Exciting news! The United Plants Savers awarded me a Deep Ecology Artists Fellowship. As one of their 2022 recipients, I’ll be staying at the United Plant Savers Sanctuary to explore the deep ecology of lichens.
What is Deep Ecology? There are lots of different definitions, all connected at a central core: that the earth is made of a dynamic web of systems, and that all beings, including humans, are integral parts of these systems. As a philosophy, it affirms that all beings are inherently worthy of respect, care and life, both humans and more-than-humans. And that this inherent worth extends within the human family to all genders, all ethnicities, all peoples.
The ecological sciences typically focus on behavior and interaction between organism and their environment. How does an organism interact with the ecological systems that its part of? But as humans, our philosophies shape our perception, and thus our behavior. In many ways, our philosophies influence human ecology. The philosophies passed on by a particular culture directly influences the ways in which those humans perceive and behave in their environment.
When faced with ecological crises, the practice of deep ecology suggests that in addition to looking outwards at the world, gathering data, and making recommendations for institutional change, that it is also important to look inwards, at our behaviors, and then beneath our behaviors towards the beliefs and thought patterns that lead to those behaviors.
Naming capitalism or consumerism as the cause of ecological catastrophe is important – and there’s a basement below that ground floor.
If we go down the steps into that basement, we can examine the philosophies that form the foundations of western socioeconomic structures. Piled in towers throughout this basement are boxes, boxes filled with the belief that the more-than-human world is void of consciousnesses, empty and worthy of exploiting. But there is more than just those boxes.
This metaphorical basement is a mystical place. It’s located in a karst topography of limestone. Through the crack in the basement’s brick wall we can access networks of underground caves and tunnels. There are other ways of being in the world. The biosphere is a network of organisms with consciousnesses and experiences that are as rich as our own — and all these different organisms, these different beings and their ecosystems, have ways of being in the world that can offer us guidance in these challenging times.
Studying lichens has been my personal way of exploring these topics. To dive in, check out my essay, The Spaces Between the Branches, recently published by Dark Mountain Project, as well as, How to be a Lichen, published first by the earthskills school, Firefly Gathering, and then republished by the microbiology website, Small Things Considered.
To learn more about other writers and artists who are supported by the United Plant Savers’ Deep Ecology Fellowship, and about the work that the UPS folks are doing, consider becoming a UPS member so you can support their numerous conservation projects and also get access to their journal, (The Journal of Medicinal Plant Conservation), film festival, and annual international conference.
Mammoth Caves, a 420 miles (680 km) long system of tunnels and caves in the karst landscape of Kentucky, USA. Photo by Wiman, creative commons attribute-share alike. If you're interested in exploring caves, please see note at the end of the article, for in these times of the massive decline in bat populations, its best to explore our inner caves, and leave the outer caves to the species that dwell there.
I’ll sign off from inside one of the dark damp tunnels, with an invitation: May we walk in the world knowing that our behaviors and thoughts influence not only the ecosystems around us, but also the ways of being within ourselves. Everything is connected, even (perhaps especially) our imaginations.
P.S. The White Nose Syndrome is devastating populations of bats in Eastern North America – upwards of 90% of the three most common cave dwelling bats in Eastern North America have died in the past decade. The fungal disease is currently spreading westward into the Rockies. During this tenuous time of disease vectors spreading rapidly around the world, its best that we give the bats a chance to recover by leaving the caves to them, while we humans explore the metaphorical karst cave systems of our psyches. There’ll be time for spelunking later.
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