Full moon embraces transformation

We’ve had a beautiful full moon the last few nights.  No sense in arguing exactly what day it was “full.”  As far as I’m concerned, its been full every day for the last several days.  It’s bright as day at 5 am when I walk out to get the newspaper.  It’s nice to walk in and out of the moonshadow.

Phases10-9x-3wEvery day the moon is higher in the sky at 5 am and every day a little bit more is sliced off the side nearest the western horizon.  We accept and enjoy the way the moon changes.  Why don’t we embrace such transformations in our own lives?

We’re heading into autumn in Arkansas.  The dry weather has hastened the loss of leaves from our trees.  The creek maples have already lost all their leaves.  The views at Meadowcreek have started to open up.  It’s less like maneuvering through a lush tunnel when you travel Meadow Creek road.

Deciduous trees embrace change.  Right now, they are all transforming themselves for the coming winter.  The shorter days have told them to start decreasing supplies to the leaves and start storing it in the roots.   In a month or so they’ll shut down chlorophyll production and colors will start to appear on the remaining leaves.  Then the leaves will fall and our huge trees will just lie dormant for a few months.  That’s a transformation most of us humans couldn’t abide.

At Meadowcreek, we’re the exact opposite of dormant in the fall.  We’re chopping wood and putting up preserves.  Soon we’ll be canning salsa from our fall tomatoes. The cooler fall weather stimulates us to do more outside.  When the frost comes and beats back the chiggers, ticks and snakes, we spend even more time working outside.

Why are we doing all this work, when all around us Nature is slowing down to rest for the winter?  Because we want things to be the same in winter as summer. We want tomatoes in winter even when we can’t pick them off the vine.  We want the house to be warm as toast even when there’s snow outside.

Humans like stability.  No matter how many times we hear, “the only constant in life is change,” we don’t accept it.  We want things to be stable.  We want our kids to stay young and we want to stay young.  We want lives that are balanced and run on an even keel.

This need for stability leads us to see stability in nature when it doesn’t exist.  We like to think of the “balance of nature” when ecologists have abandoned this notion.  We like the mature forest and believe in “climax communities,” though ecologists have also abandoned this notion.

Ecologists now realize that ecosystems are made up of multiple competing species which eat and are eaten by each other.  Nature is never in balance, it is continually fluctuating.  As prey numbers fluctuate according to forage growth, predator numbers fluctuate.

Ecologists recognize multiple equilibria instead of just one climax community.  A savanna with plenty of open grassland will have more diversity and more production than a mature forest.  Native peoples realized this and maintained grassland with fire to increase herds of grazing animals.

We like to accomplish things on a regular schedule.  The people of India used to say, “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.”  They preferred to adjust to the environment and not try to force the environment to adjust to them.  The dedication to order, stability, and control did enable the English to conquer a good bit of the world.  But which culture is more resilient?  Based on the numbers of people from India running motels, research labs and even large companies in the US, maybe the British model is not so resilient.

We value hard work.  But timing needs to be right.  Last week, I only had one day I could help dig beds.  So we dug them even though the ground was dry from lack of rain.  We couldn’t dig as deeply as we wanted to, so the bed won’t be as productive. I strained my back pounding the shovel into rock hard clay.  We should have waited on the beds and done something else instead.  To everything there is a season.

Being in sync with the rhythms of nature is required for resilience.  We weren’t too in in sync with the rhythms of nature when we decided to dig that bed last week.  We knew it, but we did it anyway and I’m still paying for it with a sore back.

Native species don’t have any problem adapting to natural rhythms.  If they do anything else, they don’t survive.  The fungal structure we call a mushroom is the very transitory fruiting body of an organism which can live for centuries and occupy acres of soil. The mushroom only appears when the organism (as mycelia underground or in decaying logs) has colonized all the available territory.

Then it waits until a rain comes and conditions are perfect for sporulation.  Only then does it produce the fruiting body of the sexual phase.  These then produce the innovative offspring which can colonize new territories.

All resilient systems follow this path. Most of life is spent in the growth and maturation phases. But when needed, the alpha phase is begun to create the transformation and innovation which leads to more fit, adapted and productive systems.

The resilient system is content to wait and wait until conditions are right and then it explodes with vigor and growth and transforms itself.

One of Nature’s most spectacular transformations is butterfly metamorphosis. Around 280 million years ago, some insects began to hatch from their eggs not as minuscule adults, but as wormlike critters with plump bodies and many tiny legs.  These voracious worms are built solely to eat, grow and accumulate the resources needed to form a chrysalis or cocoon.  Inside the cocoon, these larvae release enzymes which dissolve nearly all of its tissues. However, some organized groups of cells survive. These clusters of cells, called imaginal discs, first form when an insect embryo develops in its egg. The imaginal discs remain dormant until the larva has been destroyed, then they rapidly proliferate and grow into adult legs, wings and eyes, using dissolved larval cells as fuel and building blocks.

Similarly all resilient systems carry the equivalents of imaginal discs (such as seeds or new inventions or new social organization) which enable the system to transform as it uses the resources generated in previous stages.

Unfortunately our desire for stability and order inhibits our resilience.  A leader stays too long in office and his state or country declines.  A businessman or farmer refuses to relinquish control of his business to the fresh energy and ideas of the next generation and the enterprise declines.  An industry refuses to accept a new technology and is run out of business.

Resilient systems embrace periodic transformation.  Natural systems because they have to, man-made systems because they need to.

Pay attention to your local system and the forces impinging on it.  Is it time for intense work or time to accumulate reserves or just time to rest and be alert for opportunities?

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For more details on the contributions to resilience of periodic transformation see Chapter 4 of our free online book available at this link.

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Ticks and poison ivy afflict the rigid but not the resilient

Climbing to the top of Bee Bluff is a rite of passage at Meadowcreek.  The view of Meadow Creek and Little Red River valleys and bluffs is breath-taking.  Makes you wonder how anyone could destroy such beauty with a dam.

bee bluffYou will probably be urged to make the climb soon after you get to Meadowcreek.  Some delay the experience for awhile.  All are glad when they have done it.

A few concoctions will enhance your experience of the forests of Meadowcreek in mid-summer.  The irony is that some who spurn these concoctions because they aren’t natural end up not being able to enjoy Nature at Meadowcreek as much as those who aren’t so rigid.

A few days ago we took a couple of rock climbers from Michigan to the top of Bee Bluff.  One of our leaders got into a batch of deer ticks on the way up.  They started biting and she had to rush down to wash them off in Meadow Creek.  These tiny ticks are the bane of the Ozarks woods in summer. Being afflicted with them at the highest point in Meadowcreek and having to climb all the way down to get relief can be torture.  Luckily taking a hot soapy shower right after a hike always gets rid of them.

Modern inventions can help you avoid the problem.  Various bug repellents, organic and synthetic will discourage them from hitching a ride on you and you will have a much more pleasant hike.

An even more modern approach is to never use any synthetic bug repellent.  Those who take this approach are much more likely to be afflicted with ticks and chiggers.  In the terminology of resilience, they are not conservatively innovative.  They have abandoned technologies which worked but had side effects, instead of just modifying the old system.  They are as rigid and lacking in resilience as those who suffer the effects of unstinting use of synthetic chemicals.

They are innovative, but not conservative.  They are similar to the many farmers who have abandoned all mechanical means of controlling weeds for chemical sprays. Pests adapt to new insecticides and invariably develop resistance.  If you solely rely on sprays for control, they will eventually fail you.  The resilient farmer maintains several methods of pest control.  Each is applied when needed.

Poison ivy provides another case.  At the Meadowcreek dorm we keep calamine lotion. If afflicted with poison ivy or chiggers, just apply this lotion or other synthetic anti-itch compounds.  You’ll quit itching and the problem will go away.

Some visitors to Meadowcreek don’t like to use anything but totally natural remedies. When confronted with a case of poison ivy, they go collect some jewelweed and apply it.  That does work, but finding jewelweed can be a problem at times.

Those who have adopted the modern all-natural approach to ticks, poison ivy and chiggers are going to have a much less pleasant visit to the Ozarks.  Those who are conservatively innovative and blend new technologies with the tried and true will enjoy themselves more.

Another problem in any humid area is mold.  Mushrooms love the humid Meadowcreek valley and so do other fungi, including the molds which get in houses.  The tried and true technique for getting rid of surface mold is diluted chlorox bleach (sodium hypochlorite).  For mold on wood or porous surfaces, use products containing ammonium hypochloride (such as Formula 409) which can penetrate into the wood.

Some people who really love Meadowcreek don’t want to use the chloride chemicals to get rid of mold.  They are continually fighting mold and never really get rid of it.  Mold is tough stuff.  Judicial use of modern chemicals can get rid of mold and make life so much more pleasant.

Mold is actually wonderful.  Can you imagine if molds and fungi didn’t infest and degrade wood?  All the nutrients in the wood would be locked up and not available for other species to use.  Eventually the woods would be all dead trees with no nutrients for new growth.

We humans want the wood in our houses to not degrade or be invested with fungi.  Today we have innovations which enable us to make Nature more palatable to us. Research in chemistry has given us many products which get rid of mold, chiggers and ticks.  Unfortunately, reaction to excessive chemical use has led some to abandon all chemical use.

Resilient systems and conservatively innovative.  Innovations which work in nature fit in with the existing systems.  The don’t kill the goose which lays the golden egg. They don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

In the dance of life, species are continually adapting to each other.  A plant develops natural resistance to infection by a bacteria.  The bacteria then finds a way around this defense.  The plant then adapts with another innovation to avoid disease.

Man has taken this one exponential step further, especially with our chemical research.  We have to be careful that we don’t destroy the underlying system.  Some cities spray so much to control mosquitos that they kill the dragonflies which feed on mosquitos.  Then, late in the season they still have huge problems while areas which didn’t spray are pretty well controlled by the natural mosquito predators.

Resilient systems test innovations and discard the ones which don’t work or are harmful.  Resilient systems embrace innovations that work.  So we don’t mind a few chemicals to deal with ticks and chiggers and mold at Meadowcreek.

Those who rigidly adhere to any doctrine will eventually fall.  We strive for resilience, not rigidity.

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For more on how conservative innovation and flexibility in ecological resilience, download chapter three of our free book at this link.

Red-tailed hawks may mean an early winter, but we’re still glad they’re back

Will we have an early and hard winter?  One indicator we will: the first red-tailed hawk came back to Meadowcreek this week.  Red-tailed hawks stay at Meadowcreek until summer gets too hot, then they head North for awhile.  When they feel winter coming, they head back South to us.

redtail_logoHaving one come back in August is early. Maybe it knows something about the winter that we don’t.  Or maybe it was just homesick.  Mature redtails don’t go far from their breeding grounds and don’t stay away long.   The younger ones migrate earlier and go farther.  You can tell them apart because the adults have reddish tails often with a band on the tip; juveniles have brownish tails usually with several dark bands.  So red-tailed hawks don’t necessarily have red tails.

I bet you’ve heard the call of the redtail.  Movie and TV directors seem to think the redtail’s raspy scream sounds exactly like a raptor should sound.  Whenever a hawk or eagle appears onscreen, no matter what species, the shrill cry on the soundtrack is almost always a red-tailed hawk.  When you hear the cry, it will get your attention.

So most everyone knows something about the redtail whether they know it or not.

And you’re pretty safe in calling almost any hawk you see a redtail.  There are several other species and we love to spot them, but the redtails predominate.   Some parts of Arkansas are even better places to find them than Meadowcreek.   The flat farmland of the Delta is perfect for them.  They love the open fields with great telephone poles to perch in.  Sometimes in the winter in the Delta, you can see a redtail on every other telephone pole.

Redtails love elevated perch sites.  One study in Arkansas indicated they prefer to hunt in areas with perches even if the area has a lower prey density than more open areas.  They sometimes spot prey from the air, but more often from their perches.  From their lofty thrones they watch until they spot a careless mouse or bird.

Redtails watch and patrol the fields and roads of Meadowcreek.  We regularly see redtails on our road feasting on prey they have caught trying to cross.  We stop and watch them from a distance until they notice us and fly away with the rest of their catch.

Red-tailed hawks have been seen hunting as a pair, guarding opposite sides of the same tree to catch squirrels.

Many country people used to blame redtails when they lost poultry and called them “chicken hawks.”    As a result, redtails were commonly shot.  The redtail’s propensity to perch in the open made it particularly vulnerable to persecution.  Wildlife biologists now say redtails don’t go after chickens, but they may just like redtails more than chickens.  As we do at Meadowcreek.  We’re willing to lose a chicken every now and then to a hawk.

If you don’t want to lose too many chickens to a hawk, then you might want to be able to distinguish a hawk when it is flying over.  Buzzards or turkey vultures can be easily mistaken for hawks when they are up in the sky, but buzzards only eat dead meat, so they won’t bother your live chickens.  Here are some tricks to use to tell the difference:

  • the tips of buzzard wings look a little more like fingers, the tips of hawk wings are smoother
  • redtails usually have light, oatmeal colored underside while buzzards have dark undersides
  • a buzzard will soar around in circles while a hawk usually soars for a much shorter time before flapping its wings and doesn’t usually make circles
  • vultures hold their wings in more of a V and wobble a bit while flying; hawks’ wings are more straight across and they don’t wobble.

Hawks have a particular flying style when they are just flying for fun and not hunting.  They kite.  This is a combination of soaring and gliding.  You may be familiar with the relatives of redtails called kites.  They are also members of the hawk family.

Redtails are one wild species you don’t have to come to the country to see.

The best known redtail is called Pale Male and lives atop an apartment building near Central Park in New York City.   PBS devoted one of their Nature programs to him in 2008.  He’s still alive, has had two mates and produced many offspring.  You can follow his adventures as late as August 2015 at http://www.palemale.com/.

The oldest known red-tailed hawk was 28 years 10 months old.  Since they usually come back to the same area to breed and spend the winter, we are hoping to get to know the Meadowcreek redtails, but they are not really friendly.

If you are really interested in hawks, come to Meadowcreek and help us do a survey of our population this fall and winter.  Nothing nicer than watching hawks kite on a clear fall day.

Lion’s Mane mushrooms are sporulating

Lion’s Mane is one exciting mushroom.  Many are envious of all the morels and oysters we have at Meadowcreek, but Lion’s Mane is even more interesting.

Walking through our unique forests, you have to keep your eyes open.  Last year, one of our research assistants was walking on an isolated trail up an unnamed hollow and found this strange mushroom species sprouting from a tree.  Now we are propagating it in our sporulation room in the Resilience House and have just made a new planting in a bed prepared to meet its requirements.

Lion’s manlions manee is not the classic cap-and-stem mushroom. It doesn’t look like any mushroom you have ever seen before.  It looks like a mass of thick white yarn or icicles flowing from a tree.   Hence their other common names: sheep’s head, bear’s head and even “pom pom blanc” — as in the white pom-poms cheerleaders use.  It’s from these pieces of yarn or icicles that white spores emerge.  The spores are the “seeds” of a mushroom that allow the fungal organism to reproduce.

Lion’s Mane has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a wide variety of problems,  Extracts are used in Western medicine to treat gastric ulcers and reduce blood glucose levels.  Animal studies show success in improving wound healing.

Most fascinating are the effects of Lion’s Mane on nerve growth.  Animal studies indicate increased regeneration of peripheral nerves when a Lion’s Mane extract was given orally.  It also stimulated nerve growth factor and myelination (increasing the nerve covering) in a in vitro experiments with human cells.  Japanese and American researchers have isolated  two novel classes of nerve growth factors–unique compounds which appear to be the active ingredients causing nerve growth.

The effect of Lion’s Mane on nerve growth has led to human studies on cognitive impairment.  A double-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled trial showed improved cognitive ability in individuals with mild cognitive impairment.  At weeks eight, 12 and 16 of the trial, the Lion’s Mane group showed significantly increased scores on the cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group.  Four weeks after use of Lion’s Mane was stopped, benefits significantly decreased.

Some studies indicate Lion’s Mane may reduce the effect of the type of amyloid plaque formation seen in Alzheimer’s patients. Mice injected with a peptide known to cause such plaque formation were challenged in a maze designed for testing memory. Mice fed with a normal diet were compared to those supplemented with lion’s mane mushrooms. As the peptide-induced plaque developed, the mice lost the ability to memorize the maze. When these memory-impaired mice were fed a diet containing 5 percent dried lion’s mane mushrooms for 23 days, the mice performed significantly better in the Y maze test. The mice also regained another cognitive capacity, something comparable to curiosity, as measured by greater time spent exploring novel objects compared to familiar ones.  Examination of their brains showed a reduction of amyloid plaques in the brains of mushroom-fed mice compared to the mice not fed any mushrooms.

A small clinical study (n=30) compared post-menopausal women who consumed lion’s mane baked into cookies showed less anxiety and depression yet improved in their ability to concentrate compared to those not given lion’s mane.

These remarkable results have led many researchers to begin exploration of this beautiful mushroom.

All these studies must be replicated and no one should yet claim Lion’s Mane is a cure for Alzheimer’s or other nerve diseases.

Whether Lion’s Mane will cause you to be smarter or not, you can be sure that Lion’s Mane tastes great and is nontoxic and completely safe, even for lactating mothers.  It is also so unique looking that you won’t confuse it with any other mushroom.

Most say the mushrooms have a lobster or crab flavor when cooked in just a little oil.  They do need need longer periods of heat to cook off moisture and improve their texture.  Cook until the icicles are browned. Keep checking on them and doing taste tests until you’ve reached your desired crispiness.

Their high moisture content also makes drying a real pain. The best way to preserve lion’s mane is to sauté and then freeze them for later.

If all goes well, we will soon have some extra so that you can try them.  In the meantime, come on up to Meadowcreek and look at our Lion’s Mane beds and cultures.  Or go walk in the woods and see what unique species you can find.

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One study on Neuroregenerative potential of lion’s mane mushroom is Wong et al., 2012. Int J Med Mushrooms. 14(5):427-46.

Ecosystems aren’t politically correct

Ecosystems can be pretty rough on individual species.  Even without man’s interference, several species will go extinct every year.  It’s a natural process.  Species which aren’t resilient disappear.  To survive many species are rough on themselves.  Many fish species eat their young when they overpopulate a area.  If they didn’t, the species would run out of food and disappear.  A resilient species has lots of offspring, but must be able to control reproduction when resources are limited.

Other species are kyellow snail darterept in check by predators.  If deer overpopulate an area, they will destroy most vegetation and cause erosion and destruction of habitat for all species in a forest.  Coyotes and wolves (or human hunters) are needed to kill the excess to keep deer from destroying their own homes.

We have an excess of kindness in our suburbs and cities.  Many hate to see any animal die, especially Bambi.  So suburbanites are often up in arms when deer population explode and must be controlled by killing some of them.

This desire to be  kind and nice to others (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”) is so strong in Western culture that some words and phrases are banned because they offend some groups.  Using these words incurs severe castigation.

In August 2015, “anchor baby” was the term the politically correct decided to eliminate.  Dozens of phrases are banned by various universities because they offend certain groups.  At the University of California saying, “There is only one race, the human race,” is offensive because it denies “the significance of a person of color’s racial/ethnic experience and history.”  Saying “America is the land of opportunity,” implies that “People of color are lazy and/or incompetent and need to work harder.”  At UC, asking an Asian, Latino, or Native American “why are you so quiet?” is tantamount to giving the order “assimilate to dominant culture.”  And stating the opinion, “Affirmative action is racist,” is also verboten.

In ecology, a race is a physically distinct subset of a species.  Races suffer physical
insults regularly and few care.  The resilient adapt and survive.  Many suffer the ultimate insult of being eliminated and the ecosystem doesn’t cry but just adapts to the change.

Ecosystems are not politically correct, they just roll with the punches. It’s wonderful to study wild species where there is no PC police to hinder your speech or thinking.

One of our endangered species at Meadowcreek is the yellow snail darter.  We try to keep our streams free flowing because that’s the habitat the darter needs to survive.  The snail darter was made famous by a 1970s conflict over building the Tellico dam and flooding the Little Tennessee River.  Dam opponents fought successfully to include the llocal race of the snail darter on the Endangered Species List in 1975 and the dam was halted. In 1978, the Supreme Court sided with environmentalists, but Congress declared the fish nonendangered, the Tellico Dam was built and that race of the snail darter disappeared.

Humans have vastly increased the extinction rate of other species from a natural “background” rate of about one to five species per year. Ecologists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day.

We are so worried about being politically correct that we censor our language and thought to avoid offending the ears of the easily offended.  Yet we ignore the destruction of the planet’s ecosystems.

Ecosystems don’t much care what you call them.  If they are resilient, they will keep perking along.  If they aren’t resilient, they will fall apart. We can argue all day long about which is more resilient.  The ecosystem doesn’t care.

The ecosystem will adapt no matter how many species we wipe out.  It won’t weep and cry and mourn the hurt.  It will just adapt.

Likewise the planet won’t weep and mourn if humans continue to overpopulate the planet and deplete its natural resources. It will just continue to adapt.

And if man continues on a non-resilient path and wipes himself out, nature will not weep or mourn.  Nature will just adapt and begin creating new species to populate the planet.

Are country people more resilient? Only with good networks.

Did you grow up on a farm?  If so, you’re part of one of the smallest minorities in the country.  And you are becoming more of a minority in the US and world-wide.

maxresdefaultPeople with rural accents, especially Southern white rural accents, are perhaps the only minority which can still be ridiculed without fear of the PC police.  Country bumpkin, redneck and yokel are terms not yet banished.

The country person is often portrayed as the ignorant rube who can be taken advantage of by city people.  It’s often true.  I remember the first time going to town to buy school clothes with money earned by baling hay and raising cattle.  The shopkeeper played on my naivety and sold me a bunch of stuff which was ugly and didn’t fit.

The shopkeepers in small town America have traditionally been members of urbanized ethnic groups well connected to sources of supplies.  Chinese shopkeepers dominated in the Mississippi Delta; Jews and Lebanese in other rural areas.

They knew how to bring in goods needed in rural communities, often gouging the local farm families.

Walmart, for all its faults, changed that.  “Quality of life, for me, is having a Walmart within 20 miles,” a participant in one of our studies told us.  Walmart provided a connection to cheap staples available only far away from rural areas.  Local merchants, used to profiting from the rural lack of connection to these sources, could no longer compete.

It’s easy to look at the many  survival skills of country people and say they are more resilient.  They have many more of the skills needed to produce food, shelter and warmth than city people.  They know how to use garden tools, preserve food, build houses and cut and store firewood.

But when country people aren’t well-connected outside the rural area, they often find it hard to survive.  That’s true for crucial inputs and for markets.  Farmers in the 1930s woke up to this fact and began developing input supply and marketing cooperatives. These ventures enabled the farmer to avoid middlemen and their high prices for inputs and low prices for farm commodities.

Many farm cooperatives also became adept at adding value to commodities so they could sell more directly and reap more of the consumer dollar.  Those who did created wealth unheard of in rural areas.  Stuttgart, Arkansas, has become one of the most prosperous small towns in Arkansas due to two large cooperatives which make products from rice, soybeans and other grains.  Many other small towns in the Midwest have followed the same path.

One common ingredient in the communities which have created these prosperous cooperatives is usually a large number of people descended from European immigrants in the late 1800s.  These Germans and others came largely from small villages where people knew and trusted each other.  In some cases, whole villages immigrated together.  Stuttgart was settled by a group of Germans led by a Lutheran preacher who settled on the open prairie.

Sociologists would say these folks had high levels of bonding social capital.  They were all tied to each other by blood, history, religion and language.  As a homogeneous group they knew each other and could trust each other.  This was enough to help them survive.

But to prosper, they needed bridging and linking social capital.  They needed to be connected to suppliers and markets and government and new ideas.

Ecologists call this modular connectivity: a few strong local links and many weak, long-range links.  To survive, any species or ecosystem relies mostly on local resources and other local species to create resilient systems.  However, when an ecosystem is isolated, it often declines.  To avoid extinction, ecologists call for “increasing connectivity . . .[i.e.] management actions that facilitate dispersal of species among natural areas, for example, through the establishment of landscape corridors or stepping-stone reserves.”

In human terms, resilient people have a few good friends and many acquaintances. Resilient systems are networked yet independent.

Resilience is not about survival on your own.  The most resilient systems are independent, but they are well-connected outside their systems.  When country people establish those connections, no one can beat them on resilience.

Then roles are reversed and the city slicker must rely on his wiser, more skilled country cousin. That’s the way resilient systems work.  All cities decline when their residents lose their knowledge of the ecosystems their existence depends on.  The only question is when.

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For more on being networked, but independent, see the first chapter of our free book at this link. 

For more on ecological connectivity and climate change, click on this link.

Seeing the potential in a stone or a person

Ever wanted to build out of stone? We’re resurrecting Stone Masonry at Meadowcreek.  We have a master stone mason visiting this week to plan a training program and a series of projects leading up to a dam/cheese cave/ water pumping station/swimming pool at our largest spring.

18STONEMASON_SPAN-master675Every house at Meadowcreek is blessed with amazing stonework.  From three story fireplaces to retaining walls to patios, everywhere you look is fascinating, expert masonry.  They were built 30 years ago and are still solid as can be.

Stone masonry is hard, physically demanding work.  The mason is only interested in training strong people who will stay with it for a long time.  It’s also intellectually demanding.  The mason must visualize how each stone can fit in the structure he is planning.

Some people are good at this sort of visualization, others aren’t.  Psychologists call it spatial intelligence.  Can you rotate an object in your mind and see how it would fit with other objects?  Few people are really good at this.  On average, men are much better than women, but many women far surpass most men.  I got a good test of my spatial intelligence yesterday when I had to change a belt on the drier with only a picture of how its should look from the back.  I had to work from the front without being able to see it.

Spatial intelligence is totally different from verbal intelligence.  Some who are able to handle words well are totally deficient in the ability the ability to visualize and manipulate objects in their mind.  It’s a very practical type of intelligence sorely needed in society, but most of our schools focus on verbal intelligence instead.

People who are good at it can see the multiple uses for an object.  They can see the various potentials the object has.  This ability goes far beyond stone.  Some are good at seeing the potentials in people, the potentials in nations, the potentials in business and battle.

The Chinese word for this concept is shi.  Shi doesn’t have an exact definition in English, but it means something like “a potential born of disposition.”  It also is a very dynamic concept.  Shi doesn’t refer to a static potential, but a potential which changes as circumstances change.

The stone mason coming to Meadowcreek this week will be looking for this potential, this shi, in the people he meets.  I hope there are enough which meet muster.

Cultivating and uncovering shi is crucial to resilient systems.  Non-resilient systems try to maintain a specified order, resilient systems focus on adapting to inevitable change.  Many societies, farms, communities, people try to maintain a system which worked in the past.  When external change is strong enough, these systems will collapse without adaptation.

Jared Diamond’s book Collapse gives some cogent examples of this.  My favorite is the collapse of the Scandinavian settlers on Greenland.  As the climate got cooler, they clung to the grass and sheep and other traditions of warmer regions and died out.  Their Inuit neighbors harvested the bounty of the Northern sea and survived.

What Diamond doesn’t point out is that the Scandinavians proved more adaptable in the long run.  After mastering fishing the cold waters, they eventually came back to create a country in Greenland which both preserves old traditions and incorporates needed adaptations.

Democrats and Republicans in the US both seem like the dying first settlers in Greenland.  The Republicans often seem stuck in the 1950s attempting to maintain a system which worked then.  Democrats are often wedded to a model from the 1960s which is equally not adapted to today.

We could all use a little more shi, a little more ability to see potentials and to appreciate the way those potentials will change.

It may seem strange to illustrate a concept rooted in change with an unchanging rock wall.  Well-built rock walls don’t change, unlike most systems we deal with. Maybe that’s their attraction.

But their resilience is only due to the mason’s ability to see the stones which can interact to make the wall strong and resistant to change.

At Meadowcreek this week we’ll explore the shi of masonry.  At Meadowcreek every week, we explore the shi of people and all their systems.