The Spirit of the Thing II

(Continued from the preceding post.)
What calls us here today?  Why do we gather?  What connections do we seek? 

To learn about plants?  Yes. To meet others interested in plants? Yes, that also.

But maybe something else?  Something more enveloping and inclusive…a more basic connection?

I think it may be the spirit of the thing.

What does it mean to speak of the spirit of something?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines spirit as a life-giving force…an animating principle…the essential or real meaning of something. In other words ‘spirit’ is the essence of something.

It is the spirit of the thing, the essential or real meaning of our connection with life that draws us here today. 

When Charles Darwin encountered his first tropical forest near Rio de Janerio in 1832 he spoke of experiencing, and I’m quoting him,  “…wonder, astonishment and sublime devotion…” Darwin sensed the spirit of those wonderful green mansions in which he stood.
The destruction of those green mansions has been compared by Darwin to “…burning a Renaissance painting…”  We have a lot of Renaissance paintings going up in smoke in the forests of this Earth...millions of acres every year.

Even in these mountains we can smell that smoke. Even with a growing awareness, we still have too much smoke. Our rivers and streams all too often run red with the soil of erosion. Our national, regional, and local conservation areas become increasingly surrounded with development .

It is a tough time for life on Earth. Colleagues of ours who study threats to species and habitats…who study extinctions…tell us that we are in one of the great extinctions of life on Earth.  Life has faced five major extinctions in its four billion years on Earth. The last extinction was caused by a meteor that inconveniently dropped in on us.

But the current extinction…the sixth extinction…is the only extinction caused by one species…by us…by humanity. 

The last time I was up on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I remembered a quote from William Bartram in which the great naturalist talked about his visit to the area around Franklin, North Carolina. Bartram said “…from the most elevated peak…I beheld with rapture and astonishment, a sublimely awe filled scene of power and magnificence, a world of mountains piled upon mountains.”  If we are here today it is very likely that we love these mountains. I really don’t know any other term to use. We have made our connection here. We sense the spirit of this place.

I’m sure most of us here have felt that awe.  We live in an incredibly beautiful and profoundly impressive part of the world with mountains piled upon mountains covered with layer after layer of the very plants we have come here to study.  Think of what we experience on almost any spring hike in these mountains.  Even during the worst of the drought years our springs trickled out from among the rocks and our diminished but still running streams. 

What may not be so obvious to many of us is that we live in one of the world’s more exciting laboratories of evolution. The creation of life is the heart and soul of these mountains and valleys…their essence, their spirit, if you will. In these coves and hollows and on these slopes unique, fascinating forms of life have evolved…have made those connections that we call natural communities. And we’re here today to make our connection with all of that.

We sense that we are part of this…part of the spirit of life on Earth and in these mountains.


Popular posts from this blog

What Mercy ? (II)

Coyote Stories II

Green Aesthetics I