Woolly bears say mild winter ahead

One sure sign of fall has already appeared: woolly worm caterpillars. Leaves were already beginning to turn on the Canadian border last week, though still lush green in Arkansas. Temperatures have dropped.  Rains have returned after the June-July dry spell. Caterpillars and young people are deciding where to spend the winter.

woolly bear caterpillar

Late summer is a good time to observe caterpillars other examples of the r phase of the adaptive cycle.

The woolly worm is the most well-known fall caterpillar in the South; they are called woolly bears in the Midwest. They are bristly, a couple of inches long with a brown band in the center and black tips. We pick up each woolly worm to see how long the brown band is. If they are all black or the brown band is small, the winter is supposed to be long and hard. So far, it seems the brown band is longer, so maybe the winter won’t be so bad.  One I saw this morning had barely any black on it at all.

Caterpillars hatch from eggs laid by butterflies in warm weather. The caterpillars eat as much as they can and then search for overwintering sites under bark or inside cavities of rocks or logs. That’s why you see so many woolly worms crossing roads or paths or on your screen door in the late summer and fall.

Also everywhere in late summer around here is the red-spotted purple butterfly or Limenitis arthemis. The top is mostly blackish purple with an iridescent blue stripe on the hind wings. The underside has orange-red spots. The butterflies feed on moisture from damp ground. You’ll often see them when you go swimming in the creek in the late summer.

The females lay eggs on the tips of leaves of deciduous trees–especially birch and black cherry. They hatch out in less than a week and feed on the leaves, growing into a one and a half inch long caterpillar which looks like bird droppings. Great way to look distasteful to birds.

There are lots more fascinating late summer caterpillars here. They are all examples of the fast growing r phase of any living system. They eat a lot and build themselves up so they can turn into the mature butterfly stage.

The human equivalent is the teenager or young adult–fast-growing, fascinating and preparing for the mature stage. We see a lot of young people come and go at Meadowcreek. They have lots of energy, build interesting structures and usually move on.

The long-term Meadowcreek residents welcome the young folks, get attached to them and hate to see them go. But we know they will be replaced with new youth in good time or they will come back when they are ready to settle down.

4box-adaptive-cycle1Resilience research is built on the four phases of the adaptive cycle: alpha or α, r, K and omega or Ω. In the α phase, the system is organizing itself. In newly cleared or burnt-over ground, this is when new species cover the ground, protecting it for the next phase. In cultivated fields, this phase is when fields are planted. The seeds establish themselves and grow rapidly. In human life, this is childhood. Patterns are laid which will determine the fate of the adult.

Grasses and invasive species dominate, saplings get established. In natural ecosystems, the established young trees then enter the fast growing r phase. Resources are accumulated as wood and roots until the tree is well rooted, strong and tall. In cultivated fields this is seen as the plants reach their full height. In humans, the young quit growing, finish their schooling and settle down.

Then the K phase begins. This phase of maturation is the mature forest, the crop field setting seed, the adult human establishing a home. Offspring are created in this phase and sent off to establish new homes or wait till a place opens up for them.

The Ω phase is when resources are released to provide a foundation for a new system. In forests, the Ω phase is a forest fire or a clear cut. In wheat, corn or rice fields, it is the harvest. In businesses, it is the retirement of the boss. In farms, it is passing on the land to the next generation.

At Meadowcreek, we watch the adaptive cycle in the forests, the fields, the caterpillars and the young residents. Our task is to help the gardens and beds move through the cycle to provide food for us. To harvest the mature trees for firewood and biochar. And to help the young people lay a solid foundation of knowledge and experience so they can contribute to a resilient world wherever they go.

Right now, though, we’re paying attention to woolly bears.  If you see any, measure the bands and drop us a iine or two: meadow@deltanetwork.org.  They sure are saying its going to be a mild winter here.

Making wilderness: Isle Royale

Off the coast of Canada is a huge island wilderness which the rangers call pristine.  It has been logged and mined and fished out, yet today it’s kept wild by the efforts of the National Park Service and the thousands of visitors enlisted every year.  Isle Royale has resident herds of friendly moose who roam the campgrounds, rabbits who live next to the lodge, and squirrels who see no reason to get off the hiking trails.  Beaver and wolf are less visible but close by as their dams and scat attest.

isle royale lighthouse

All visitors are indoctrinated, if not harangued, by the boat captain and the park rangers before they can even set foot on the island. These gatekeepers even enforce ritual behaviors such as brushing your feet to keep out seed of alien species.  Only then can you pay big bucks to board the ferry for the four to five hour ride across the world’s largest freshwater lake to the island on the other side.

We just came back from several glorious August days hiking and canoeing these islands where cars and motorbikes are not allowed and cell phones don’t work. We visited research stations studying the moose and wolves and climbed to the top of an 1848 lighthouse. Strangers quickly became friends as we learned how the land had been abused by man but reclaimed.

You may  find lots to criticize about America today, but  not about our attitude toward wildlife and wilderness. The wild has made a comeback in the last century in America.  We have more forests and deer in the US than when it was first settled.  Wolves, bear, panthers,and  coyotes are all quickly increasing in numbers.

If the attitude and methods of Americans to their parks were adopted in Africa and around the world, rhinos and hippos and giraffes and zebras would be multiplying rapidly>  Instead they are declining so precipitously that American and European zoos may be the only place you can see them soon.

If our only concern was wilderness, we would annex vast portions of Africa and turn it over to Americans and Europeans to manage. If the park rangers could get Africans and Chinese to cooperate, you’d see the same rebound we have seen in the US since the American people and their government began to take conservation seriously.

Wilderness in the US has once again become a place to escape find peace and hope. Maybe it will even engender the prophets it once did. Yeshua and all the prophets were invigorated by the wilderness as are visitors to Isle Royale today.  Maybe you or your children will visit an American wilderness and be inspired to recreate wilderness around the world.




Nature and family transformed at Scattering Fork

A people fighting with themselves and with Nature will not endure.  Members of a family, nation or organization must help each other, cooperate and work together or they will fall apart. They pass away unlamented. We only lament the damage they cause to themselves and their ecosystems.  We applaud diversity, but diversity only helps a living system when all members work toward the survival and success of the larger system. For more than twenty-five years, Scattering Fork Outdoor Center has made a valiant effort to help people unite in teams and appreciate Nature.  Scattering Fork has transformed thousands and is now transforming itself.

phoebe earth

Team-building is one of those terms which mean a lot to those big into it. And not much to anyone else.  Just as Scattering Fork means a lot to many people in Central Missouri, but not much to people in northern Tanzania.  And those interested in both team-building and Scattering Fork are among the few, the elect, the chosen.

A few of that elect gathered yesterday to perform a decommissioning ceremony for the ropes course at Scattering Fork. For 25 years, Scattering Fork has been the region’s premier high and low ropes course, as well as a center for bringing people back to Nature.  Yesterday’s focus was the equipment at 16 stations which had helped thousands of people build productive, cohesive teams. Cables were cut, ropes untied, bolts loosed and beams cut.  Today the 16 stations are no more, but the team-building continues.

Outdoor team-building is provided by hundreds of enterprises because every successful group needs to build trust and cohesiveness among their members. A variety of structures and equipment helped facilitators build trust and team work at Scattering Fork. Due to ever rising insurance costs, Scattering Fork has decommissioned and demolished these facilities. But many exercises to build cohesive teams and families remain available at Scattering Fork.

Meanwhile opportunities to experience the natural world have expanded at Scattering Fork.  Every month, SF offers opportunities for you, your family or any group to experience the wonders of nature in your own private wilderness.  This wilderness is easy to get to and ready for you to enjoy.  Just call Laura at 573-581-3003.  Lead team-building facilitator MaryJane will soon be leaving on a year-long round the world trip.  But she’ll be back.

And you’ll come back to Scattering Fork, too, once you have experienced the joys of discovering Nature and working as a team.

For more, visit the Scattering Fork Outdoor Center website: http://www.scatteringfork.org/.

Forget national politics, go local

Fed up with national politics? Maybe you need to focus on your local community. Not local government, local community.

resilient city

Only 18 percent of Americans say the federal government does the right thing most or nearly all of the time. Even just before the last election,  only 29 percent of Trump supporters and 23 percent of Clinton supporters thought that electing their candidate would actually lead to progress.

All recent presidential candidates have run against Washington, pledging to change Washington. But none of them do. Trump got part of it right when he called for draining the swamp.  The problem is that fighting the swamp just drains us of all energy.

Along with lots of well-meaning people, I spent years going to DC several times a year lobbying for change for poor rural areas. Even though we did achieve some of our objectives (such as Delta Regional Authority and new programs to revitalize rural communities and build resilience of farms) these programs get stuck in a bureaucratic morass which undermines them. The bureaucracy molds them into pale ghosts of what they were meant to be.

So, I’m a recovering lobbyist. According to some polls, I’m like most Americans.  I believe lasting change comes from strong local groups–whether businesses, churches, non-profits, local governments or just small groups of people devoted to creating more resilient communities.

The story of Lancaster, Pennsylvania is a good one. In the mid-90’s,  the city was a crime-ridden ghost town at night. People were afraid to go downtown. The county’s dominant employer, Armstrong World Industries, was declining.  A group of people started gathering every Friday morning to plot a way out of Lancaster’s mess.  The first thing they did was check their politics at the door.  They were both Democrats and Republicans but they decided not to discuss national political issues or even state political issues at their meetings. Partisan politics was part of the problem, not the solution. They were united by one goal: they loved their community and they wanted to make it better.

The Lancaster group ended up forming a foundation called Hourglass because time was running out for Lancaster. The organized themselves because no one from outside was going to come and save them–no government program or relocating business would transform their community.

None of the members are in it for personal gain, or to lay a foundation for a political career. Most were retired.  None of them were politicians, they were just volunteers who wanted to figure out how to make their community better.  “There is big P politics — party politics — and small P politics. We check the big P at the door and just worry about solving the issues — not worrying about what Republicans or Democrats think about it. ”

They have realized “trust is the only legal performance-enhancing drug.” One of them says: “You can only get progress where there is trust. People trust that we are not in it for personal agendas and not partisan agendas. We will often host elected officials, and they will throw out ideas and we will give them feedback. And they are not worried it will go out of this room.” When they invite in politicians, they never invite the press.

They hold a “First Friday Noontime Forum” to get community leaders, business owners and elected officials into one room — with no press — to discuss all the components of fixing the city.

They had no authority, yet they assumed that good ideas would lead their community out of its spiral down. “Our first insight was that leadership matters” — and if it wasn’t going to come from the politicians, then it would come from them — and it would be devoid of party politics.

They didn’t come with the answers, trying to convince others to follow them.  Instead, they came with a burning desire to learn what had worked in other places and adapt it to their community.  “Who is the best small-city mayor? Let’s call ’em. Who is the best urban planner? Call ’em. Who are the education transformers? Call ’em. Who is doing the most interesting stuff in public health? Call ’em.”

The successes in Lancaster is not unique.  Many other cities have bounced back from their downward spiral.  They all have the same qualities.  Those qualities are the same as in any resilient system.

Resilient communities are multi-equilibria, open, dynamic, highly unpredictable, and subject to frequent disturbance. Observations of equilibrium in communities and ecological systems are transitory. Any particular “state” of a living system is but a waystation which is followed by continued disturbance, reorganization, rapid growth, maturation (often mistaken for equilibrium) and then another disturbance.  These four phases are referred to as the adaptive cycle (Holling, 1986). Resilience research studies how living systems persist and change in response to disturbance, not how to sustain a particular equilibrium. Reorganization, rapid growth, maturation and disturbance are going to happen.  A resilient farm or community manages their subsystems so some are in rapid growth, some are mature and some are reorganizing to provide the rapid growth and later maturity needed to keep the system resilient.

Resilient communities don’t focus solely on specific resilience to specific disturbances.  Such a focus leaves a system vulnerable to any disturbance it has not yet experienced. Resiilent communities on creating systems which can adapt to unknown, unprecedented and unexpected disturbances.

What enables such adaptation in a community? Resilience research has revealed eight qualities and necessary for a system to be resilient.  They are shown in the following chart.

CLIMATED Dimensions of Resilience

Dimension Description
Modular Connectivity “Networked but independent.” A resilient system is sensitive and responsible to feedback, while maintaining independence. Modular or independent sub-systems are insulated. Damage or failure of even a key sub-system has low probability of propagating failure throughout the system. Failure of one business in a community does not lead to the failure of others.
Local Self-Organization Locally organized processing and marketing systems. Community members like buying locally. The community is more likely to have locally owned businesses, co-ops, farmer’s markets, community gardens, and local civic clubs.
Conservative Innovation Resilient systems are open to new ideas while retaining ideas which work from the past.  Resilient communities value their history, but are continuously improving. The most resilient community is usually not the first adopter of a new technology or idea, rather, it employs the technology when it is proven, but far more quickly than most.  Since resilience requires the ability to come up with uniquely appropriate responses in diverse situations, the system needs a variety of approaches.  Ecologically resilient systems stress multiple, overlapping strategies rather than silver bullets.
Maintenance, Redundancy, Back-ups Redundancy means several of each component are present and they are replaced when lost.  Skills, abilities, functions are also reproduced and passed on to the next generation.
Accumulating Productive Infrastructure Resilient systems increase productive physical assets and natural capital, such as soils, water , storage of reserves and processing.  All these are assets which, if increasing, lead to increased resilience and, if decreasing, lead to less resilience in any system.  In communities this means transportation and utilities are maintained and improved.
Periodic Transformation At every scale, resilient systems regularly reform and even transform themselves either in response to disturbance or through self-reorganization. Resilient communities replace their leadership regularly. No leader hangs around too long.
Ecologically Integrated “Working with nature.” Resilient ystems obtain services from their surrounding ecosystem.  Resilient communities have plentiful parks and encourages farms and businesses which keep water and air clean and pure.
Complementary Diversity Resilient systems are highly diverse, but the diversity is controlled.  It is complementary in function, use of inputs, and generation of outputs. A resilient community will have a diversity of businesses, but all support each other and work for the improvement of the community.

Enhance these qualities in your community, your farm or any system and it will become more resilient.