Lessons From Nature

Posted by Aaron 30/09/2017 0 Comment(s)

For thousands of years we have lived as part of nature, without separation reliant on and understanding intricate details of the natural world for survival.


Some of us have forgotten that we’re connected to each other and we are a part of the natural world and that nature is an intimate part of us and what we do on this earth echo's through our planet and impacts how future generations live. We have inherited a world of undeniable climate change, species extinction and human suffering. Fortunately, nature hasn't stopped teaching and some of us have not forgotten what it means to be part of a greater consciousness, such as traditional people who maintain strong connections to nature largely through subjective relations to the land, oceans and rivers.


As of late traditional knowledge and people have largely been ignored, objectivity has dominated subjectivity giving rise to systems of knowledge that have consumed the earth like an amoeba consuming its prey. Once we all had trust and respect for the relationships that make up the complexity of nature. Then along came two coinciding belief systems that to this day supports contemporary political and economic ideologies; Western Science, we soon started saying things like that's not scientific and that has no scientific proof. Consequentially a dismissal of traditional belief systems and a disregard for their property and culture emerged.


Western science requires exact measurements, visible proof, statistics and objectivity. But make no mistake traditional people were deeply scientific how else could they have lived for thousands of years, in fact they are more scientific than we imagine, particularly when it comes to the cycle of life. Lets take a look at the forest floor and use the amazing world of soil microbes as a lesson from nature and an example of the cycle of life, a cycle of which our ancestors played a stewardship role for future generations; for us.


A mycorrhizae is literally a fungus root. In a symbiotic association the fungus grows through the soil picking up nutrients and water and bringing them back to the plant, which provide photosynthetic carbon. It’s a symbiotic mutualistic reciprocal relationship, most fascinating is that these fungi connect plants below ground. The fungi colonize one tree then connect with other tree species and protect them. There are interlinking mycorrhizae fungal highways, the biggest oldest trees are the most highly connected. These trees are nurturing the young seedlings in the under story. Using DNA micro-satellites Suzanne Simard uncovered this network in an old growth Douglas fir forest.


Carbon isotopes were used and it was found carbon transmits back and forth through this network like messages transmitting through the Internet. When one seedling is under stress the established plant sends more carbon (or what's called a source sink gradient) from a robust source plant like a birch tree to a needful sink plant like an under story fir tree and all this without harming the source plants. So what does it really matter in forests? Well it turns out if you shade one of the plants in the under-story another plant will send a percentage of its carbon and that’s enough carbon to increase the survival, growth and health of the seedlings growing in the under-story.


These networks serve as more than just avenues of exchange of carbon, nutrients and water a tree that’s under stress diseased actually benefit from the help of its neighbors.


When a tree is under stress or diseased it sends warning signals to its neighbors. and the neighbors. respond by increasing production of their defense enzymes which makes them more resistant to disease. Furthermore trees can actually recognize and transmit messages to their relatives and an established tree can recognize whether seedlings in its neighborhood are relatives or strangers as it may send more carbon to kin seedlings than to strangers. Also, if the parent tree is injured it sends even more carbon to other kin seedlings or more simply, its passing its energy; legacy to the next generation.


What lesson is the forest showing us?

Climate change is undeniable. For decades corporations have privatized the gains and socialized the costs at our expense and the machines that got us into this mess are not going to get us out of it. What Suzanne Simard's work shows and central to the world view of traditional people is that the answer and solution can be found in our relationship with nature.


The networked beauty of forests - Suzanne Simard source:youtube


Indigenous people who are dependent on the environment and have a long relationship of stewardship which supports their livelihood and in many cases they are part of the forest, important to the health of the forest which of course is tied to the health of the rivers and to the health of the fish, which feeds back to the oceans and comes back to us the people. Or more simply the circle of life. What our ancestors recognized as the trading of mutual respect and this is what scientists now call complex adaptive systems.

So lets complete this circle. Forests are built on relationships and healthy connectivity and communication, species that are constantly relating to each other and it’s out of their interactions that emerges what scientists are calling complex adaptive behaviors and provide benefits such as ecosystem services; the cycling of clean air and clean water. In modern society we view ourselves separate, somehow entitled or superior, or at the minimum we take it for granted. When we take out key parts of the ecosystem such as the trees, we impact the mycorrhizae populations and these systems rapidly degrade into difficult to repair and sometimes irreversible states. In most of the developing world this is happening really fast. However, it’s precisely because they’re complex adaptive systems poised for change that we can change this trajectory from negative to positive and here’s how we do this.


First we’ve got to re-imagine ourselves as part of this network. Once we tap into this complex adaptive system and understand our role in it, we can change our thinking, we can change our behavior and once again, align ourselves with this great system. Once we remember that we are deeply part of nature and not separate then we can become part of a great healing process and limit the effects of natures purge and  change current disastrous forecasts for our future generations. Western and Traditional Science shows that every thing is connected and if we can communicate with respect and reciprocity out of this comes balance in our communities and our ecosystems.


Lucky for us nature has call waiting and we don't have to go far to start communications on the network, as mycorrhizae naturally occurs in soil. However our soils are depleted due to urban and rural development and soil life often needs to be established to a productive level. We can make subtle changes by supporting the health of the soil, observe and respond to changes your efforts have had on the environment, economics and society.  Apply the same nurturing principles the forest shows us to our soil and each other and expand the network.


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