The Spirit of the Thing I

Early In 2010 a number of North American native plant devotees gathered at the North Carolina State Arboretum in Asheville to spend some time considering the native vegetation of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.  I was asked to open the gathering with a reflection on the reason for our gathering.

I’ve been reflecting.

I’m old enough to do that now, you know…to reflect.

When you’re young they won’t let you reflect. You have to do, not reflect.  If you’re reflecting they think you’re lazy.  I never could get my parents to understand that. “Tom get up and mow that lawn,” my father would say. “But Dad, I’m reflecting.”  For some reason he didn’t buy it.

When you get older, you have to reflect because they won’t let you do.

But I’ve out-foxed ‘em because I not only still do, I reflect on my doing and on the doing of others.

And today I’m going to share some of those reflections.

As some of you know, I’m a biologist with specialization in ecology and a career in natural resource management and conservation biology. I’ve also been fortunate in doing additional graduate academic work and fieldwork in aspects of the humanities and social science. Because of my transdisciplinary background, my reflections often center on the life that we share this Earth with and on the ways in which we perceive that sharing.

My ecological training draws me to think about things in terms of connections…for example, how do plants and animals relate to and interact with each other and with the nonliving environment? That, by the way, is the basic question of ecology…that question of interaction…of connections…of interdependence.  Every species, our own included, is linked, directly or indirectly, with a multitude of others in a community of plants and animals and, genetically…with all life on Earth since the beginning.

What are some of these connections? How does some of this interdependence work out? Well…the plants that we are here to celebrate today …provide food, shelter, and nesting sites for other organisms. On the other hand, many plants depend upon animals for help in reproduction. Insects pollinate flowers and animals spread seeds and provide nutrients from their bodily wastes. Some species have become so adapted to each other that neither could survive well, if at all, without the other.
But the interaction of living organisms does not take place on a passive environmental stage. Ecosystems are shaped by the nonliving environment of land and water—solar radiation, rainfall, mineral concentrations, temperature, and topography. The world contains a wide diversity of these physical conditions that, in turn create a wide variety of environments: freshwater and oceanic, desert, grassland, tundra, and these beautiful forests and mountains that surround us with their rock outcrops, bogs, heaths, their cove forests and dozens and dozens of other habitats and communities.

(Continued in the next post.)


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