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  • sstanger13

My Many Legged Friends

When I was very young, I loved watching the caterpillars come crawling out every spring at my mothers home in the mountains. When the snow melted and the spring flowers emerged, there would be thousands inching across the backyard in all different sizes. Some were fuzzy whilst some looked to have giant horns. To this day, some of the most intricate designs I have ever seen. Oh, the greens, blues, yellows… I reveled in the beauty of how many species existed in our backyard alone. We would create habitat cages filled with branches, leaves, rocks, and bugs replicating our natural settings as well as we knew how and would catch a bunch of the little inchers to be placed inside. Watching everyday after school, my sister and I would have our faces glued to the glass surface of the vase impatiently waiting for the transformation to begin into cocoon and chrysalis.

Every capsule was perfect and distinctive and every fleeting creature that emerged was equally as breathtaking. After the arduous journey of coming into another world had passed they would dry their wings and when ready, would fly away. It was pure magic.

Years later, and I rarely see a caterpillar or a butterfly in urban spaces… period. Human civilization grows with undivided certainty whilst simultaneously, the wild world disappears; and with it: the world we know and love.

It has been 20 years since the last time I collected these creatures for our childhood science experiments and in those 20 years I have felt this disconnect from nature grow even larger. How is it that humans can be so intelligent, yet we seem to have missed the memo on biodiversity? I mean, I missed it too. It has only been in the last few years that my eyes have been opened and the language of the living, wild planet is starting to make sense. Shit, that has taken years of study and thousands of hours spent with my hands in the dirt to retrain my brain to question everything. And I mean every single thing.

The journey back started with one word: permaculture. Permaculture is defined as, “The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.” For those who don’t speak nerd it pretty much means building food systems to mirror nature.

When I first heard the term I was 24 years old and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had traveled the world for years working as a bartender and was confused with everything. I was living in these beautiful places surrounded by wonderful people making fabulous money and hilariously, I was wildly unhappy. I volunteered and joined organizations and donated money to satiate the part of me that needed to give something… anything back, but that only seemed to help my fellow species: humans.

I know, that probably doesn’t make any sense, but years later I no longer work for humans. I work for everyone else, for those who cannot voice their suffering. I work for pollinators and insects, fungi and protists. I work for caterpillars.

As romantic as the thought, ”I no longer work for humans,” is, I do recognize that humans are the largest player in this game. We are the ones who poison the system with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. We are the ones who monoculture mass areas of land for a single crop. We are the ones who are unbalanced and disoriented. But, we are also the ones who enact the change of the societal agreements now considered normal and it does not come easily. Breaking the mold of “this is the way it has been done” is like a butterfly breaking through its hardened cocoon and emerging victoriously, only after going through one of the most fierce and exquisite transformations on Earth. But, like the caterpillar, we need this evolution or we simply stay a caterpillar. We can never know what it feels like to fly if we are unwilling to change into a butterfly.

My love for the caterpillars led me to permaculture which in return, has brought it all back to my many legged friends. I am now a self-termed EcoDoc and work alongside humans to design and build wild gardens and food forests. These systems focus on feeding everyone in the network from the rhizosphere (soil level) to the canopy, and I mean everyone: microorganism, pollinator, mold, fungus, protistan, animal, plant and human. No one is more important than the other and all support the entire system, creating levels of abundance that all can enjoy. And what a gift it is: to provide safe places for wildlife to thrive and comprehend that we are indeed, part of it all.

I want to give that same gift of understanding to my fellow homo sapiens. Not for us, but for the caterpillars.

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