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.
Patagonia is windy. Very windy, in places. So is Antarctica and the surrounding waters, at times. Both regions in the ‘extreme south’ bear the brunt of the westerly winds that travel around the globe, unheeded in these low latitudes by other land masses. So when you travel to these parts, as I did over the 2019/2020 summer season, you are well advised to take wind-proof clothing. Given that the winds are sometimes so strong that they can blow you over, these precautions only go so far! Visiting a part of the world where wind is so dominant has given me a better appreciation of this enigmatic and energetic element and the role that the wind plays in the history and climate of the globe.
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.
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.
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.
We are born with a sense of wonder. Taking delight in the warmth of the sun, the colours of the rainbow, the leaves dancing in the wind. Mesmerised by the beauty of fireflies and dragonflies. Amazement in the smallest of things. It is a sense to celebrate and recapture if it has been buried under day to day distractions.