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.
Breathing is a wonder we take for granted. This is the first sentence of the essay titled AIR by Alan P Tory in his book ‘WONDER. Learning the “Ah” of things‘. I was struck by the poetic language that Alan uses and by the wise words of a Zen Master he shares, that we must learn to understand the “Ah” of things. To admire the works of art that surround us in everyday life. Through images, sound and excerpts of Alan’s text it is my turn to share the “Ah” of Air.
Today marks the third year anniversary of my exploration of the elements across the globe through my blog FireupWaterdown (https://fireupwaterdown.com). Seventy six posts later, it is timely to review the topics explored so far, which ones have been widely viewed and which less so, the connections I have made over the last three years, and to reflect on the question ‘when people want to learn about the elements, what do they search for?
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.
It dawned on me today that it has been three months since I wrote a post on FireupWaterdown, my blog that explores the elements across the globe. Where has the time gone! Over that period I have written some posts on my ‘sister’ blog ‘Elemental Japan’ (elementaljapan.com), which I’d recommend visiting. Whether or not you have a specific interest in the elements in Japan, I like to think that you will find something to captivate you. Elsewhere in the world there are many elemental topics and events to catch up on. Like the upcoming extreme ice marathon in Siberia in January 2017. It builds perfectly on my most recent post ‘The cool dude on the bike‘. Then there was the spectacular sunrise over Hobart this morning and the sunset over kunanyi/Mt Wellington the other night. What glorious reminders of the elemental nature of our lives. Plus I’ve come across some stimulating ideas about representing and connecting with the elements through art. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Continue reading
For my 72nd blog, I bring to you an element of the elements that hadn’t crossed my mind before – the ins and outs of winter cycling on a bicycle. The book ‘Frostbike‘ starts with the question ‘is happy winter cycling possible?’ This means serious cycling in snow and freezing temperatures, not the relatively mild winters we have in coastal Australia and elsewhere. Even here the number of cyclists in winter declines markedly. So, thanks to Tom Babin, there is now information available on what bikes are suitable for winter cycling, how cities can be designed to accommodate it, and the importance of people’s attitudes towards winter and, with it, winter cycling. The book also provides a fine example of how our attitudes towards the elements can have an impact on our behaviour and wellbeing.