Restoring the Terrestrial Body to Good Health: Thoughts from Spetses, Greece

by Rhamis Kent

I’m a few months overdue in writing this piece, but better later than never. During the August 2011 PDC I taught in Spetses, Greece alongside Nicolas Netien, Maria Baltazzi and Stamatina Palmou, some interesting insights and reflections came to mind.

The beauty of Spetses has that effect on people – I’m not alone in that regard, I would think. Any opportunities provided to gain ever more useful insights into this work we’re pursuing are always welcome.

The most effective way I’ve found for me to gain a comprehensive understanding of earth repair, ecosystem restoration work has been to draw analogies with the workings of the human body. The parallels are quite stunning.

The human body is comprised of a number of diverse elements with a variety of shapes, sizes, and functions which have been assembled in a way that creates functional links between the parts. Redundancy and resiliency have been built in to ensure that the most fail safe and robust arrangement is provided. As long as the body is well nourished, hydrated, able to properly respire and has the use of its functional diversity, it works in an impressively elegant and efficient manner.

Ecosystems are no different. Whatever is observed in an ecosystem can be found in a living body. For example, the human body is an ecosystem and ecosystems are bodies. Bodies fail when its constituent parts are no longer able to provide the collective functional diversity needed from it – more often than not due to being poorly nourished and insufficiently hydrated. Additionally, when parts are removed from living bodies and they are subsequently made less diverse and complex in its assembly and functioning, they are indeed much more likely to fail.

As designers, we are in the business of restoring the functional diversity of the terrestrial body. We start with the stomach – which, for landscapes, is soil. It was once famously stated that all sicknesses start in the stomach. When the flora/fauna of the stomach are absent or lacking proper balance, living bodies are significantly more susceptible to sickness, which is widely understood and confirmed in medical circles. It is the means by which we cycle and assimilate nutrients and energy from the air, food and water we ingest, enabling bodies to live and thrive.

The exact same symmetry exists for ecosystems. When soils are in a degraded condition with low moisture, low organic matter content, poor air circulation and low biological activity from the various members comprising the microscopic and macroscopic ecologies of the soil food web, the entire terrestrial body falls apart – and we all suffer for it. Similarly, when parts of the terrestrial body are removed, we lose the valuable functional work provided by the lost part or parts. Again, we all suffer for the loss. The body has been diminished.

When we stop for a moment to take note of the cumulative effect of the massive removal of parts from the terrestrial body – and the poor working condition of its stomach, in particular – it should be no surprise to see what has resulted. The surprise is to see that people are surprised. One simply needs to ask themselves: “What would happen if these same things were done to my own body?” Greece provides a clear example of the effects suffered from this type of deconstruction and ecological diminishment. But there are solutions to reverse this condition – and taking a PDC with PRI Hellas (Greece) is a great way to start doing something about the problem.



One thought on “Restoring the Terrestrial Body to Good Health: Thoughts from Spetses, Greece

  1. I Like the insight Rhamis.

    As a Greek with familial land in Greece, whenever I go back It always strikes me now that I am looking at the bones of a country. Even when I travel into more wooded and “lush” areas it still seems like its missing the real health. Like a thin emaciated body starving for actual food(permaculture?) and not the same thing over and over again(olive trees, vineyards, goats).

    All the family I have and all the Greeks I know, think that its just always been this way in Greece and worse, that there’s nothing to be done. But a little research will show otherwise ( scroll down to the highlighted yellow section). Aristotle’s books on extensive study of flora and fauna were written in a location today that is extremely arid and almost desert-like.

    Hundreds of years of war have stripped many islands bare of trees to build boats for many failed independence movements.

    Many islands that are now devoid of residents where once covered in forests with thriving villages, towns and port cities.

    Being a part island nation I think Greece is a perfect example of how the notion of centralization has failed utterly. Especially for the islands. If the boats stopped coming to Hydra(or hundreds of other islands) for just a few days there would be massive food shortages. Turning the land into a commodity producing tool and not the life giver that it inherently is will no doubt starve many islands.

    Greeks need to see the Loess Plateau work to fully realize the potential of their land. Greece can be far more than just the scapegoat and vacation spot of Europe.

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