During times of crises, either personal or planetary, I often look to nature to see what lessons her 3.8 billion years of collective intelligence can teach me about life and resilience.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, taking over 100,000 lives and counting – further widening the fault lines of predatory capitalism and racial and economic disparity in US society, and then add to that more videos showing the deadly effects of white supremacy and police brutality, it feels like this county is both imploding and exploding.
This catastrophic moment reminds me of what I learned from The Powers of the Universe, by Dr. Brian Swimme. He says that the power of cataclysm is, “As essential to reality as emergence. The destructions, degradations and disasters of the universe are part of the story of its life, a movement from a complex to a simple state that allows for the emergence of newness. Life relies on destruction for creativity to take place.” In this video, he explains, “If universe creativity as cataclysm happens to be your pathway, this means that…the destruction, the cataclysm, the loss in our lives is simultaneously the source of our creative power.” Fire ecology teaches us that a fire can have a positive effect on the ecosystem as it burns underbrush and decaying vegetation and returns those nutrients to the soil. In a forest, it also opens up the canopy to allow sunlight to once again reach the forest floor and encourage new growth. Even more fascinating, there are some serotinous plants which will only release seeds in these extreme conditions.
Serotiny is an ecological adaptation exhibited by some seed plants, in which seeds can remain dormant until their release occurs in response to an environmental trigger, most commonly fire. For example, the jack pine’s seeds are sealed in cones by resin. During a fire, heat melts the resin and releases the seeds, which then settle in the space cleared by the fire.
In her talk, “What Would Nature Do?” Toby Herzlich, the Founder of Biomimicry for Social Innovation, explains, “Biological systems have evolved systems of self-renewal that actually rely on a disturbance and disruption to start a regenerative process.”
Just as a fire clears a landscape and creates room and conditions for more growth, how could these crises lead to regeneration? Like those serotinous cones, did we need these triggers in order for the seeds of self-renewal to release?
Lyla June, Diné artist, activist, and scholar invites humans to reclaim the role as a keystone species. She says, “What we’re finding, and what European scientists are finally figuring out, is that human beings are meant to be a keystone species. And a keystone species is a species that if you take it out, the whole thing unravels. And so we as human beings are trying to bring the human being back into the role of keystone species, where our presence on the land nourishes the land…We’re not just going to sustain ourselves; that’s a low standard. I’m going for enhanceability. The ability to enhance wherever I walk. The ability to make it better than when I found it.”
As these tumultuous times unearth the rotting systems in this country, I hope that it creates a fertile compost in which the seeds of justice, equality, and love can take root and grow and we can reclaim our role as keystones species, enhancing people and the planet.