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Lessons from Avatar Grove

April 2, 2020

In September 2019, Larry and I took a trip to Port Renfrew, a very small town on Vancouver Island, BC. It was our second visit to this tiny site, our second stay in a yurt at Soule Creek Lodge. It is one of my favorite places in the world.

On our last day, we sought out Avatar Grove, an old growth forest that is within the traditional territory of the Pacheedaht First Nation and is home to a tree known as "Canada's Gnarliest Tree." Not sure of the age of this particular so-ugly-it's-beautiful being, but many of its neighboring trees are believed to be thousands of years old. Think about it.

It is now March 2020, and we are facing a global crisis of the corona-virus pandemic, as well as ongoing struggles in the US (actually, across the globe as well) to support and preserve democracy. And hovering over it all is the climate emergency. All of these dire situations have massive communal effects. The only solution - to build, re-build, care for our communities.

What can we learn from the ancient beings in the community of Avatar Grove? How do they not only co-exist but thrive over the centuries? Some observations from my day in Avatar Grove...

  • Diversity is essential to survival. Trees, mosses, ferns, grasses, insects, birds, squirrels, foxes, bears, soil, water, air. None is more important than the other and all are necessary for survival.

  • Each forest being performs a vital function that supports the ongoing life of the whole. Insects aid the decomposition of plant life, which provides nutrients for more life. Birds eat the bugs and berries and scatter seeds. Trees and other plants provide food and shelter. Water and the living soil nourish all.

  • Everything is connected. We are learning lots about the links between plants and animals both above and below ground. For example, a teaspoon of soil contains millions of microbes - bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes - that are connected to and essential for the functioning of the whole forest ecosystem.

  • Forest beings, plants and animals, communicate with one another. We know that trees communicate with each other through underground fungal networks as well as above ground pheromone and scent signals. This enables them to help one another - even across species - in distress situations. Plants are also able to communicate with animals through visual, olfactory, gustatory or acoustic signals.

  • Death comes and from it springs life. Plants and animals come to life, live, and die. They have purpose during their time of existence, and their deaths often seed new life. We came across "nursing logs" in the forest - large dead trees from which new life-forms, not necessarily the same species, grew.

So what can we learn from this? How do non-human forms of life show us the secrets of co-existence and co-thriving that might help us humans as we deal with our current challenges?

  • Diversity. Diversity - of cultures, races, belief systems, genders, identities of all kinds - enriches us all and provides a treasure trove of gifts from which we can draw. We will not solve our current problems with the same old-same old ways of thinking and seeing and interacting in isolated silos. We must open our minds and our doors to receive different ways of seeing and doing, for the benefit of us all.

  • Purpose. Each form of life has a purpose. Many of us spend a good part of our life wondering about our purpose. How does our unique purpose contribute to the health of the whole? And in today's scenarios, what can each of us do to add to the safety, security, and well-being of everything and everyone around us? What small but important role do each of us have to play?

  • Connections. We are all connected - not only to one another as human to human, but also to the rest of the world of plants, animals, and earth resources. These connections are essential for our human existence, regardless of which side of a border you hail from. And damage to any part of the whole will hurt the entirety of the system.

  • Communication. And how do we communicate with one another, about our needs, fears, ideas, and gifts in challenging times? And - most important - how well do we listen to and receive communications from others - both human and non-human?

  • Cycle of life. Yes, we can talk about the reality that each of us eventually dies (extra scary in these corona-virus days). Let's also think of the cycle of life from the perspective of changes in needs and ideas across generations. Can we recognize that the lives of our children and grandchildren are unlike ours, and that their needs and ideas are as important as ours?

It can be scary not knowing what is ahead. Well, actually, we NEVER really know what is ahead, but now we are living in times that can feel especially uncertain and threatening.

We live in gnarly times - often difficult, challenging, and unpleasant. But also gnarly-good - awesome and inspiring. Excellent.

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