2. The Operations of Nature
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2 THE OPERATIONS OF NATURE THE INTRODUCTION to this book describes an adventure in agricultural research and records the conclusions reached. If the somewhat unorthodox views set out are sound, they will not stand alone but will be supported and confirmed in a number of directions-by the farming experience of the past and above all by the way Nature, the supreme farmer, manages her kingdom. In this chapter the manner in which she conducts her various agricultural operations will be briefly reo viewed. In surveying the significant characteristics of the life-vegetable and animal-met with in Nature particular attention will be paid to the importance of fertility in the soil and to the occurrence and elimination of disease ill plants and animals. What is the character of life on this planet? What are its great qual. ities? The answer is simple: The outstanding characteristics of Nature are variety and stability. The variety of the natural life around us is such as to strike even the child's imagination, who sees in the fields and copses near his home, in the ponds and streams and seaside pools round which he plays, or, if being city-born he be deprived of these delightful playgrounds, even in his poor back-garden or in the neighbouring park, an infinite choice of different flowers and plants and trees, coupled with an animal world full of rich changes and surprises, in fact, a plenitude of the forms of living things constituting the first and probably the most powerful introduction he will ever receive into the nature of the universe of which he is himself a part. The infinite variety of forms visible to the naked eye is carried much farther by the microscope. When, for example, the green slime in stagnant water is examined, a new world is disclosed-a multitude of simple flowerless plants-the blue-green and the green algae-always accompanied by the lower forms of animal life. We shall see in a later chapter (p. 127) that on the operations of these green algae the well-being of the rice crop, which nourishes countless millions of the human race, depends . If a fragment of mouldy bread is suitably magnified, members of still another group of flowerless plants, made up of fine, transparent threads entirely devoid of green colouring matter, come into view. These belong to the fungi, a large section of the vegetable kingdom, which are of supreme importance in farming and gardening. It needs a more refined perception to recognize throughout this stupendous wealth of varying shapes and forms the principle of stability. Yet this principle dominates. It dominates by means of an ever-recurring cycle, a cycle which, repeating itself silently and ceaselessly, ensures the continuation of living matter. This cycle is constituted of the successive and repeated processes of birth, growth, maturity, death, and decay. An eastern religion calls this cycle the Wheel of Life and no better name could be given to it. The revolutions of this Wheel never falter and are perfect. Death supersedes life and life rises again from what is dead and decayed. Because we are ourselves alive we are much more conscious of the processes of growth than we are of the processes involved in death and decay. This is perfectly natural and justifiable. Indeed, it is a very powerful instinct in us and a healthy one. Yet, if we are fully grown human beings, our education should have developed in our minds so much of knowledge and reflection as to enable us to grasp intelligently the vast role played in the universe by the processes making up the other or more hidden halE of the Wheel. In this respect, however, our general education in the past has been gravely defective partly bcause science itself has so sadly misled us. Those branches of knowledge dealing with the vegetable and animal kingdoms--botany and zoologyhave confined themselves almost entirely to a study of living things and have given little or no attention to what happens to these units of the universe when they die and to the way in which their waste productS and remains affect the general environment on which both the plant and animal world depend. When science itself is unbalanced, how can we blame education for omitting in her teaching one of the things that really matter? For though the phases which are preparatory to life are, as a rule, less obvious than the phases associated with the moment of...