From the Wisdom of Pine Cones
Along the southern reaches of the Jersey shore, maritime forests of pine and oak grow strong in the sandy soil. Owing to the influence of fire and humanity, the predominant species here is pitch pine (Pinus rigida). The cones of this tree have adapted so that they will open only in response to extreme heat. The natural, necessary, and repetitive process of wildfire both destroys and renews the resources of this land.
At the close of 2018, I returned once again to the forests and the land where I grew as a sapling. The opportunity to spend time with my family, to revisit the well-trod paths of my youth, to hold congress with my favorite groves, and to feel the the brisk south wind along the shore, as always, was beautiful and insightful. So much has changed, yet roots remember.
If left undisturbed, clearings made by fire or people in the forest will become wooded again. In ecology, the process of succession is a slow, orderly sequence of changes in which one community of plants and animals will replace each previous community until a climax community emerges. In the Pine Barrens it takes 100-200 years for an open field to become a mature forest.
And eventually it will burn.
The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus related the kosmos to “an everliving fire; kindling in measures and being quenched in measures”. The world, like the beings that inhabit it, is constantly in a state of flux. “Changing, they stay the same”.
In my own life, especially in 2018, the sequence of changes I experienced did not seem slow or orderly. It became apparent to me that sometimes we, too, are exposed to the rapid and wild fire of transformation. In time, the flora and fauna of our inner and outer Erlebnis will change, creating and being created by the emerging landscape of Life. In his meditation on trees, Herman Hesse channels:
”A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life...I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail”.
As with trees, we have an elemental contract with earth and water, to breathe the air and to be tempered by fire. Like the pitch pine, a new cycle begins with a kernel in ash and ember. May you kindle abundance in this new year.