THE GIFT OF LIFE
Our recently published book, I’m Just A Tree – Life Depends on Me, has triggered my thoughts as to how our knowledge of the natural world has expanded since my retirement over 20 years ago. My career raised several concerns about the application of forestry principles, primarily over the goals that drove the management of our public forested lands. I observed timber harvesting contracts designed to protect community stability and corporate profits rather than forest health and diversity. Meeting output targets received strong management direction but the resulting quality and condition of the remaining lands seemed unimportant. My first reaction was that leadership failed to establish proper goals and the science needed new direction. I was part of leadership and although sometimes considered a bit of a maverick, I was part of the problem. Retirement offered time to re-evaluate what was happening and why we were being driven to manage resources rather than forests. Science was not the problem, it was the people and our cultural values that were driving the demands we were placing on Earth. We cannot blame corporate America and leadership for it is our demand for profit, prestige and convenience that supports the industrialized society we live in.
It is impossible to begin to understand our earth systems and human systems without first accepting the fact, that all life systems depend upon the connections we have with the Natural World. I’m just a tree but 80 percent of life on Earth depends on me for survival. The arrival of the new settlers to the North American continent brought a different outlook on the natural world. They saw the new world as a collection of natural resources to be bought and sold to create wealth and affluency. It was our Divine right to use as we wished, after all we were directed to take dominion over the Earth and its creatures. Almost 200 years ago, we initiated what became known as the industrial revolution which amplified our desires and opportunities for increased affluency. Scientific knowledge exploded and technology began to advance rapidly. Our belief that Earth belonged to us became commonplace and we became alienated from the natural world. Dr. Berry pointed out that, “Our desire to live in paradise, not tomorrow but today, has resulted in our greedy quest for wealth and affluence at the expense of the natural world.” Our desires and demands have been devastating on the Natural World.
With a reasonable appreciation for what has happened to our natural world and why it has happened, I began researching in preparation for a children’s book. My focus was on developing a deeper understanding of the scientific and religious information about the story of creation of our universe, earth and human systems. The debate over the source of creation between science and religion surfaced immediately, however time and the discovery of factual information has brought the opposing views closer together. Several scientists are still unwilling to except the concept of intelligent design as proof of this concept remains hidden from us. Most religious scholars hold tight to the belief in intelligent design, but have accepted the scientific data that has enlightened us on the long period of time involved in the transitional process known as evolution.
Moving beyond these minor disagreements, led to a focus on searching for the secrets surrounding the life functioning processes that might exist within the story of creation. My observations of the individuality of forest communities, I had experienced, provided the starting point. I have spent numerous hours over the past 20 years, setting in a blind during spring turkey season and the fall deer season, observing the detailed activity within a small forest community. In the overwhelming silence, I had the feeling of being a part of the Natural World around me. There was no way, one could deny the intertwining[BS1] of the relationships and connections between the variety of life systems interacting within the community. Built into the magical process of creation was the fact that nothing is its self without everything else.
Accepting that everything is connected led to my next conclusion. The most important element, built into creation which allows life systems to function, is diversity. We have discovered almost 10 million different species of plants and animals and science believes that number represents less than 20% of the living species that are present on Earth. Every single organism has a purpose and contributes in some way to the functioning of the Earth systems. Even the giant Sequoia trees can not survive without the micro-organisms that live in the soil upon which the tree grows. Nothing is its self without all the rest. Observing the fact that diversity is critical within each forest community, I realized diversity is the most important element in creation that allows all life to function. It matters not what life system you examine, diversity is essential for the systems to support the variety of organisms that occupy the community.
The final element which has been built into creation is the restorative power of the natural world. Human impacts over the past 200 years have been devastating, yet we observe the routine renewal of our natural surrounds every year with the orderly changing of the seasons. We start with a re-birth of life each spring and progress to the warm summer period of growth and maturity. Summer is followed by the harvest season in the fall, and preparation for the cleansing and resting period where the pure snow cleanses Earth in preparation for the next cycle of restoration. Providing hope for the future, will require our participation in helping apply the restorative power of the natural world. What humanity has done, humanity can reverse! We are being challenged to move from an individual orientation to one that embraces all life systems and recognizes our transformation from the long evolution process that formed Earth and its complex variety of life.
These three critical elements, which have been designed into the creation process, form the basis for the sustenance of life on Earth. The world needs to be understood in its amazing sequence of transformations to produce the wonderous world about us, yet we seem to have alienated ourselves from the natural world. It is us through our demand for profit, prestige and convenience, that allows us to accepted this mythical concept of fulfillment found in our industrialized culture. Understanding the complexity of our Earth and Life systems will require major adjustments in our current values and beliefs. Will it be to late when we finally decide we must accept changes in our life styles, if we are to experience a more desirable future?