Tapestry Institute

Burning Through the Roots, Part 13

Fortunately, we have the wisdom of the West to learn from here. You remember the West and Spiritual ways of knowing, learning about, and responding to the natural world. You remember, perhaps, my mentioning the awesome, terrifying paradox of the thunderstorm which destroys and also brings new life. The Firebird is, I think, a creature of the West. The field of Resilience Ecology, founded by Crawford S. Holling, describes what we might call the "Firebird model of nature" we've seen in forest fires in scientific terms. It even uses the term "resetting".

Resetting is the "abrupt disintegration of an ecosystem to the immature stage. Such collapse can take the form of a massive canopy fire, as happened a few years ago in Yellowstone National Park . . . the eventual result is a catastrophic collapse or resetting of the system -- what Holling calls 'creative destruction.' There follows in the final phase a release of nutrients from dead material, or the process of renewal." (Footnote 18) At the time we still lived in Sowbelly, we had no idea the Land had taught C. S. Holling the same wisdom it was teaching us. We knew that we were seeing a creative destruction simply by virtue of the fact that it was followed by such an astonishing process of renewal. Little did we know that other ecologists had been listening to the Land, too. But of course, that's what "sense-data" is about.

Lindenmayer wrote that “natural disturbances are key ecosystem processes rather than ecological disasters that require human repair. Recent ecological paradigms emphasize the dynamic, nonequilibrial nature of ecological systems in which disturbance is a normal feature” (Footnote 19). DellaSala went so far as to say "Natural disturbances are characterized by unique biological legacies essential to regenerative processes -- they should not be treated as ecological 'catastrophes'," and "It is abundantly clear from study of natural disturbances such as the 1980 Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption, the 1988 Yellowstone National Park fires, as well as hurricanes and floods that they create landscape diversity integral to biodiversity and regenerative processes." (Footnote 13)

This spring Lindenmayer and his colleagues published a letter in the journal Science saying, "More funding for scientific and management learning after major natural disturbances is crucial given that (i) evidence suggests the prevalence of large natural disturbances will increase, and (ii) we need to better understand how to respond to such disturbances, especially to ensure that post-disturbance management activities do not make recovering ecosystems even more risk-prone to subsequent disturbances." (Footnote 20) The problem, he pointed out, is that "The media and general public often perceive major natural disturbances as catastrophies that destroy the environment. However, this view is derived from the perspective of human population and infrastructure." To respond appropriately to such disturbances, he says, we must have an ecosystem perspective instead. Here are both the stories, burning together and coming to the surface in a single 200-word letter four months ago. The fires that have been burning through the roots aren't staying down there any more.

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