Video: TWP&F: Planting for a Greater Community: Conversation with Rebecca McMackin (2024)

Video: TWP&F: Planting for a Greater Community: Conversation with Rebecca McMackin (1)

This talk asks: how do we think about designing public spaces with human and nonhuman needs in mind? Why does it matter to plant for native species? How do our horticulture choices intersect with equity and social justice? Why does thinking about community matter when thinking about land?Gardens are more than communal spaces for recreation, they provide a vital oasis in urban environments for plant and animal species to thrive while concurrently reminding humans that even a cityscape, we're entwined with and surrounded by nature. By thinking relationally and taking the needs of our insect, bird, fungi, tree, and other nonhuman neighbors seriously, we can reshape our immediate landscapes to be more ecologically sound, biodiverse, and restorative – all while supporting joy and connection.

Rebecca McMackin is an ecologically obsessed horticulturalist and garden designer. This former Loeb Fellow at Harvard was director of horticulture at Brooklyn Bridge Park, where she managed 85 acres of diverse parkland for people, plants, and wildlife focused on cultivating urban biodiversity. As a result, animal species not seen in NYC in decades have established themselves in the park, alongside more than half a million visitors. The Brooklyn Bridge Park's published research has influenced entire urban parks systems to adopt similar approaches. Currently, Rebecca is Arboretum Curator at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

TWP&F: Planting for a Greater Community: Conversation with Rebecca McMackin

SPEAKER 1: Harvard Divinity School.

SPEAKER 2: Planting for a greater community. Thinking relationally in horticulture design for both humans and nonhumans. Conversation with Rebecca McMackin. May 2, 2024.

RACHAEL PETERSEN: Hello. Good afternoon. Welcome to planting for greater community with Rebecca McMackin. My name is Rachael Petersen. I'm a third year MDiv student and together with my colleague Natalia Schwien who you will hear from in a moment, I'd like to welcome you.

This talk today is the last in a series called Thinking with Plants and Fungi that's hosted here at the Center for the Study of World Religions. Thinking with Plants and Fungi is an interdisciplinary initiative exploring how plants and fungi help us rethink the nature of mind, matter, and human's relationship to the more than human world.

And we are very grateful to the VK Rasmussen Foundation for their generous support of this initiative. I'm sure as many, if not most or all of us in this room are aware, cutting-edge scientific research is shedding light on the sophisticated ways that plants and fungi make sense of and interact with the world.

Works by scholars such as forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, ecologist Monica Gagliano, and plant biologist Stefano Mancuso, among many others, have made mainstream notions that mere years ago were preposterous in the academy. To wit, that plants and fungi communicate, behave and cooperate in amazing ways, previously unimaginable.

So in this initiative, we engage the fundamental questions arising from this scholarship, as well as traditional wisdom, such as, what is intelligence? Where does it extend and how? What is matter and what does it mean to label it animate or inanimate? And how must we broaden our notions of care to include other forms of life?

And it may be tempting to assume that these conversations are very theoretical, but indeed the stakes of these conversations are very high and inform many of the design decisions in our everyday life, which is why we're so excited to have Rebecca with us here today to talk about how to translate some of this theory into practice. And with that, I will pass it off to Natalia to introduce the talk and Rebecca. Thank you so much.

NATALIA SCHWIEN: Thank you so much, Rachael. So first, just our land acknowledgment. Harvard University is located on the traditional and ancestral lands of the Massachusett, the original inhabitants of what is now known as Boston and Cambridge. We pay respect to the people of the Massachusett tribe, past and present, and honor the land itself, which remains sacred to the Massachusett people.

And I would also note that a land acknowledgment is not enough without acts of allyship. It is an empty statement. My name is Natalia and I'm a second year PhD student in the committee for the study of religion. I've been lucky enough to co-lead the Thinking with Plants and Fungi group with Rachael over the last two years, and I'm thrilled to be continuing to grow this work with her with the initiative over the next year.

So the origin of today's talk really begins about 15 years ago. I was living in Paris. I was 18 years old, and the program I was studying with took us for a field trip to an old monastery in the countryside. There a group of older students from New York City were also there. And when we broke for lunch on our tour, they took off their shoes and walked around in the grass, exclaiming how much they needed the fresh air and the green and the birdsong and feeling the grass under their feet.

I watched them and unfortunately, I have absolutely no capacity for hiding my feelings from my face. So I think my expression was something like. I've always spent a lot of my time outside in the woods or wandering through public gardens, and so it was hard for me to even imagine not having the opportunity to wallow in garden dirt. And I remember thinking, that is so sad. How can they live like that?

Well, the next year, I would move to New York City and I would live there for almost 10 years. And I became very familiar with that feeling of longing that they described. I searched out green spaces in the city. I lived near Prospect Park. I took horticulture courses at the Brooklyn botanical garden, where I spent a lot of my time and enter Rebecca McMackin.

Rebecca is an ecologically obsessed horticulturist and garden designer. This former Loeb fellow at Harvard was the director of horticulture at the Brooklyn Bridge Park, where she managed 85 acres of diverse parkland for people, plants, and wildlife focused on cultivating urban biodiversity. As a result, animal species not seen in New York City in decades have established themselves in the park alongside half a million visitors.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park's published research has influenced entire urban park systems to adopt similar approaches. Currently, Rebecca is an Arboretum curator at the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. Rebecca's work has been published and featured in the New York Times, the Landscape Institute on NPR and PBS. She has served on boards of the Ecological Landscape Alliance, the Torrey Botanical Institute and the Metro Hort Group.

She holds a MSC [INAUDIBLE] from Columbia University, the University of Victoria in landscape design and biology. Over my time in New York city, I watched the Brooklyn Bridge Park being built and I would ride my little green Vespa over and I would spend hours there while it was under construction.

It quickly became one of my favorite places in the city, a literal sanctuary on somewhere I still go back whenever I'm back in New York. So today, the title of the talk is planting for a greater community thinking relationally and horticulture design for both humans and nonhumans.

Gardens are more than communal spaces for recreation. They provide a vital oasis in urban environments for plants and animal species to thrive, while concurrently reminding humans that even in a cityscape, we're entwined with and surrounded by nature. And with that, I invite Rebecca to the stage.

[APPLAUSE]

REBECCA MCMACKIN: [INAUDIBLE] Hi, everyone. Can you hear me OK? Great. So thank you so much for inviting me to this wonderful series. I have the sense that I'm not the first gardener who has spoken here, and I can't tell you how happy that makes me. It's still so novel and wonderful that in these hallowed halls and spaces that there's such a dialogue with people like me who are essentially just practitioners of our trade.

I have been fully laser-focused on the work of gardening and ecology for the past 20 years. And my time here as a Loeb fellow, where I was able to attend events at the Divinity School, was literally one of the best years of my entire life. I was able for the first time to think about my work and to research and listen and essentially locate the practice of ecological horticulture within a theoretical framework for the very first time, as well as the historical, colonial, and economic contexts, in which both ecology and horticulture and importantly, manual labor have always operated.

So it was just this incredible luxury and really indulgent to be part of this community. And much of what I'm going to speak about today and have been speaking about since I finished that fellowship is really the direct result of conversations like this. And so I'm really just truly grateful.

On a very basic level, my work is about cultivating ecologically rich and gloriously beautiful gardens and landscapes in public spaces, almost always urban. But when you zoom way out, it's about fostering connections and supporting communities of plants, people, fungi, archaea, all of it.

I'm one of many people who are convinced that those connections are absolutely central to not only a healthy existence, but also just basic survival at this point. I don't think we're going to make it much longer with such a lonely, isolated, objectified and exploitative relationship with the world around us. And it's funny and sort of trite to be like, you know what can save the world? Gardening. That'll do it.

But I think it is a practice that literally heals people. So many people, myself included, got into horticulture when we were healing from serious trauma. 9/11 saw huge waves of new gardeners and COVID saw more than 20 million people start gardening for the very first time.

And when you add on the ecological element in which plants have roles and systems that we love and rely on, where you're not just healing yourself, but helping something larger, that work becomes profound and real. Reforming those connections and relationships can lead to broader shifts in worldview. And I think a lot of people are aching to get to that point but don't quite know how to do it. And I believe that this work can help them get there.

And it's of critical importance times are too dire to mess around at this point. I'm reading Annie Dillard's book on writing and she says not to write anything that you wouldn't say to a dying person. And to a certain extent, it seems like a good idea for that philosophy to apply to literally everything right now.

It's time to figure out how poets and economists and dishwasher repair people can also heal those wounds and foster community and bring down unjust systems. My path is just through horticulture by encouraging people to garden, but also cultivating biodiverse and healthy urban ecosystems for everyone.

So it's two things. It's a physical practice of gardening and then making space for people and others. But with the practice of gardening, specifically, the potential for connecting back to the world around us is so rapid and concrete. It's real. It's not just theoretical. Your hands are physically dirty.

And at first, it's just a little thread back to connection when you're planting a plant. But when people start to see the interactions of butterflies and get to know how these systems work and our potential role in them, that pathway becomes a highway. And it's one of the great pleasures of my life to encourage people along it.

I like to use storytelling that essentially introduces people to the behaviors and desires of the plants and animals around them. Who live all around us, are already here, they're not that far away. And then tie-in the ways that gardener's actions can support these beautiful and important dynamics.

My favorite way in is through pollination ecology, because it shows people how plants have not just functions and behaviors, but also desires. The subjectivity of these organisms become less abstract when you're familiar with their lives. This is Dodecatheon [INAUDIBLE] the shooting star, and this is a bumblebee pollinating that plant.

And what the bumblebee does, the anthers are these long tubes that the bumblebee is hanging below, and the bumblebee will unhook her wing muscles from her wings and use them to vibrate her body and that essentially shakes loose that pollen and it falls down the tube and onto her, and she can collect it and bring it home and feed her babies.

And there's a story that I love to tell about the Eastern Columbine and the ruby throated hummingbird. And I told it recently in a Ted Talk in like seven seconds. And I love that story because not only does it show people their own role in supporting these organisms, but it gives people a small insight into the language that these creatures are speaking and we can start to understand them.

So if you didn't see the talk, I explain how birds have an extra photoreceptor that allows them to see red better than us and far better than bees, who can't differentiate between red and green. Bees have wonderful UV vision. They see colors like yellow literally lit up like they're glowing. And birds can see a bit of that, but not very much. But for bees, reds appear dark and it's sort of just like a background upon which colors appear.

And in North America, we're hummingbirds live, every native plant that you see that is red is bird pollinated. They've evolved. These flowers and plants have evolved at the behest of hummingbirds. Their nectar is literally tailored for the nutritional needs of those birds. And really every flower that we love is the manifested desire of their pollinator partners.

And it's not difficult to learn the very basics of their communication. With the understanding that there are no hard and fast rules in nature, and the moment you think you know something you'll find 15 exceptions, and everyone is an opportunist, with that caveat firmly on the table, there are simple, what we call syndromes of floral morphology and color and scent that we can learn to recognize as a sort of language between pollinators and flowers. So hummingbirds are red and tubular flowers.

And here are a few of the regionally fly-pollinated flowers. They are meat mimics and smell fetid, luring in the sorts of flies that people often don't like, like green bottle flies to come and lay eggs on the flowers and then pollinate them in the process.

Moth-pollinated flowers are often tubular, but light colored to be seen better at night. And they're incredibly fragrant because scents can form a pathway to a flower when you can't see them at night as well.

Bee pollination is more broad because they're not just eating pollen and nectar, they're collecting pollen to feed their babies. So the relationship between flowers and bees is much more intimate. We have flowers that are like puzzles to solve, which bees love to do, like most legumes and this lupine here, and then really open and available flowers that many insects visit like roses and sunflowers, but still really evolved alongside of bees.

So you start to have a bit of a window into who is talking to who and why. And then we can go a little bit deeper. So these are asters, which are mostly bee-pollinated flowers and a single plant can have hundreds, if not thousands of these flower heads. So if you imagine a bee flying to visit them but another bee has been to a specific flower head recently, that flower is already pollinated and it's not in the flowers benefit for the bee to visit.

It's not in the bees benefit to visit either because they're wasting their energy and opening themselves up to predation. So the plant has developed a way to communicate their status to the bees. After pollination, if you look at the center of each flower, some are yellow and some are brown-red.

And so after pollination, that bright yellow starts to shift and turn brown-red. And if you think about the fact that bees can't really see red and that the yellow is glowing when they're flying over these flowers, it really must look like a landing strip at an airport, directing them right in where to go immediately.

And it's not just this one plant. This is another aster. Aster divaricatus that you can see the difference quite distinctly. This is our common clovers that you can see in the lawn and you'll notice that the individual flowers at the top are white and those at the bottom are slightly pink. And so they've not only shifted colors to communicate to the pollinators, but they've also moved themselves out of the way so that they're harder to get to and the pollinators journey can be more efficient.

These are catalpa flowers. And if you look at the throat of each flower, you can see that there are yellow nectar guides in there that again will shift color after pollination to have that same level of communication with their pollinators. And so it's just a tiny little bit of this language that you can start to see and be in on, and then of course, share, which is the whole goal.

They are great stories to tell at a party, but the goal is also to find information for me that a kid would tell to another kid. That is where you're really into deep culture, where children will share that information. And when you're gardening, you're face-to-face with these organisms who now have languages and desires.

And people like me are adamant about personification, but you sort of have to be in order to take care of a plant because they go in as babies and you raise them up until they're ready to flower and sprout into the world and spread out into the world. And so most gardeners I know will just go there naturally into that kind of paternal or maternal mindset. And it's lovely.

In horticulture, we used to talk about maintaining a garden. That was the language that we used, the maintenance required of a landscape. And then people like Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy came in and said, wow, that is the wrong word to use for the work that we're doing here in ecological systems because they're constantly in flux. We're not maintaining anything, let's call it management.

And so for a decade, we all talked about garden management and it made a lot of gardeners feel really important. But then people started saying, there's this kind of bureaucratic or corporate element to that word management. Let's use terminology from ecological restoration, and now let's start talking about stewardship.

And that's what people most often use now when they talk about this kind of work. And that's great. But for me, there's still a sort of hierarchy there with the term of stewardship and there's maybe a bit of noblesse oblige as well.

And so I've been moving towards the language of care, and that's how I think of gardens specifically as just a very pretty way to take care of land. But there's still something a little bit off about it to me. I've been reading about the white possessive from Aileen Moreton-Robinson and the perspective that settlers like myself often bring to our work that starts with an assumption that we own everything.

And there's a Métis anthropologist in British Columbia, Zoe Todd, who speaks about this in relation to ecological restoration and how the framework of so much ecological work often supports and reinforces colonialism and imperialism. Much of my time at Harvard was spent trying to figure out how and if the work of ecological horticulture and my messaging specifically can be part of bringing about a more just world beyond the garden.

And I would ask myself these really ridiculous questions like, how do we weed ourselves towards decolonization? Can we plant our way to ending capitalism? How do we advocate for native plants without encouraging xenophobia?

And I, of course, haven't figured it out and would relish a conversation on that topic here today. Because I really worry that for some people this work can be a way to paper over, literally plant flowers on top of these massive injustices rather than addressing the larger issues at the root of ecological destruction that make all of this work necessary.

I take heart that gardening as a practice and ecologically gardening specifically is a legitimate pathway towards connecting people with the earthlings and other people around us. And it's a very small step from that place to a justice-oriented worldview. That the first steps of planting native plants seem to lead easily to later steps of decolonization.

There's also something about the action of gardening ecologically, which can be potentially significant for the gardeners themselves. Many Americans have come to rely on a system of change that focuses on political representation and expects the government, various organizations, and even corporations sometimes to make the changes that we all want to see. So there's something so beautiful about people just doing it themselves.

There's a phrase that I love out of organizing, which is we save ourselves. And it's sort of radical to reject the disempowerment that we're fed every day. And I just love that part of gardening. I see it as a form of direct action and such a beautiful one at that because it's fundamentally collective.

But of course, it's not always that. There are ways that this work can be problematic as well. But I try to meet people where they're at, welcoming them in, inviting them along that path to make those connections. I try to speak about horticulture in the context of racial justice, anti imperialism, and bigger picture structural changes.

And with that terminology of care, I still wonder if there's something patronizing about it. And I'm looking for better terms that really show that we're in community with these other creatures and not in charge of them.

So that is all about the practice of gardening. This is this wonderful paper that came out recently that gives strategies for home gardeners and people who manage landscapes, science-backed strategies for techniques that they can use, as well as the evidence that those actions will have an impact.

They did a new assessment of yards in America and they found that there-- I can't remember the exact number. I think it was in the tens of millions of acres of yard in America. And it added up to what I do remember is that it was three Texases. If you add up all of those backyards, you end up with a space the size of three Texases. So it's just this absolutely massive amount of land. And that's not including public land or communally managed land as well.

So that is the practice of gardening itself. And I want to talk next about the service of cultivating healthy and biodiverse environments for people and animals and plants. For a long time, many people thought of cities as ecologically destitute. We of course know that was always a problematic position and have now found that cities are incredibly biodiverse and can be refuges for certain species that can't handle the disease of agricultural systems or the toxic inputs of suburban environments.

But regardless of that, wildlife still use our cities. They've used that land for hundreds of thousands of years. I see it as my job to make that land welcoming for them and for people as well. When we create environments that are healthy and verdant that benefits everyone, the people, the wildlife and absolutely everybody.

So it's not just about gardens, but about the environments that people live in. Gardens can be such precious things. They're important but my friend Chris [? Feilhaber ?] talks a lot about getting them out from behind gates and fences. I love this garden in front of the Brooklyn Museum so much because it's a garden for people walking their kids to school and the hot dog vendors outside of the museum.

There's amazing research on the psychological impact of greening city spaces. Studies from the Urban Health Lab in Philadelphia found that when abandoned lots were cleaned up and planted, gun violence went down by 29%. People around the lots felt safer and less depressed and went outside to socialize more.

The authors hypothesized that by showing people that their environment was cared for, they themselves felt less neglected. And a recent study out of Finland found more immediate physiological effects. Researchers took daycares and switched out the outdoor spaces from hardscapes to greenery. They made gardens and encouraged kids to play in the dirt and care for the plants. And within a month, the children's immune system function and microbiomes were drastically improved.

Researchers used the study to speculate that the reason so many of us are suffering from immune-related deficiencies is because of a lack of access to biodiversity. I think we're all aware at this point of the environmental impacts of red lining. There are issues with trees and air quality and access to cared for green space.

A study out of LA in 2020 found that bird species in the city were literally racially segregated. And when you consider that hearing birdsong can make us happy, reduce stress, improve concentration. It shows that healthy environments are not just a perk, they are a necessity. They are a right.

I argue with myself about this all the time because there are so many more important things that people need. Butterflies are nice, but people don't have housing or health care or food right now. And we need to create a world where everyone has those things, but they still deserve butterflies.

I'm guided by that old socialist rallying cry of bread and roses. It refers to the fact that people have a right to the basics of a dignified life, that everyone deserves that food and housing and health care. But they also deserve beauty. We all need art and music and flowers.

And I see that as my job, providing roses for the people and the bees and the many caterpillars who eat rose leaves. But it gets hard sometimes to remember when there are such dire conditions all around us even with those layers of meaning, this work can feel frivolous to me at least.

A story I like to return to is from about a year ago, at the Brooklyn Museum when we planted it in May and I went back to check on it for the first time in June. Flowers were blooming and of course, it should have been joyous. But on that day, the air smelled like fire and you could not see the sun. It was the second day of the effects of the Canadian wildfires finding their way to New York City. And it was apocalyptic.

Even though people were still using the garden, they took care of their kids. They looked at flowers and drank coffee. I counted five species of native bees in the smog. It was totally surreal. And I was determined that day that we should all quit our jobs and go do something that more directly upped our chances of planetary survival.

I literally started arguing with my friends about it. I eventually got so upset that I called my husband, who was the head of arboriculture at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for 30 years. And he reminded me that outside of the cherry blossom festival, the single busiest week he ever saw at the garden was the week after 9/11. Because gardens get more important when the world is on fire, not less. There are sanctuaries, same as they've always been, and they can be sanctuaries for bumblebees as well. Thank you so much.

[APPLAUSE]

NATALIA SCHWIEN: All right, folks, we're going to bring some chairs to the front. And Rachael and Rebecca and I will begin our discussion and then we'll open the floor for questions to folks on Zoom, as well as friends who are here in the room. So thank you so much for being here. We're so happy about it.

NATALIA SCHWIEN: Do you want to sit in the middle?

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Sure.

NATALIA SCHWIEN: OK. [INAUDIBLE]

REBECCA MCMACKIN: [INAUDIBLE] That's fine. OK.

NATALIA SCHWIEN: All right. Rebecca, thank you so much. That was incredibly moving and so beautiful. And also, I lived right around the corner from the Brooklyn Museum. So it was really beautiful to see the photos and to remember what an incredibly special place that is. Thank you for all your work and your words of wisdom.

I'm going to start with a question that comes from your thoughts, what you were saying about the role of personification and the way that we think about the language that we use when we talk about nonhumans in garden spaces, whether that's plants or fungi or bees or butterflies or birds, squirrels.

And I love what you were saying about the anxiety around language that reinforces hierarchies. And I'm also noticing responses to material-- we've talked about this in our reading group material like Suzanne Simard's writing around anxieties about language that where the nonhumans are described as using language of care.

And I'm wondering if you could speak to the role of what could be labeled as anthropomorphizing or personification when talking about nonhuman behaviors. So even outside of just the language of care for how we engage with gardens, but the language of care that you see in nonhuman behaviors, in the gardens that you've worked with and how do you engage with critics when they say something like bees caring for their babies. Isn't there a more like mechanistic way of describing that?

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Sure. So I have-- so I'm an-- should I turn this off? Is that better? I can leave it on. OK. All right. I'm a big advocate for personification. I think it's actually really important. I have a master's in biology that was a very traditional institution and was schooled in the dangers of projecting our own human behaviors onto plants and animals.

At the time, it never felt right. And now, I see it as one of the ways that real connection with the world is intentionally kept away from people. And those sorts of ivory towers are also protected. That when language like Suzanne Simard's language around trees, when that language is policed and objectified, it really stops people from not only having relationships with the organisms around them, but even learning about them.

I think a big part of the backlash to Simard's work is about the narrative. It has more to do with the way she tells stories than the research itself if you really get into it. And so I just want to bust that wide open. And I think a lot of people do as well and see that as a way to democratize knowledge to a large degree and reclaim those relationships as really central.

And I know that when I first started learning about things like animism and personification and I went home and I looked at my dog, I was like, this is obviously a person. It's so hard. I don't know how you can, like, hang out with a dog and not think about that individual as having personhood, that it's not a human.

I see no trouble projecting or recognizing, not projecting, but recognizing personhood on other organisms, but not projecting humanity. Right there is that delineation. And when you look at the sorts of language that scientific institutions do accept that are equally as anthropomorphic, it's not like if we go back to Simard, is everyone familiar with the criticisms of Suzanne Simard's work around mycorrhizal networks and how she uses language of cooperation and community?

And there's a lot of blowback by mycologists and others who see that as unnecessarily like fluffy and storytelling and not real science. But it's interesting because cooperation gets that treatment. But competition is just as much anthropomorphic. There's nothing that's inherently unhuman about competition and human about cooperation. Those are both humanity centric concepts.

And so it's just funny that it doesn't really have to do necessarily with projecting human desires and elements onto those other organisms. It's which ones you're selecting. And when you start to talk about things like cooperation and personification, that threatens really serious institutions that are trying to protect themselves.

AUDIENCE: You actually turned off the microphone.

NATALIA SCHWIEN: Oh, yes.

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Sure. Should I turn this off? Yeah. OK. Thank you.

LAURIE: Actually, you need to turn that on.

NATALIA SCHWIEN: OK. I actually did have this off, though.

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Test, test.

NATALIA SCHWIEN: That whole time. Yeah, I hear the feedback though. It might be maybe we could turn that one down a little bit.

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Did I turn the volume down?

NATALIA SCHWIEN: Yeah. Thank you for letting us know.

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Testing. Testing.

NATALIA SCHWIEN: Better?

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Is that better? OK. Cool.

NATALIA SCHWIEN: I love that. Thank you. And with Simard's with that language, so much of it was also around the term mother. That this inability to allow motherhood to exist within the plant world seems to be a real source of anxiety for a lot of folks. So I'm going to pass it over to Rachael.

RACHAEL PETERSEN: Thank you. Just echoing, Natalia, that was an absolutely beautiful talk. And I love that you brought us to the macro structures that are determining our relationship to the natural world and then these very concrete, specific places. Concrete, I don't like that metaphor now. It's very vegetal specific spaces that you're working in.

And I love the way you started your talk with attuning one's eye to pollination ecology, being a way to recognize the subjectivity and desires of plants and how they signal that. And I'm trying to formulate a question here, but what I'm driving at is I'm curious about gardens as spaces of potential frustration.

One thing we talk about a lot in our reading group is there's a risk with the sort of personification of nature that we kind of Bambi-fy it like it's all cooperation to your point. It's all good. But I think in gardens, there's often frustration like this plant isn't doing what I'd hoped it would, or there's other beings here that I don't want here or I wish were here.

So I wonder if that sort of site of, management or "care" is a place to really identify subjectivity, not just from this place of it's all well and good, but sometimes it's frustrating. What is the role of frustration in gardening?

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Yeah, absolutely. There you go. Gardening., I think you're not really gardening unless you're killing a bunch of plants. That's part of that process. Weeding is fundamentally a process of destruction in a certain way. And so--

RACHAEL PETERSEN: What is your take on weeds?

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Complicated. It's a whole lecture right there. But I think that it depends on the plant. I think that there are plants that cause ecological damage. And those plants in certain situations do need to be removed, like in many gardens when you're trying to create a certain environment.

And at the same time, they are unfairly vilified and ridiculously so by a lot of people doing this work. It doesn't make any sense to get mad at a plant necessarily, frustrations aside. When you blame the plant, you're really hiding the hand of all of the forces that got that plant into that condition.

And I think there's a world of difference between plants that came over here, brought by people traveling over boats as their food plants or medicine plants or literally sewn into the hair of people on slave ships. Those plants that are here have a place here. And it's really important to respect that.

But there's also a difference between those plants and then things like barberry, which are being sold at commercial nurseries for a profit. And then spreading around and causing ecological damage. Those are different relationships to weeds or invasive species. And one is much worse than the other and much easier to address as well.

We have the capacity. I try to advocate a lot for people not only to doing the fun work of gardening, talk about frustrations in the garden, try to change your local regulations or state level regulations on invasive species. That's a whole other level of frustration there. So that is my approach. I will happily weed. I'll do that work, but I like to know who I'm killing, of course, before I do that work.

But I think one of the reasons that go back to the original question about frustration is that there's a part of frustration that is the fact that for many of us, this knowledge is new and we're learning it for the first time or it's been lost and we're regaining it. And so there's just that learning process, which can be frustrating.

And watching something that you want to thrive, fail is a small tragedy. But then also with gardening, there's also this element of control. That is especially in traditional formal horticulture, that's kind of the whole thing. It's kind of all about control. And when you look at the history of horticulture, it really started with British people going someplace else, taking a plant, bringing it back, getting it to flower. That was horticulture.

That is the origin of American horticulture is literally that process. It was about that control. You don't have gardens that don't exist in a sphere of control. And so with this ecological horticulture, with rewilding, with these new kinds of forms or old forms, there's much less control and a lot more freedom for the plants to do kind of what they want. And if they want to die, that's fine as well. So there is that bonus for ecological gardening as well.

RACHAEL PETERSEN: I think the phrase I like to know who I'm killing is one that's going to stay with me for a little bit. I'll pass it back to Natalia.

NATALIA SCHWIEN: Thank you. I want to make sure that we have plenty of time to open the floor up for questions, so I'm going to go ahead and do that, though I do have more questions to ask. So is there any-- Nicole, anyone in the room?

AUDIENCE: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much. This was amazing and I very much appreciate the discussion as well, especially the emphasis on cooperation as opposed to competition and moving away from these neo-Darwinist frameworks that came out of an environment, a culture of imperialism, when competition was fostered and cooperation repressed.

And my question goes in the direction of a similar dynamic with functionality versus desire. You mentioned at the very beginning of your talk that if we tell the stories of plants and animals and their cooperation, let's say, that we see how their relationships are not just governed by functions, but also by desires.

And an example that you mentioned was the aster with the bees. And I noticed that a couple of times when you explained that relationship, you use the word benefit. There's no benefit for a bee to land on an aster that has already been visited by another bee. And it struck me that with this language, we're back in the system of functionality.

So I'm really curious, I'm very much for making the case for desire and affect to have a room in the way in which we think about interspecies relationships. And the trouble that I myself have when I try to do that is that I keep falling back in these frameworks that tend to look at these relationships as led in some way by some functionality. What benefit does one partner derive from the relationship? And what would benefit us the other?

So where exactly is the desire? Can we sort of put our finger on the affect? Can we bring that out in stories? For example, with the example with the aster and the bee or another. So I'd love for you to say a bit more about that.

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Sure. I'm right there with you. That my own language and my own concepts are constantly-- I'm interrogating them. I'm trying to think of better words and see the world in new ways. And it's just a constantly evolving process.

And I think that term of ecological functionality is a very useful one for a lot of people and a lot of different spaces because it does-- the term before that was ecological services. If you remember that phase of-- and it's just like a horrible term.

RACHAEL PETERSEN: [INAUDIBLE]

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Exactly. We're all trying to evolve these bad concepts. That do-- like they fall back on ideas of almost economic transactions that we're trying to get away from altogether. And I welcome-- I absolutely welcome suggestions. It's hard to avoid desire when you think about flowers and pollinators. It's sex, right?

It's the basis and it's gorgeous and it smells amazing sometimes or it smells disgusting. It's like all of those messy, beautiful elements of desire among all species. And then from the pollinators perspective, there is this basic hunger that is satiation and then medicine as well. There's amazing evidence about bees using aster pollen to cure certain parasites.

And then there's this basic mothering instinct that these bees specifically have as well, where they are collecting pollen to bring back. It's not necessarily a benefit that they get to raise their babies. It is care. It is that language of-- And yes, sometimes that word feels really problematic to me, but sometimes I just can't think of another. And I would love to hear if anybody else has suggestions.

But I think that those urges between reproduction, hunger, and caring for one's babies, that's it. That's the basics of existence right there. Did that-- this is kind of a jumble. I'm sorry.

AUDIENCE: Thanks again for your talk as always. Super great. I always take so many notes. So my question was, there's an issue that we talk about in the landscape department about how when you make a nice park, the housing prices go up around you. And when you live in a city that doesn't have rent control or high home ownership rates like that can be an issue.

I kind of struggle, what can you do as the gardener, as the designer to combat that? Because as you say, it's a right and a necessity for every person, regardless of their income, to have access to gardens and green space. The forces of capitalism tend to oppose that necessity.

REBECCA MCMACKIN: I mean, green gentrification is an absolute problem. And when I was working in Brooklyn, there was a new park proposed for East New York, and the community there was advocating against it specifically for that reason that they didn't want their neighborhood to be nicer or prettier because that would force them out of their homes. It's this absolute tragedy.

And so there's a lot of work being done by people thinking about and theorizing and strategizing about different ways to support communities and staying in their homes economically with jobs, with home ownership. But I'm not super familiar-- Akiko has-- can I put you on the spot, or do you feel like-- I can also speak to it, but if you feel like sharing, I think people would love to hear.

AUDIENCE: Yeah, I was just talking about this because I'm taking this class. I'm a landscape architecture student, but then also I studied religions here. I'm currently taking this class called urban design and color line. And this is a class where we learn racism and racial history in this country particularly.

And then specifically tying into urban planning and then that's how intentionally, systematically they've been embedded in space. We see racism in space. So doing these readings at the same time, we work with the organizations that are trying to make parks. And this semester, we're specifically New York City.

So we work with the team like organization or community members who we were trying to make park in New York City and then work with them to understand the context and in what strategies we can come up with to basically build anti-displacement strategies.

So there are some success stories and I welcome you to look into some stories of-- High Line Network is one of the resources to look into. They build a tool kit to learn from High Line story. How much displacement took place around there. So there are some stories to be learned from. Of course, not 100% beautiful story, but it's a start.

NATALIA SCHWIEN: Thank you. Laurie, are there questions from the Zoom? Oh, goodness.

LAURIE: So we have a question from Ricky ray in the audience who says, beautiful. Thank you. I wonder if you have a few guiding principles that you'd offer to both urbanites and suburbanites in terms of working to assist ecosystems with regaining resilience.

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Sure. Yes, oh, my gosh. When I approach a landscape and it's already been determined that it should be a garden, I can't tell you how many gardens, especially in cities, should be other things like housing and bathrooms. Gardeners find that one out all the time.

But if it's determined that space should be a garden, the first thing that I like to do is look at that land and say, what does this land want to be? What would it be if we left it alone? What was it historically? What are the conditions? What are the aquatic, or moisture, soil conditions, et cetera? And start from that.

Especially in the UK, there's a lot that goes into amending soils and making really good soils. It's a big part of horticulture back in England. But this movement here is really based on finding the plants that fit into existing conditions, even if they're industrial rubble. And there's a movement in England to do that as well. There's a big movement in England to do that as well. That's super cool.

But just starting-- doing an assessment and not trying to change it too much, and then planting native plants is important. Those are plants that evolved on that land. And from my perspective, it's kind of their land. A lot of people get really excited about feeding bees and feeding butterflies and they forget that the plants are also really central and that-- and we can actually act as conservators.

There's ex-situ conservation, which doesn't happen enough in the United States that people take rare plant conservation seriously on their land and are looking to support those populations of the plants themselves, even if they're not necessarily the best pollinator plant.

And I think if you're in a public realm, one thing that is kind of the opposite of that last comment is just remember that it has to be beautiful. It really does. If you have your own land or you're able to care for land that is not in the public eye, by all means, make it cool, make it funky, make it messy.

But when this sort of work happens in the public eye, it's very important to let people know that land is still cared for, that it is still reads as beautiful. Otherwise, it's just maligned and often short lived, unfortunately.

NATALIA SCHWIEN: Any question from the audience?

AUDIENCE: When you were talking about not attributing humanity to creatures, I then begin to think about what you were showing on some of the slides where there was so much language involved. And language to me is a real marker of being human. And so I think we're kind of on a fine line.

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Yeah, it's hard to again figure out the words. Communication seems so sterile. It seems like it's not genuine when you're talking about that relationship between-- it's sort of like words like organism. I struggle with organism again, it just comes out of that tradition of objectivity.

And so language is the only word I have. I would welcome again feedback. It's certainly not language that we use. It is not. Or maybe I am-- also, I'm thinking about the extent to which we're all communicating with scent but aren't really aware of it. There is a lot of communication that's happening in that way as well.

I take those liberties to use those words that map onto human experiences because it more accurately represents those relationships to me than does a word like communication. And I'm open to other words, if you've got them, I would love to hear it.

But right now, I don't know what else to do. And it seems to help people take in those stories. It's easier to listen to stories and retain them and then pass them along, especially when you're talking to children, when you're using easy words like that. So I do try to make them as accessible as possible.

NATALIA SCHWIEN: I would also add to that, I don't know if this is on, but I would also add to that-- Thank you. Is the history of the ways in which language has been flattened and what we allow to even be considered communication and who has access or ability to engage in language has an intensely colonial history. And also is situated within that colonial history, within a really specific epistemology and a specific ontology that comes from a very small subset of thinkers in the scientific revolution in Europe.

Whereas if you look at other cultural contexts or even those same contexts, but in other communities, language had a very different meaning. And the ability to communicate, who you could communicate, and who with, and who was communicating with each other outside of just a human centric space or a human engaged space was very different.

And so while the word term language in English and in our cultural contexts has a specific connotation, outside of that cultural context, it has very different connotations. And who is communicating and how they're doing it is interspecies a lot of the time and is relational a lot of the time. The same way that you said about sense, like how often we're reading body language and that's language.

AUDIENCE: Your dog doesn't talk to you, but when-- he or she? Your dog.

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Oh, she.

AUDIENCE: When she puts her paw on you--

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Exactly.

AUDIENCE: She might be saying, I love you. She might be saying, I love dinner.

NATALIA SCHWIEN: Totally. Yes. So looking at communication with nonhumans as-- that it's not purely verbal, though my dogs definitely understand English. And I think many of us, many of our animals do. So, yeah, thank you for that question. I think it's a really important one. [INAUDIBLE], did you have a question?

AUDIENCE: It was just in line-- actually very in line with what you're--

AUDIENCE: Is it on? Just press it. [INAUDIBLE]

AUDIENCE: There you go. OK. Thank you. It was just in line with that question. And it was when you asked the land what it wants to be. I just wondered what your technique was.

REBECCA MCMACKIN: So it's in many ways it's very sterile and boring. It's like just looking at again, like moisture in the soil and soil texture. But it has a lot to do with more interesting factors as well, where I as a gardener especially, and not just a designer, I think about that process of garden care, who's going to take care of this garden?

You can't design a garden without knowing that information. What is their level of expertise, knowledge, availability? All of that information goes right into it. I literally have a list that I can send you of all of those factors that's like bullet pointed and how to approach a landscape that I will happily send around.

And then looking at not only the surrounding and historical ecosystems of the broader region, but also are there populations that you want to tie into? Are there other specialty niches that this land could support? At Brooklyn Bridge Park right before I left, we found this wonderful little bee called a blueberry bee. That's actually pretty common outside of cities, but very rare inside cities because cities have high pH in the soil and blueberries really low pH.

And so this one little bee that can only feed their babies, blueberry pollen, it's very rare in the city. So we found it. We were so excited. We read about them. We found that they wanted to nest in really sandy soil. So we went around the park, like literally dumping piles of sand to try and create this environment for these little bees.

And then we went on iNaturalist, does everyone know about iNaturalist? Like this amazing app where you can take photos of animals and plants and fungi and it identifies them but also maps them for researchers. And so we went on iNaturalist and looked at populations of these bees around the city, and then where public lands were and community gardens were.

And we started trying to place blueberries in those locations to try and link populations of the blueberry bees, to try and support this community in New York City. And it's ongoing. It literally just started two weeks ago. They started the surveys to find the bees again.

But it's that kind of work as well, where you're also looking at, OK, not only what would this land just do naturally, but like it's hard to grow blueberries in the city. It's not like naturally going to happen without a lot of intervention, but that what are the ecological processes in the region that you want to support with that land? And then of course, there's a lot of community questions as well.

Of course, before the garden is constructed, you need to make sure that people want a garden, but then different communities have such different ideas of what looks beautiful and what looks cared for, and a lot of meadow aesthetics don't read as that for people.

And so by barging in, I think we're all in the design world very familiar with this by now, this process that you really want to have that community engagement to make sure that what you're creating, whatever the ecology of the site, that what you're creating is going to read as beautiful and welcoming to the people who are going to be around it. So all of that.

RACHAEL PETERSEN: Other audience questions? Great. Christine.

AUDIENCE: Hi. Thank you so much. So I really loved what you said about how you know it's a good story if you can distill it in a way where you can tell it to children. And I've been thinking a lot in our group, we've talked about how kids often come into the world with this animistic sensibility.

And so in your work, how much of it do you think is about teaching children a certain language or way of understanding other beings versus validating and reinforcing what they already to be true about the world. I'm just curious sort of about that tension and what you have experienced in that.

REBECCA MCMACKIN: What a beautiful way to put that. I love that. Thank you. To recognize that they already have that knowledge and you're just encouraging it. Totally. That's absolutely what it is. And yeah, I'll take that with me. Thanks.

I'm in this group of entomologists who are working-- they are people all over the world, but they're working to change public perception on America, specifically, our relationship with insects, among other things. There's a lot of data about insect apocalypse, decline, et cetera as well, trying to speak with one voice on the issue.

But also I'm in the group on public perception. And there's people who research this stuff on what age you can still get people to change their worldview and it's 10. It's age 10. You can get kids to love bugs at least which flowers you probably have a lot longer than a grasshopper.

But if you can get kids to recognize or reconnect with their own desire of recognizing those animals as friends or enemies or dangerous, whomever, but to really form those connections with those animals, by age 10, they're in. And after age 10, it is just much harder.

And so I do spend a lot of my work trying-- as I said, I have a 9-year-old. And so I really do work with kids quite often doing work at every school he's gone to, but also pro-bono work with public schools, helping them design pollinator gardens and native plant gardens outside of their schools.

And so I do a lot of that work with kids trying to find those stories and distill those stories down to kid level. But I'm so grateful for that comment because I'll use that so much in my work. Thanks.

RACHAEL PETERSEN: Rebecca.

AUDIENCE: This is really interesting. Thank you so much especially for teaching me about hummingbirds. I think a lot of the-- think about a lot of these beings as kind of ancestral beings, as relatives, and also thinking about indigenous, not only knowledge, but also politics around land back.

And I'm curious, obviously, this isn't always within your control, but thinking about the importance of understanding land not as property, but also thinking about these kind of movements for either return or land tax or thinking about the kind of partnerships that need to happen with either communities that have been displaced into those lands but are still very in good relationship with a lot of those creatures.

And then also in original inhabitants that have been doing caretaking and working with their plant relatives for a long time. So how do you think about that? How do you encourage that when you're on a project?

REBECCA MCMACKIN: So thank you. Yes, of course, absolutely. Central to that work is the necessity of giving land back to the people who have been not only is it theirs, but also like if you care about biodiversity, that's like the best strategy, obviously.

But I never know my role in that. I'm obviously not the face of decolonization for a number of reasons, but I want to support those movements. And so my strategy is, of course, any time that I can advocate for initiatives, groups of people, campaigns, make people aware through my newsletter as much as humanly possible, I pump that information out, boost any sort of movement.

And then when I'm speaking, I try to find the language and the concepts that I feel like will lead into an understanding of the importance of that work. But don't feel like cultural appropriation for me to be like, let's all talk about reciprocity or something like that. I don't personally feel comfortable with that.

But again, I'm always open to better strategies. I'm constantly trying to figure out the right work to do in that regard. But right now, I'm just trying to take all the good work that other people are doing and throwing it out into the world as much as humanly possible.

RACHAEL PETERSEN: I don't know what time it is. Do we have time for additional questions? OK. Great. Any other? Yeah, we'll do one more knee room and then maybe cue up a Zoom question. OK.

AUDIENCE: I have a slightly more practical question. In this community especially, there's a great emphasis on the value of trees, and we're also seeing that in regulations. There's a proposed Massachusetts State law that talks about the value of cooling corridors that are created by trees.

But what I keep finding is that it goes to trees and then it stops. And I wonder if you can just help us talk about how do we talk about the value of other plants. Can we use some of that language when we talk about the importance of plants and insects caring for trees or trees caring for those other plants and insects? How do we expand beyond the trees as an economic value in fighting climate resilience?

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Totally. It depends on your audience. I'll have a harder time-- I've seen people and I've seen the research where people do backflips to get to the point where butterflies make economic sense. It's like everyone's always trying to make those arguments. And it's same with the ecological services.

And it's as much as it's laughable, it's also important in those worlds where those kinds of decisions are made to be like, here's a chart, I've got it. Let's plant these plants. Or protect what's already there. From a perspective of land management and talking about a place like the Harvard campus, for example, and that where trees are often respected and prioritized and the rest of plants are forgotten, one of the best strategies I've found to do that is to talk about what's now called soft landings.

Have you heard this term? So for years, people would grow turf right up to the base of a trunk. And then after so much advocacy, people started making tree rings, and then people started making tree volcanoes. And we worked against those. And we got back to tree rings. And there's now a circle of mulch around every single tree in a lawn. And that was hard won. And we're all really grateful for that.

And now, it's time for that to go by the wayside. And because thanks to the research of Doug Tallamy and others, it has become really apparent that for the ecological work that trees do, and even for the carbon cycling that trees do, when you have turf and a tree ring and you clear away those leaves, that's all the carbon.

That should be going right into the lawn or into the soil that you're like raking away and it's going back up into the atmosphere likely. But also that almost all moths, 95% of moths live part of their life cycle in that duff layer of leaf litter that is under trees or shrubs. And so cultivating an environment underneath a tree that is more akin to the natural cycles of this environment as opposed to turf or mulch is really central to that work of ecology and supporting those systems.

You need to think about the life cycle of a caterpillar or a pupa falling to the ground and what's going to happen. Is it falling on a sidewalk? Is it falling in the turf? Is it falling on a bunch of woodchips? None of those are good situations. And I have never seen the research on this, but I worry that trees that are planted in situations where those caterpillars do fall to their demise are acting as an ecological sink for those species. That they're calling them in, supporting them in part of their life cycle and then killing them and that second half of their life cycle.

And again, it's never been studied as far as I know, but I think that that work of trying to cultivate that space underneath the trees to be hospitable to those processes and letting those natural processes just run and follow their own inclinations is the next step of that sort of tree centric language. That's a good question.

Again, I haven't seen research about whether or not the biodiversity is supporting the trees. That I have not seen study and I don't know if it has been. But you can say unequivocally that trees don't want to grow in your lawn and that very few want to grow in a pile of woodchips and that they put those leaves there to grow in them.

They're not just throwing them away. They're literally placing them there in order to build the soils that they want to grow in, in order to create-- if you have a blank slate of mulch and it's on a slope and water is flowing down that slope, it's going to shoot right off and not percolate into the soil. Those leaves are going to redirect, hold that water, redirect it into the soil. They're going to insulate. They hold air like a duvet, literally, and that's going to insulate the ground under the trees.

So conceptually, yes, of course, it is helping those trees. But as far as like actual research that you can put on a chart, I haven't seen it, but yes, the answer is yes.

AUDIENCE: I'm going to stop raking, I guess. We have--

NATALIA SCHWIEN: [INAUDIBLE]

AUDIENCE: What's that?

AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] I've actually seen a little bit to that effect. You're right. It's not enormously well researched. But you can find, particularly in forest systems, some studies of interactions with epiphytes, interactions with ground story species. One of the most fun that I'm aware of is the Coast Redwood Forests of California, where you get water trapped because the trees are so enormously tall and so close to the ocean.

And that bring-- and that water drips off that water captured from fog, drips off of the redwoods, helps the understory species to grow, 5-foot high sword ferns, for example. And those 5-foot high sword ferns trap the water in such a way that the redwoods roots have access to it. So you can find cycles like that in forest ecology. I'm not aware of anything in urban systems, but there's some work in forest ecology. Simard would be another place to look.

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Totally. Awesome. Thank you so much. That's awesome.

LAURIE: So we have a question from Jake Reisen, and he says, in all your work with public gardens, have you experienced any direct democratic processes or has the design and landscaping tended to be more hierarchical? I'm thinking about co-production techniques/community assemblies, et cetera. Thank you.

REBECCA MCMACKIN: Oh, such a cool question and such a difficult one that designers everywhere are really grappling with right now. My time at the GSD was filled with that question and people trying to come up with ways to design. And really, as a designer, put your services in the hands of the communities that you're working within as opposed to just coming up with a design.

And in that sense, yes, it is a more democratic organization. I can tell you that in practice at Brooklyn Bridge Park and other places where I've worked, it's so messy and so difficult because it's, of course, rare that communities have consensus or that the scope of the project is going to align necessarily with what they want to see.

And so I think that those-- like the desire and the necessity of those processes are very much apparent to designers, to landscape architects, to planners but I think the processes are still being worked out. There was a lot of people like making board games at the GSD to be able to have those conversations with communities.

And so I know people are trying like they're very much trying, but when you look at who in communities will engage with those processes, you've got a very small subset, often of the population that may or may not be representing the desires of the majority of people. And so that word democracy gets a little questionable as well.

But I do know that people are actively engaging with this. And I would again, really welcome if anyone has a good story or example of a design that was done cooperatively. That would be really cool to see. I would really like to see that.

RACHAEL PETERSEN: OK. Maybe one more question. Do you want a question? All right.

NATALIA SCHWIEN: I hope this is kind of a summarizing question, which is a little bit broad. And you've answered it in ways already. But one of the things that we've talked about in our reading group and we've spoken about in the Thinking with Plants and Fungi Initiative at large has been data as introduction.

And so thinking about how data rather than as commodified service or as a means of flattening or of reducing a being or an ecosystem or a relationship, but rather as a way of gathering insights on the languages of other species and how to engage with those languages.

And so I'm thinking about the ways in which you might speak to someone who is new to nonhuman communication or new to understanding and reading other languages that aren't verbal in a garden or in a public park space. What advice would you give to someone who's new to that kind of language?

REBECCA MCMACKIN: I was arguably radicalized by this campaign when I was a gardener at Washington Square Park, and I was quite young. There was this wonderful campaign by these researchers who were trying to collect data on pollinators and urban parks, essentially.

And they had-- they appealed to the parks department to have gardeners go out and sit in a garden and watch a flower for half an hour. And it was one of the most formative experiences of my life. I just had never done that before. And as much as I was already a gardener, that process of observation, it is closely paying attention.

It's impossible-- if you're a curious person, you might need to sit with-- if you're not a curious person, you might sit there and be like, what do you think that bumblebee is doing? And ask those kinds of leading questions. But if you are a curious person and you're watching these processes take place, it's impossible not to personify them. To be like, oh, this guy is doing a job.

They're obviously doing that. The flower is obviously providing a service. And so just naturally, when you do pay attention, I think that the real thing that is in the way of these communications is that people don't see them to begin with. And sometimes you do find people who have this worldview that is so stark they can look at something and still not get it right. Those people exist.

But the vast, vast majority of people just have never been encouraged to look. They've never been introduced to these animals or these plants or fungi, et cetera. They don't even know that they're there. And so I think that it's that process of inviting people to give their attention over. And it's a form of meditation.

Staring at a flower is like one of the well-worn pathways. And so it's through that, that I think would be like the first step, like a very gentle first step.

NATALIA SCHWIEN: Beautiful. Thank you. Well, thank you so much, Rebecca, for joining us. Thank you, Rachael. Thank you to the team at the CSWR.

[APPLAUSE]

Thank you all for joining. It was wonderful to have you. And go outside and go stare at a flower for a while. Thank you.

SPEAKER 2: Sponsor, Center for the Study of World Religions.

SPEAKER 1: Copyright 2024. The President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Video: TWP&F: Planting for a Greater Community: Conversation with Rebecca McMackin (2024)
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