Nature Provides Common Ground, if We Listen

Happiness. Inspired. Encouraged. Comradery.

Words like these come to mind every time we have conversations – about Nature.

Whether it’s during a presentation, on the trail, or around a fire. Be it over howling grasshopper mice, ancient grizzly bear trails, or hot blood coming out of the eyes of horned lizards (it actually comes out of modified vessels near the eye lid), everyone is genuinely uplifted when amazing natural history tales are passed around.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Why do people really enjoy learning new things about Nature when nearly every other topic of discussion these days seems to be a hop, skip, and a jump away from a brawl?

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Ten Reasons Why Chaparral is so Awesome

Take a drive (or a hike!) into the hills or mountains surrounding nearly every California metropolitan area and you are immediately immersed in chaparral, the state’s most characteristic habitat.

Maritime chaparral above Santa Barbara.

What’s out there? In addition to the 10 awesome features listed below, the chaparral is filled with an inspiring array of life including:

  • beautiful, drought-hardy shrubs like burgundy-barked manzanita with delicate, urn-shaped flowers and explosively blooming ceanothus, painting the hillside in cerulean blues and frosty whites.
  • rhythmic Wrentits calling from unknown places deep within the canopy.
  • the iconic symbol of prehistoric life – the horned lizard – basking in the sunlight.
  • the amphibian survivalist of drought – the spade foot toad – appearing only very briefly during the moistest of times.
  • the delicate checkerspot butterfly, skipping from flower to flower during the colorful explosion of spring.

Chaparral also provides spacious landscapes for the:

  • endangered California condor, the stealthy mountain lion, the marauding bobcat, and the trickster coyote.
  • ghosts of the now extinct California grizzly bear, and the absent jaguar which still haunt the shrub-encased tunnels below the leafy canopies of still thriving stands of old-growth chaparral.

Now to celebrate 10 remarkable features
that make the chaparral such an inspiring place!

1. Birthplace of Western Civilization

Mediterranean shrublands like California’s chaparral have given rise to two of the greatest civilizations of all time – Greece and Rome. Due to its Mediterranean climate (hot, dry summers, and mild, wet winters) and rich volcanic soils (some of the best in Europe), the Italian peninsula became the fertile birthplace of the Roman Empire. And although only 20% of the land in Ancient Greece was arable, it shared Rome’s climate, the key factor in the ability of both civilizations being able to produce an excess of grain, olive oil, and wine. As Rome grew, it merely looked across the Mediterranean sea to Egypt to supply the extra grain it needed. One of the perks of living in Rome itself was a free supply of grain, a remarkable achievement considering the city’s half-million population.

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Science Provides, Wisdom Will Lead

In Pursuit of Logic: Part V of V

“Although most Americans know they are supposed to say ‘We learn from our mistakes,’ deep down they don’t believe it for a minute.”
– Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

The key issue we have been struggling with while exploring the topic of this series, In Pursuit of Logic, is how to develop engaging conversations with people of divergent views that avoid the toxicity of ego – to inspire people to listen rather than waiting to talk.

We keep coming back to Brother David Steindl-Rast and his simple message of gratitude. Simply put, he suggests an easy first step that is based on what we do before crossing the street. We stop, look, then cross. The key here is stopping to allow time to think. Or put another way, placing some space between our feelings and how we eventually respond.

Recently, I had a wonderful conversation with my dear friend Mike about the issue that has inspired this series: clearing habitat in an attempt to reduce the threat of wildfire. Mike filled our experience together on the phone with laughter, self-depreciation, respect, and pauses. I knew we disagreed on a few things, but by the end of the call I honestly couldn’t tell what exactly those things were. Mike always provided space for me to think, to contribute. That’s the secret of successful communication.

Mike and I have been traveling similar journeys of late, the kind that a lot of folks take an interest in after realizing they’ve entered the last third of their lives – how to connect it all; our triumphs, our mistakes, the space we occupy, the life around us, and the space we will leave behind. On his recent journey to the Southwest, I gave Mike one of the most influential books I’ve read in my life, Masked Gods: Navaho and Pueblo Ceremonialism, by Frank Waters.

Like the underground mycelial network of delicate white threads joining together to provide common, vital nutrients to individual plants, Waters connects Indigenous wisdom with other spiritual and intellectual journeys that cultures have taken to understand the flow and meaning of life: Buddhism, Taoism, Christian Science, and Carl Jung’s analytical psychology. They all travel parallel paths.

The road of life …is a long one and a difficult one. For man is at once born of the Earth Mother and the Sun Father and acknowledges allegiance to both the cosmic dualities which they symbolize. Hence the supreme purpose of his life is to resolve within himself the conflict of these polarities so that he may finish his road in harmonic relationship with both and with all the universe.

Much of my life has been guided by the richness of such words, words shared in the kivas of Pueblo ancestors and Buddhist monasteries for centuries.

Masked Gods by Frank Waters.
Our library of dogeared books. Mask Gods: Navaho and Pueblo Ceremonialism by Frank Waters.

Stepping Back From the Abyss

And so, when we were accused of using “offensive, racist language,” and were told we were promoting the “erasure” of Native American “cultures and stewardship” in our original essay of this series, We’re Getting Indigenous Burning All Wrong (which appeared originally as a letter to the editor in the Los Angeles Times), the dissonance was significant.*

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