EcoAddendum

Suzanne Simard has pioneered research in how trees communicate with each other, part of a growing new field of scientific research on plant intelligence. View her fascinating TED talk below.

By Debra B. Pearson

 

My reverence for the backyard forest was sparked by a tragedy that occurred in 2014, when it was almost destroyed. It was Easter weekend, and I was awakened by a trembling of the earth. I rushed out of bed to witness carnage. Several mature trees had been cut and were lying across my backyard. There were several men who were pulling and guiding ropes; ropes that were tied to trees in my neighbor’s yard; trees that were being removed because of fear and ignorance. My neighbor did not value the dozens of trees he destroyed that day. In felling his trees, he also destroyed mine. He directed the tree workers to protect his home and to use my forest as the place upon which his cut trees would land. Thus, several beautiful, mature, and healthy native trees were caught in the crossfire of destructive tree practices. Some of my trees did not survive the carnage. I felt powerless to stop it.

 

I frantically called an environmental organization for advice. I was guided to Eco-A director, Kathryn Kolb. Kathryn spoke to me—a total stranger with so much compassion. The broad scope of her knowledge about tree ecology and the environment invoked within me a calling and a purpose to advance the ethos of tree conservation and advocacy.

 

Kathryn directed me to an arborist who came to the forest to access the damage. He also made recommendations as to how I could improve and support the forest. One suggestion he made was to create a narrow trail around the perimeter of the forest using felled branches and limbs as borders. I followed his advice, and as the trail began to take shape, I developed a deep and reverent bond with the forest. I began to see each tree as an individual with whom I wanted to become acquainted; each plant as a member of my family whom I wanted to protect and love. And my relationship with the forest has grown deeper and more reverent with each passing season.

 

Since my forest “tragedy,” I have spent hours and hours in forests throughout the metro area and beyond. I am constantly learning from the earth and her plant based inhabitants. I have hosted learning events in my backyard paradise in an effort to spread awareness about forest ecology. Last summer, I conducted a very meaningful and successful forest camp for children. Kathryn has become not only my mentor but a respected and dedicated friend. I continue to learn from her vast reservoir of knowledge.

 

The tragedy of my forest experience has evolved into what I consider the golden highlight of my existence. I continue to be inspired by its essence. For the rest of my life I will enjoy its blessings.

Debra Pearson shares her backyard forest with Eco-A and friends on April 14th.  —  For more information and to register click HERE 

 

Written by: Debra Pearson
                                                 

 

In June of 2018 EcoAddendum conducted a pilot camp for school aged children.  The impetus for the Urban Forest Camp sprung from one of the core values of Eco A—a reverence and love for the earth and her ecology and a desire to share this value with others.

I have previously collaborated with Kathryn Kolb on a couple of Eco-A events that involved elementary school children. As a retired educator, I began to reflect upon how my skills as teacher could be adapted to outdoor education. I began to write a curriculum for an outdoor camp that could be conducted in the small forest that is located in the backyard of my home. With Kathryn as my resource, the process of identifying and labeling many of the native trees and plants in my forest began several years ago.  Thus, the forest has become an excellent teaching and learning facility.The camp children were phenomenal! The first day of camp had an enrollment of nine (9) children who ranged from seven to eleven years of age.  Each day, half of the camp was spent outside in the forest as a field experience.  Several documents were designed to engage the students with the ecology of the forest. The campers collected data on native over story, middle story, and understory trees, native plant species, and indicator plants.  The second half of each camp day was spent indoors wherein campers completed their field notes, compared and contrasted plant data, and before the camp ended they were analyzing and evaluating soil quality and drawing conclusions about plant diversity that existed in particular areas of the forest.

The children loved every aspect of being outdoors among the trees. Their laughter and enthusiasm became the joyful voices that competed with the calls and songs of the resident birds. They were so happy with the thrill of exploration and discovery.

On the last day of camp, the children organized a closing program that included their family members. About a dozen guests came to support them. The campers conducted a Socratic Seminar that allowed them to “expertly” convey their new found expertise on all things forest. They shared their haiku forest poems and conducted a tour through the forest with their family guests. I was absolutely amazed by how much the children learned and were able to articulate about forest ecology.

Since the end of the summer camp season, several children have come back to their forest classroom to check on the baby trees they measured, labeled, and adopted. Their footprints and presence will always be welcomed.  Like the trees, I hope their connection to the earth remains grounded and strongly rooted in nature’s  support, beauty, and generosity.

In conversation with Cherokee leader Tom Belt, and Cherokee National Forest Archaeologist and Tribal Liaison, Quentin Bass, on Eco-A’s outing to the Cherokee Kituwah site, near Bryson City, NC, July, 2018.
 
The following are notes made during Cherokee leader Tom Belt’s talk to us at Kituwah, and from his responses to questions by Eco-A attendees. Tom Belt is one of the Cherokee leaders focused on keeping Cherokee traditional culture alive and well. A few words here are direct quotes but most are paraphrased with care to the intent of the speakers and the original conversation. This is only a very small part of the words and ideas shared, and I have added a few notes for context in italics. Many thanks to Quentin Bass for arranging this special opportunity, and for sharing his deep knowledge about Cherokee and American history and culture in the Southeast. — Kathryn
  
Quentin Bass and Tom Belt:
The word “Cherokee” does not originate with those known as Cherokee today – the word came about because a Creek Indian guide traveling with DeSoto called the people living north of Creek territory the “Tsalagi,” meaning “people of a different speech.”
 
 
Tom Belt (above, seated at left of group):
Kituwah, Katuah – are American spellings of what is pronounced “Gadua” – which means “the dirt where we live that belongs to God.” 
  
We would say we have always been here, at “Gadua.” Like your story of Moses receiving the law from the mountaintop, so we received the eternal flame and the laws from God, many more than 10 laws, from the top of the mountain now called Clingman’s Dome (which is the highest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains and nearly tied with Mt. Mitchell — within 40 feet — as being the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River) From our mother town site, Kituwah, there is a direct view to the top of this mountain.
 
For us places are important, “we don’t have a cosmology, we have cosmography” – unlike the British settlers, we would not say “this looks a good place to build a town.” There is a reason why our town is located in a particular place. Places are intrinsically connected to making decisions for a reason. We all live downslope or downstream. 
 
Why would you employ science without a conscience – why would you do that? Splitting atoms to make a big destructive power – we do not understand why you would do things “just because you can.” When we did things we considered reasons to justify them.
 (KK note: This sounds much like the a law of the Iroquoian Confederacy “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” The Cherokee language is part of the Iroquoian language group.)
 
“We know who we are. We are of the land, not, the land serves us.” 
 
We celebrate those, like Red Bird Smith, who saw how important it was to keep our traditions alive. Our traditions are not just “a performance,” they are “ceremony.”  Keeping traditions means knowing who you are, it means survival — “if you become like them [the conquerors] then you’re dead, you no longer exist.”
 
“The eternal flame has a broad and deep meaning and I cannot go into to all of that here – though it is not literally a flame, we keep a piece [coal] from the fire, so each new fire has a connection back to the original flame — the fire which goes on forever.”
 
 
Tom Belt and Quentin Bass (above, with historic maps):
This forest does not look like it did when the Europeans first came, the Ferguson family had “a tree rounded out that they were keeping baby cows in” – QB: we know there were hollowed out American Chestnut trees 20 feet across at the base.  TB: When Europeans got here, they think they saw an “untouched” landscape, but we had been stewarding that landscape, making it in optimal condition. When trees in the mountains here were cut, they took out so many logs that if laid end to end they would have circled the earth three times. 
 
Tom Belt:
Large Native American cities like Cahokia were abandoned long before Europeans arrived. They say no one knows why, they ask what is “the reason,” was it a war or climate change? — when maybe it was a decision made for a reason, maybe it was decided the urban model was not a sustainable way to live, so it was abandoned.
 
You can’t cut out part of the whole, you can’t say take away just some of the birds, or just the insects. Losing any piece “will have a domino effect, and this place will look like the surface of Mars. They [our ancestors] knew that early on.”
 
“But what happens if only humans die? The water gets cleaner, the trees grow and the air gets clearer, the earth gets better, which leads us to the question – why are we here?  Our purpose, that we have maintained for generations, answers this question — this is not just beautiful, quaint folklore, it’s science with a conscience.”
 
The English language is noun-based, the Cherokee language is verb-based. Everything in English begins with “I” – I this and I that  — “I saw a bear over there.” In our language the bear comes first, “Bear over there that I saw.”  Because in our way, the bear comes first, it belongs to the world that is more important than we are. And if I am telling you about the bear – you need to hear “bear” first, that is most important.” (laughing).
 
Referencing the idea of “we” – when 18th century British explorers wrote back to England about Native American towns and the people in them, he said “there were no paupers and no orphans in the Cherokee Nation.”  (Cities with paupers and orphans were standard in Europe at that time.)
 
Cherokee culture is not analytical – Western culture may think our traditions and stories are “cute,” some kind of mythology.  “We said trees have a memory – what we say is not cute, it’s true.  Science is now proving what we said was true.”
 
We cut the trees, we have global warming, we are living in an unsustainable way. There is more to life than “scurrying around on errands – driving to Waynesville for this or that, or what I did today in Bryson City – in doing all these things we are killing all – in the service of what?”
 
“Today, we need to apply conscience – a new way of thinking. We need to remind people of who they are, and with knowing who you are comes responsibilities – when people ask what do we mean by sacred, this is what is sacred.”
 
Our way was “not based on conquest, it’s based on knowing who you are – we are the people of Kituwah (Gadua), people of the dirt that does not belong to us.”

Top photo, Great Smoky Mountains view, and pipevine swallowtail butterflies at Kituwah (above) by Tony Thaxton Jr. 

The Japanese chaff flower is one of the newest invasive plant species spreading quickly through Georgia. Here’s how to spot and help prevent the spread of the plant, especially when hiking with your dog.

One of Georgia’s newest invasive plants is so aggressive, Eco-A naturalist Kathryn Kolb tells people to “treat its seeds like nuclear waste.”

Since the seeds of Japanese chaff flower are extremely prolific and viable, what she means is dispose of the plant completely once its pulled. September is the time when Japanese chaff flower seeds ripen and spread. Ironically, their best ally, though they’re innocent bystanders, is your dog.

The seeds stick like Velcro to dog fur, especially as our best friends brush by the plant on urban trails. You and your favorite hiking companion can be in a Decatur park on Saturday, then hiking a waterfall in North Georgia on Sunday, not knowing the chaff flower seeds hitchhiked a ride on your pet’s fur or stuck to your own shoes and clothes. Its seed has just been spread miles away from its original site.

Japanese Chaff Flower in Georgia

While all good trail and park managers are well aware of invasive plants like kudzu, privet and English ivy, Japanese chaff flower is still under the radar and spreads much more quickly, making the little-known pest a true crisis for Georgia’s parks and trails. About 60% of the robust grower’s seeds germinate immediately. Atlanta is one of four hotspots nationally; it has taken over the entire forest floor in at least one Atlanta park, and is poised to take over several others.

“This plant poses a severe threat to biodiversity, much more than English ivy or kudzu, and once it becomes established, it is exponentially more difficult to remove,” Kolb explains. “If left unchecked, it will smother out all other plants,” she has observed. Kolb leads people of all ages on guided nature walks in parks and trails around metro-Atlanta where she sees the plant spreading swiftly.

Japanese Chaff Flower in Georgia

Japanese chaff flower, Achryanthes japonica, is native to Korea and Japan and has “only been spotted in Atlanta for five years,” she goes on. That’s why it’s so important to engage volunteer hikers right now to learn to identify it and make the effort to dispose of it in trash bags. It pulls up easily by the root in its first year, yet after three years, it’s harder to pull.

by Lisa Frank, photos by Kathryn Kolb as published in AtlantaTrails.com.