Once-upon-a-time – nearly 30 years ago to be more precise – a lone eucalypt seedling taught me an important lesson. The seedling was part of a major research project I was undertaking in Canberra, Australia on the response of eucalypts to fire. I had planted the seedling on a north-facing slope (which receives the most sunlight in the southern hemisphere) and it was growing much better than other seedlings nearby. Why was this so? The answer was a surprise. If I hadn’t had access to specialist equipment, I probably would still be wondering. It turned out that the interplay between fire, water and light was critical to the impressive growth of this seedling, as well as affecting the 1000 or so eucalypt trees I monitored for 18 months after the fire. Learning more about the inner-workings of these incredible plants reinforced the inter-connectedness of everything, and opened the door to further post-fire studies in Malibu, California. Looking back, it is safe to say this one eucalypt seedling changed the course of my life.
On November 29th, 2019 I was awarded the prestigious Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) Gold Medal for my substantial contribution to ecology in Australia. The title of the Plenary Address was ‘Woman on Fire: Insights from an Elemental Career‘.
The slides and text following the introductory image below were used in the award presentation at the ESA conference in Launceston, Tasmania. Some additional information is provided in this blog, as well as links to the programs and publications referred to in the presentation. The post is around 5000 words in length, so find a comfy chair, grab your favourite drink, relax and read on.
Vulcanoes are vents in the earth’s crust through which pent-up energy and molten material is released from the interior. Deriving their name from Vulcan, the Roman God of Fire, volcanoes have been treated with awe and respect over human history. With their explosive energy and fiery antics they are the poster-child of books and media related to Planet Earth, ‘natural’ disasters and incredible adventures. My first encounter with these shapers of the earth was in Hawaii. It was there that I fell under the spell of Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of Volcanoes – one of many gods associated with volcanoes around the globe. Created by passing over a submerged volcanic hotspot, both the Hawaiian Islands and the Galapagos are testament to the constantly moving nature of the earths surface. On land the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ exemplifies the clustering of volcanoes along the boundaries of mobile tectonic plates. While fire and volcanoes are synonymous, the elements of water, air and earth also play a fundamental role in the birth and expression of these conduits of energy. The creation, impact and flow-on effects of volcanoes on our lives makes a fascinating and sometimes surprising story.
Our feet are amazing structures with powerful symbolism. They allow us to walk upright and can transport us towards or away from people, places and situations. Both feet and toes are associated with specific elements. In their barefoot state feet connect us to the energy of the earth – an ancient bond being reborn in modern times as ‘Earthing’. Acupuncture meridians starting in the feet connect our energy points internally. Reflexology and Applied Kinesiology also work with feet, energy flow and the five elements. These relationships highlight the importance of feet to our well-being. They may also help explain why feet feature in many phrases about how people feel and behave. Welcome to the fascinating world of feet, energy and the elements.
Nature is a powerful teacher, especially if we pay close attention and use our full range of senses. In the UN International Year of Soils (2015) I wrote about the soil as teacher. In 2018 I pay homage to mountains as teachers by sharing a recent and remarkable experience in Japan. Led by three Shugendo masters, the two day pilgrimage I joined on Mt Ontake in January 2018 was extraordinary. The energy of the mountain, forests, snow and waterfalls was palpable. First published on my sister blog ‘elementaljapan.com‘, here is the link to ‘Shugendo now – a winter pilgrimage on Mt Ontake, Japan.’
My 100th post is dedicated to my mother Edna. Our wonderful and marvellous mum passed away on December 22nd this year at the age of 90. She has returned to the elements – her body to the earth and her spirit to the heavens. She, and we, ARE the elements. The elements represent expressions of energy that can take many forms. These are the two messages that have come across most strongly in the 100 posts written in my two elemental blogs – fireupwaterdown.com and elementaljapan.com. These messages embody the intimate connection many cultures have with the elements: earth, water, fire, air, metal, wood, ether and consciousness.
Tasmania is renowned for its natural beauty, fine food and wine and its vibrant arts scene. This elemental island has inspired artists for tens of thousands of years, the story beginning with Aboriginal Tasmanians. Contemporary artists continue to be inspired by the elements, with a growing trend to immerse materials in the elements themselves – earth, water, fire and air. As an elemental place, Tasmania speaks to me of fire and water. Others respond to the elements in the island State in their own way. Photographs are used as the story-teller in this post. The perfect medium when capturing the artistry of elemental Tasmania.
Recently I came across four representations of the Om/Aum symbol in a period of 10 days. As all of the sightings were in rural Tasmania in Australia, I felt that it must be more than coincidence. This encouraged me to explore the relationship between the five elements and the universal and universally known symbol and sound of Om. I would not have done so if I hadn’t seen multiple sightings of this sacred symbol. Here is what I have discovered so far.
The Occidental (western) New Year and the Oriental Year of the Rooster fall 28 days apart in 2017. Now two weeks into January, we sit nicely between them. The United Nations has adopted this year as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Adding to these titles, I proclaim 2017 as the Year of The Elements. Please spread the word. It is time to raise our connection to nature to another level. To delight in its beauty and respect the powerful forces that nature can express. To better appreciate and care for our amazing planet. This post shares a selection of my personal experiences of the elements in the first 14 days of 2017. Fire and water predominate. Around the world people have engaged with the elements in their own way over the same period. In the year ahead I will continue my two blogs on the elements, fireupwaterdown.com and elementaljapan.com. I will also be experimenting with new ways to share the wonders of the elements that shape our world and our responses to it. I wish everyone a wonderful new year and look forward to others joining me on the elemental journey.
In early November 2016 I received an email from Rych Somdah, a gentleman living in the US who had traced his ancestry to the Dagara people of Burkina Faso in West Africa. Rych reminded me that in my first post on Africa I wrote that at some later time I would explore the shamanistic practices of the Dagara tribe in relation to the elements. Now is that time. I am grateful that Malidoma Patrice Somé has devoted his life to sharing the teachings and practices of the Dagara with the English speaking world. The five elements of fire, water, earth, minerals and nature are an essential part of his, and their, story.