Dogs and thunderstorms. Frogs and rain. Elephants and earthquakes. These are some of the many observations, across cultures and the ages, of the acute ability of nonhuman animals to sense changes in the elements – of wind, water, earth and fire – often long before we do. They do this using senses many humans have lost in modern times, and some that we have never attained. While some may attribute these responses purely to the physical ability other animals have to see, taste, hear, smell or feel extremely subtle changes in the environment, it goes well beyond this. As people take the time to look and listen to what these animals sense, think and feel, our eyes are being opened to the extraordinary lives of the other species we share the planet with, both big and small.
2015 is the United Nations International Year of Soils. It is a year to highlight and celebrate the fundamental role that soil plays in sustaining life on our planet and providing our food, fibre, fuel and much more. The International Year of Soils also presents an opportunity to focus on long-term solutions to the many challenges that soils face. In its natural form, soil teems with billions of living organisms, most invisible to the naked eye. It is full of life. The benefits soil brings us are humbling yet often go unnoticed. That may help explain the poor treatment it often receives. As a potent expression of the Earth element, soil represents life, regeneration and reconciliation. There is a lot we can learn from it, if we take the time.
Energy. Transformation. Renewal. Awe and wonder. Power. Passion. Life. These are some words from within to describe the element of fire. Of all of the intuitive elements, it fascinates me the most. My first post was called ‘Women on Fire’ and described the genesis of the ‘Fire Up Water Down’ blog. My 60th post further explores my attraction to this enigmatic element. I present, as it were, the personal perspective of a ‘woman on fire’.
‘Elemental ecology’ was coined in 1968 by Professor Bill Jackson, a Tasmanian academic. It was captured for prosperity in his scientific publication ‘Fire, air, water and earth – An elemental ecology of Tasmania.’ This time last year I was preparing a spoken paper for the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) conference that would revisit Bill’s concept. My first post on elemental ecology was written before the presentation, this one provides an update 12 months on.
Each of us has a special place, or places, that we have a strong connection to. This “sense of place” is developed through personal and cultural experiences and knowledge of a particular area. The “elemental” landscape is an important part of these experiences, one that expresses itself on many scales – from the sun on your face, to the changing of the seasons or the impact of earthquakes or storms on a region.
For my 50th post I would like to reflect on the emerging field of neuroconservation in the context of the intuitive elements – earth, air, fire, water, ether/spirit, metal, wood and consciousness. Dr Wallace J. Nichols, the author of Blue Mind, coined the term neuroconservation to describe the convergence of neuroscience and conservation biology. In one word he has tried to capture the fundamental connections our brains have with nature – personal, ancient and emotional connections – with a focus on the benefits of clean, healthy waterways. Dr Nicholls implicitly contends that of the elements, our relationship to water is paramount. While this raises some questions in my mind, his ideas and activities have certainly generated considerable interest. Including from myself.
Drums have been used by virtually all cultures. They are an instrument of the elements, being connected to earth, air, fire and water and spirit. Their beat is likened to a throbbing heart, evoking many powerful forms of energy. Their round shape felt to represent nature, Mother Earth, the Universe and the divine. They are commonly reported by Indigenous people to influence weather conditions through the vibrations sent into the atmosphere. Drumming is known to be good for our physical and mental health. Some say it is in our DNA. My sister and I have certainly developed a passion for it.
‘How Earth Made Us’ is a ground-breaking BBC series that tells ‘the incredible story of the natural forces that have shaped our history’. Now available on YouTube, it is well worth watching, offering fantastic imagery and though-provoking commentary. Presented by Professor Iain Stewart, the series examines the influence of four fundamental elements – Water, Deep Earth, Wind and Fire – on human history. The fifth and final episode, called the Human Planet, presents humans as a natural force in their own right.
Nearly 50 years ago, Professor Bill Jackson published the paper ‘Fire, air, water, earth – An elemental ecology of Tasmania’. With a title like that, one could say he was ahead of his time.