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Episode 076: Lessons Learned from the Land with Wendell Gilgert

natural capital management Feb 16, 2021

This week's podcast was a true pleasure. Wendell's lifelong career and passion in conservation and ecology have given us some amazing stories and lessons to learn this week. I'm a little late to write up my thoughts and share what I've learned from my conversation with Wendell, but as you listen to the interview you might want to check out some of the references mentioned and do a bit of your own discovery as well. Here are some of those references: 

Who Doctors the Land When it's Sick?

Who doctors the land when it's sick? Does the land get a wellness check? How often does the land need a check-up? Where do we find the people to do such work? These are all great questions if I do say so myself. The answer, of course, is Wendell Gilgert, or perhaps an even better answer is the next generations of Wendells as he and others like him pass their knowledge down to those bleeding heart millennials (raises his hand sheepishly) and they share it with their children. 

When the land is sick it needs a doctor and each of us can be that doctor or nurse if we so choose to be. I like the thought of this and as Wendell shared his story with us this week I think he has forever engrained the image of billions of people around the world doctoring and nursing their planet as they make routine check-ins with her to see how she's doing. 

The truth is that our earth is really truly our nurturing mother, but it doesn't hurt if at least some of her children become land doctors and nurses, looking after her as she looks after us. 

Growing Up While Mother Earth is Sick

Even when nature is thriving there still has to be advocates for the ecological world and a healthy understanding of the holistic systems that she is made of. We know everything is connected, but we often don't act like we know this. If nature is in poor health then our health falls as well. Wendell saw this in his youth as he grew up during an awakening to man's destructive behavior that many of us are still just starting to understand. I'm referring to the work of Rachel Carson and other naturalists of her time as they brought to light the sickness we had inflicted upon our land causing Rachel Carson to write Silent Spring. 

Silent Spring came out in 1962, some 25 years before my generation would ever think about lending their hand in becoming a land doctor. This means that Rachel Carson's message was first for the Baby Boomers with hopes that they'd pass the work onto Gen X and Millennials. 

The message did strike a cord of course because DDT was commercially banned and a whole awakening of environmentalism was born. Wendell was right in the middle of this as he got to see it all unfold before him. His naturalist's eyes witnessed Silent Spring first hand, and like many who find a deep love for nature and see the negative effects of human behavior on it, he chose a holistic career in being a land doctor. 

Not Enough People Engaging with the Land

This is the main problem we see. Although awareness might have been the challenge during Rachel and even Wendell's life it definitely is the main concern at this point in time. It's been nearly 60 years since Silent Spring. We have a new mind-blowing documentary just about every month that states the case for mother earth and our need to make changes. We are more aware of the problems our current and past behavior has led us to than we have ever been. Now that we know what's going on the problem has become getting us back to the land. 

We spend most of our time looking at screens. Tasting overly-processed and chemically produced food. Feeling the slightly upraised buttons of our plastic keyboards and smelling our chemically infused furniture. All this is done while listening to culturally poisoning media that drives us even further into a mind-numbing state and away from nature. The five senses that were originally intended for us to engage in nature are now being used to block it out. 

Holistic Land Doctors and Nurses Using All Their Senses

What seems like common sense in Wendell's interview is actually far from common practice. Wendell brings up some wise words and solutions to help us wake up from our mind-numbing stupor and become land doctors and nurses wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

Using Our Childhood Passions

The first lesson comes in remembering our childhood passions. What really gets us fired up? As a child, you probably remember exactly what got you excited. For Wendell, it was dinosaurs! That childhood passion of his led to him witnessing the Sandhill Crane for the first time and engaging with nature on a whole new level. 

What makes our childhood passions so important is their ability to help us gain inspiration in our lives. Recognizing our passions and witnessing each experience as if it was our first, opens us up to inspiration. As our childhood passions get caught up and carried away with the whirlwind of our adult lives we forget about what really drives us and we become less inspired by the world around us. If we can again choose to see as a child we might be able to make the inspired changes we need and want in the world. 

Get Outside and Walk the Land

Wendell says it best, "Walk the land, engage all five senses, and become the land doctor!" I'll also say that we can do this at varying degrees and at different capacities. We don't all have to be ranchers, farmers, ecologists, and land conservationists. Maybe we are land "nurses" and we support the "doctors" of the land. Maybe we get outside a little more, garden a lot more, and make decisions within our livelihoods that allow us to work with Mother Nature instead of against her. 

Regardless of how we choose to more fully engage with the land and nature, it's essential that we relearn to fully use each of our five senses. Many of our indigenous ancestors understood this, and as we become more rooted in our own environment we can also begin to find and implement change by more fully using each of our senses as we engage with the land.

Even taking a walk in a park or tending our gardens can help us find solutions and doctor the land. As every good doctor does before prescribing a solution, we examine, diagnose, and prescribe. We do this best with the use of our five senses. As we take our walk in the park we can look for the signs of life and determine their health. We can listen to the signs of life. Do birds call, do bees hum, does water flow? We can feel the vitality in our soils. Does the ground feel spongy or is it hard and compact? We can smell the building blocks of life. Does our compost for the garden smell rotten or rich? We can taste the nutrients and building blocks of our life. What does a freshly picked kitchen garden tomato taste like? Are the greens overly bitter? Are the melons tasteless? Why is that? We curiously examine, diligently diagnose, and we effectively prescribe all using our senses. 

Take a Soil Class and Be a Life-Long Learner

We finally take on one last lesson from Wendell and that is having a deeper understanding of soil and becoming a life-long learner. Wendell says in the interview, "There is no such thing as a learning curve, there is a learning trajectory." He also goes on to say that your trajectory can be steep at times and mild at others but it should always be trending upward. If you're looking for an area of learning to explore we can all use a deeper understanding of the soil as it is foundational to the growth and future of humankind. Once you take that first PDC course or soil class, don't stop there, be curious, empower your childhood passions, and "Get out of the book and onto the land" where the real learning begins. 

When Work No Longer Becomes Work

We didn't specifically state it in this blog post, but I hope you recognized that Wendell had a career where he never really worked. He followed his passion and it led him to a place where his work became something more than work. This is where work becomes purpose and play. This is what I hope for both you and me! These are Seeds of Tao.  

Keep on growing! =) 

Come Join Us in the Commons

If you've enjoyed Wendell's story and the lessons that came from it then I think you'll enjoy what we've created for you in the the Commons. Some things you'll find in the Pando Commons is: 

  • The Dream Catcher Mini-Course to help you define your purpose and why within regeneration. 
  • The Community to connect and collaborate with regenerative entrepreneurs and project-owners. 
  • The monthly Think Tank events to help you and your peers work out challenges and accomplish objectives within your regenerative projects. 
  • Weekly Podcast Updates so you can stay in tune with the stories and lives of those within the regenerative and permaculture movement. 

Come check out the Commons here!