Systemic racism in a pine forest

Pine forests seem like fragrant, soft places where anyone could relax and be comfortable. Looks and smells are deceiving. All pines are dedicated only to other pines. When pine needles fall to the ground, they prevent other plants and trees from growing underneath. Pine needles release various acids and organic compounds that leach into the ground as the needles begin to decompose. These chemicals don’t hurt the pine tree, its roots or its fungal symbionts. They do deter nearly all non-pines from settling anywhere close.

You might say pines establish a pine privilege. A hickory nut which rolls into a pine forest doesn’t have much of a chance. The pine fragrance we like so much is the reason. This fragrance is caused by a class of chemicals called terpenes found in the needles. These particular pine terpenes retard germination and new growth. Retardation of germination can be a good thing for a gardener. It helps to keep weed seeds from germinating. For the hickory trying to survive in an alien environment, the terpenes are death. Plant as many hickory nuts or oak acorns as you wish in a bed of fresh pine needles. None of them will germinate.

Pine like pines. They are like all species in nature, they have methods for perpetuating their own kind and discouraging anyone who is not a pine.

Unless you are an azalea, a rhododendron or a blueberry. These acid loving plants thrive under pines. Except when the pine forest gets tall enough and thick enough to shade them out. Then it’s all pines all the time. Diversity is as minimal as in a Southern country club at tee time. Or a Colored Methodist Episcopal church on Sunday morning. Or an inner city ghetto any time.

In plants this effect is called allelopathy. Luckily for most other species, pine allelopathy is short lived. The acids and terpenes dissolve readily in water and dissipate into the air. By the time pine needles are brown and dry, most of the terpenes have evaporated. Once that wonderful pine fragrance has gone out of the needles, so have the terpenes, the source of that fragrance.

So you can use pine straw as a mulch without fear. It may hinder germination a little, but that will be good for the gardener who doesn’t like to pull weeds.

Every species in nature tries to perpetuate itself. The pines have perfected one method. Sunflowers, black walnuts, wormwoods, sagebrushes, and trees of heaven have their own chemical methods. The creosote bush is so good at controlling other plant species in the desert that it is called “gobernadora” (Spanish for “governess”) due to its ability to secure more water by inhibiting the growth of nearby plants.

In the 1970’s, an animal rights activist coined the term speciesism. This term expands the idea of racism to whole species. Man is accused of speciesism because he wants to preserve his own species. We are learning that all species try to help their own kind. No species survives for long if it doesn’t.
Most interesting is how some species seem to thrive even when the dominant species is doing its best to wipe them out. They do so by providing something the dominant species needs. Mycorrhizal fungi flourish on the roots of pine trees. They provide nutrients to the pines which are locked up in the soil until the fungi release them. They are examples of complementary diversity and discussed in more detail in our book.

Like all species in nature, pine trees get their comeuppance if they grow too big for their britches. When pine trees dominate a landscape too thoroughly, they provide the perfect environment for species like white pine blister rust, southern pine beetles, and mountain pine beetles. These species love to destroy homogenous stands of pine. A vast increase in diversity then follows.
Pine and other allelopathic species keep trying to create a world fit only for their species. Nature always puts them in their place.

The world view of pines reflects systemic racism. The pines have created a world where only pines and a few other species can prosper. They do well until they get too homogenous. Then they are destroyed and other species can prosper.

Man in his hubris should learn some lessons. Though all species will try to perpetuate their own kind, the most resilient will embrace diversity–as long as it is complementary.

Born again into psychological resilience

What does ecological resilience research tells us about being born again?

As with all living beings, we follow the adaptive cycle.  We are born, grow quickly into a new being never seen before on earth, mature slowly while accumulating resources and progeny, and then die. Our children follow the same cycle, as do their children after them.

Ecological resilience theory labels these four stages as organization (alpha), rapid growth (r), maturity (K) and release (omega). Not only does every organism go through these stages, but all living systems do.  Forests, farms, communities, nations. 

The release phase is not just about death, though. A farmer plants seed, watches it grow quickly, mature and become brown dead plants.  But then he harvests the seed from the dead plant and begins the process again. Release only means death for the plant, not for the seed.

In us and all living systems, adaptive cycles are nested within adaptive cycles. We face disruptions in life and reorganize our life to cope with the disruption. I never went to daycare, lived in the country and had little contact with outsiders until I was sent off to school at 6 years old.  I didn’t like it and cried a lot, but I adjusted to the disruption, figured out how to adapt and became a different person. We all have several such disruptions in our lives.

But we also go through several motivational stages in our life.  We come into the world selfish, crying to get what we need.  We are focused on hunger and security and the family around us.  Once those physiological, safety and social needs are met, we can explore other needs. Toddlers, when they are fed, clothed and feel secure always venture out to explore their world.  They are satisfying the need for novelty, intellectual stimulation.

Then they start interacting with others their age and they seek to satisfy more social needs but also needs for respect and recognition. There’s always a boss of the playground or play group and you want to be that boss or be respected by her.

We deal with meeting those physiological, safety, social and esteem needs all through life.

Some of us are lucky enough to meet those needs and realize there is another level of need to be met. Some call it self-actualization, others call it serving others or realizing their creative potential, or being born again.

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

Each of these motivational phases follows the adaptive cycle. We realize we have a need, we work to fill it, we become satisfied and mature in that satisfaction.  Then we realize there are higher needs to be pursued. We release our previous focus and reorganize our lives around the new need or idea or principle.

Some of us never seem to get the basic needs met and we get stuck in the physiological or safety or social or esteem needs. We can’t ever seem to get enough. We don’t realize that our depression or boredom isn’t due to lack of enough food or sex or friends or respect.  It’s due to the fact we can’t move beyond those basic needs.

Those of us able to focus on ideas and needs beyond the basics find that we can be born again many times into new perspectives on the world. And each of these new perspectives or ideas follows the adaptive cycle.

Every time you are born again you must realize this too shall pass and you will someday go beyond this perspective and reorganize your life once again, gaining  more and more resilience to disturbance as you grow.

This too shall pass: resilience and peace

It’s tough to be at peace when all is in crisis around us. One of the great blessings of studying ecological resilience is the peace and calm it gives you. When everyone about you is wailing about the dire state of the economy, government, the environment, climate change and whatever other catastrophe they are fixated on, you know it will pass. You know that all living systems go through an adaptive cycle which includes a disruption phase. A phase where the existing order is destroyed and replaced by a successor.

It happens to governments, nations, businesses, communities, forests, farms. The iconic example in resilience studies is the forest fire. Nowadays, forest managers realize fire is a natural part of the cycle of forest life. They use controlled burns to eliminate build-up of dead wood on the forest floor. Foresters now know that when they don’t do this, huge amounts of tinder build up and huge, deadly extreme fire storms result. California foresters have neglected to remove this tinder in recent years and deadly fires are the result.

The resilient person knows that any large fire in nature is an opportunity to rebuild, a necessary scouring of the old order to make way for a new, more resilient order.

Though ecological resilience is a relatively new field of study, the concept is old. King Solomon was trying to humble his wisest servant, so he requested a magic ring — one that, if a sad man wore it, he would become happy and if a happy man wore it, he would become sad.” The wise man failed. Then Solomon went to a jeweler and designed a ring with the inscription saying, “This, too, shall pass.” 

Deep within every crisis is an opportunity for something beautiful.

When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky. Buddha.

You are the sky. Everything else–it’s just the weather.

The only order in the universe is just a cycle of calm and chaos.

A man of calm is like a shady tree. People who need shelter come to it.

There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm. Willa Cather in The Song of a Lark.

Storms visit the quietest and the most peaceful places to calm themselves down and to have their nervousness cured. Mehmet Murat ildan

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? Consider how the lilies of the field grow: They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these. Matthew 6:28

Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.

Proverbs 29:25 states, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.” 

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.

The poets and prophets say to our heart what resilience writers say to our heads.

It’s natural to get too attached to the forest, to our communities.

All are imperfect all need to be improved.

Don’t dwell on what is being destroyed, look for opportunities for change toward more resilient systems.