The Resiliency Of Nature
Without a doubt, nature is resilient. And sometimes in life, we need to ask ourselves WWND – “What would nature do?” In this episode, we talk about the resiliency of nature and what we can learn by using it as an example, along with three steps, inspired by nature, on how you can become a more resilient person today!
Perseverance versus resilience
I talk about perseverance a lot in my life. Perseverance is the continued effort to achieve something despite difficulties, failures, or opposition. My dad has always used the phrase “Endeavor to Persevere” which has kept me moving forward in the face of struggle. What I realized is this built resiliency. Resiliency is the ability to recover from a change or misfortune.
So while perseverance is the act of getting back up again – continuing to push through no matter what, resiliency is what you build from perseverance. It allows you to shape and mold yourself into a resilient person. Resilient people adapt. They learn to become aware of what is happening in their situation and make changes in order to continue forward and tackle problems in new ways. Resilience is what gives us the psychological strength to deal with hardships.
The same can be said about nature. It is resilient as hell. Taking on the changes from years of use and abuse and forging new patterns to tackle difficult situations. Heck, nature and its systems have been around a lot longer than we have! We may have originally developed our resiliency from nature, but it seems like we have strayed further and further what it means to be resilient in order to survive and thrive. We need to ask ourselves WWND – “What would nature do?”
Let’s look at a few examples of the resiliency of nature and try to learn a thing or two, shall we?
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Resiliency In nature
Let’s start with fire ants because they are a small but mighty story. Fire ants evolved to have a really cool property – viscoelasticity. Native to flood plains in South America, their underground homes would get flooded so they’d have to stick together – literally. One ant alone up against a mass of water isn’t able to survive – right? but when they stick together, they form large balls that have properties of both a solid and liquid meaning they can form a huge connected structure and float along the waters to survive.
They are now located in areas across the world. So when a hurricane comes through – like Hurricane Harvey or Florence, there were 100s of thousands of ants that banded together to make spanning fire ant rafts that floated atop the waters and allowed them to survive. They use systems of communication and collective intelligence to connect and adapt.
Prairies are very resilient in nature. Since they are biodiverse ecosystems where each different plant plays its functional role (nitrogen fixation, water retention, and soil stabilization) – they can endure.
Pests can’t breed because of the lack of abundance of just one food source. But for animals and good insects who depend on prairies – their varied food sources are great! Prairies produce multiple food sources for different organisms throughout the year.
They are diverse enough that when faced with natural disasters or changes, prairies can’t be wiped out like a monoculture can be. Whether there are floods or drought, the landscape changes to accommodate.
The Pines in Yellowstone are another example of the resiliency of nature. In 1988 fires broke out for 5 months across the park – burning approximately 793,880 acres of land – including lodgepole pines. These types of pines evolved to equip themselves with two different kinds of pinecones.
They have regular pinecones that release seeds as you’d expect, but they also have developed special, persevering pinecones. They are serotinous cones that hang onto the tree even after the seeds have matured, and are sealed shut with a resin. These cones only open as a result of the high heat of a fire melting the resin. This releases their seeds through the wind and gravity as a defense mechanism to the fires and allows the pines to replenish and regenerate even in the face of a natural disaster. A solution these trees have come up with other than perishing in forest fires completely.
There were burns again in 2016 that took out these spry 28-year-old regrown trees – but this time around they didn’t have much of a chance to build up their seedling reserves and the rates of replenishing decreased. Nevertheless, these pines are still attempting to grow and regain lost carbon. Because it is estimated that it will take a full 90 years for the forest to recover its lost carbon from the fires. They might even evolve again to adapt to more frequent fires. Only time will tell.
More Examples of Resiliency in Nature
Another example of nature’s ability to adapt when it comes to trees is looking at the American Chestnut tree. This species once formed 25-50% of the temperate broadleaf forest canopy in the northeastern U.S, which was a major source of food for hundreds of species.
Then, there was a fungus that came from imported non-native trees that the chestnut trees weren’t able to combat, killing them off over the years. This unforeseen change opened up the forest canopy, deteriorated the food web, and eroded the soil. However, it allowed for other tree species like maples, oaks, and berry trees, who were unaffected by the fungus, to grow and replace the food system and restore the soil. They stepped up and played their functional part even in the face of change and the unknown.
RiversProbably one of the most resilient things in nature that come to many people’s minds are rivers. I can’t be the only one who has seen a poster with a river crossing through mountains and valleys with a message about making it through your obstacles – right? And that’s because they’re a good example. All rivers naturally change their path over time. Adapting to and through changes in the landscape. Eroding and forming and reforming themselves. Rivers teach us to be resilient. To learn and explore. To take an obstacle and find a way to overcome – forging new paths that serve us better moving forward. They persevere even in the face of the hardest of rocks or deepest valleys and turn into resilient waterways that last no matter the obstacle.
Cycles of NatureThe cycle of nature in itself is resilient. Take for instance a regular ole plant in the dirt. It lives, It dies. Then it turns into organic matter in the soil, which gives nutrients for more plants to grow from it. Those plants die and more plants grow, and then more – getting into the rhythm of resiliency and rejuvenation. It is a positive feedback loop. There are also negative feedback loops in nature. But through these positive and negative loops, nature is able to fall into patterns that reach equilibrium – like in our food chain. Reduce too much of one animal, and it can completely disrupt the chain and vice versa. These loops are a display of the resiliency of nature to adapt to ever-changing environments.
In Your Home
In your own home, you can witness the resiliency of nature. I’ve killed a houseplant or two or at least was on the verge of killing it. But when moved to a new spot or given a little water – a shoot of green new life springs from the dried-up remains of what I thought was a completely dead plant. And the number of plants I’ve propagated! Think – usually propagations are something that seems broken from the whole, but these propagations are able to create new and healthier versions of themselves when given the time and energy. Demonstrating that there is more life to be lived if we just persevere.
Some studies show that even being around nature can build psychological resilience in humans. The more connected we are to the natural world, the more mentally resilient to life’s struggles we are.
HibernationWhen it comes to animals, there are countless examples of resiliency. Hibernation is something that is considered relatively new in the sense of how long mammals have been around. But it was developed by animals who wanted to survive seasonal colds and shortages of food.
FrogsFrogs have survived since before the age of dinosaurs, adapting in thousands of ways to their environment. They can withstand zero-degree temperatures for up to seven months, and then unfreeze and hop away as nothing happened. Desert frogs can burrow underground for months at a time in order to escape the dry weather and scorching sun. In the rainforest, they’ve adapted into vibrant colors and patterns on their skin used to communicate and camouflage themselves. They are resilient.
TardigradesThere is one super resilient organism in nature – the Tardigrades, or water bears. They are tiny 8 legged organisms that can survive absolute zero temperatures AND temperatures up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. They can resist up to 1000 times more radiation than humans and have even been documented to go up to 100 years without water. Tardigrades can withstand the deep depths of the ocean as well as the vacuum of space! Talk about being able to withstand extreme changes!! You can find them in almost every part of the world, even on the moss that’s growing in your backyard! If that isn’t the most resilient organism you’ve ever heard of – I don’t know what is!
Changing ClimatesEven recently animals have adapted due to rapid climate change. Migratory birds are changing their patterns to adapt to climate change, accounting for earlier springs. Lungfish have adapted to survive droughts by making their bladder function as a lung so they can live in the mud until the water returns. There is a new hybrid bear that is showing up – the Grolar Bears or a Grizzly Polar Bear Hybrid. This is due to Polar Bears having to shift south and find land due to lack of ice, and the Grizzly Bears moving north for more temperate climates. This hybrid ensures the continuation of those species.
How can we learn from nature?
One idea is developing permacultures in all areas of the world (from cities to schools, to waste grounds and everything in between).
Permaculture as defined by physicist Emma Chapman is a philosophy of life that’s “central theme is the creation of human systems which provide for human needs, but using many natural elements and drawing inspiration from natural ecosystems. Its goals and priorities coincide with what many people see as the core requirements for sustainability.”
In other words, how we, as a society, can grow food, build houses and create communities while minimizing environmental impact at the same time.
Some say that “Permaculture provides the ethics, principles, and design strategies to achieve (these) transformations, creating economically, environmentally, and socially resilient communities.”
Learning from nature
Becoming resilient communities means we don’t put all of our eggs in one basket, as the world and nature are unpredictable and ever-changing. That we build communities that celebrate diversity and value the different functional roles that are played by all members of our society. That we are connected enough to be resilient and share information needed to recover quickly, without being so connected that disturbances have the ability to spread rapidly too.
It means that we are self-regulating with feedback loops and using small and slow solutions in order to not tip ourselves “past the point of no return” so to speak. Resiliency in our communities looks like new, creative, complex, and flexible ways of thinking and learning through collaboration.
Nature can teach us that we need to observe and interact with what is going on around us and then take action to survive and thrive.
We all know the world is changing in ways that we haven’t seen in our history. How will we adapt to a world with less energy? Fewer resources? A changing climate? Can we communicate and take action to cope with these changing systems in time? Can we come up with creative solutions that fit the various cultures and lifestyles of the people of our planet while also minimizing our risk to nature? I think we can!
“Like tiny seeds with potent power to push through tough ground and become mighty trees, we hold innate reserves of unimaginable strength. We are resilient.” – Catherine DeVrye said in ‘The Gift of Nature’
Something to grow onOn this week’s something to grow on I wanted to share three steps, inspired by nature, that you can take to start being more resilient in your personal life TODAY!!
- Become more self-aware The first step is to become more self-aware. Ask yourself what your strengths and weaknesses are. Understand them so that you know your obstacles and how you can play to your strengths to overcome them. You might not be like the Lungfish and able to switch how your body functions in the face of a challenge, but you can follow in its lead and recognize what you have inside you that you can use to make it through whatever obstacle you are facing.
- Embrace change The second step is to embrace the fact that all things change. You have to be flexible and open-minded moving forward. Instead of wasting your energy worrying about how “things could’ve been different if you just would’ve done (fill in the blank here).” Be creative and respond to the change you see. Embrace adversity. Looking at it from the perspective of “this change can help me to grow and better myself” instead of something that holds you back and makes you stagnant. Just think – spiders build their webs to catch food and we trample through them. Tearing them down with a quick swat of our hand or a broom. Do you think the spider decides to give up, sulk in a corner, and wait to starve? No. It goes back to work building a new web – maybe one that’s even better than before!
- Develop Relationships And the third step is to develop deep relationships. Build a diverse network of people you can trust to communicate with and reach out to. Don’t be like the lone fire ant who drowns – afraid to ask others for help when you need it. Be like the fire ants who draw each other close to each other in the face of a challenge. Trying to face problems on our own can be fruitless. But when unique minds come together – beautiful solutions can be created.