

Some even set up shop in our trees!

What may have seemed a reasonable compromise between environmental sensibility and blind, Schweitzerian reverence turned out to be a foolish decision.

Our politicians and bureaucrats – the slugs and snails who creep through the gardens of our lives – are often too easily convinced that their pipelines and supertankers are simple environmental compromises.

But in the end, it’s the same old slime.

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