Trace the map and find out how to get from Pt. A to Pt. B

For several months, instead of blogging, I have taken time to research the earth’s landscape quilt and get up to speed on recent discoveries in plant conservation. I covered a lot of thinking ground, you might say. The above squiggly quiltblock design is meant to be humorous, since I am not fond of 4Wheel driving. Metaphorically speaking, however, you could view it as an inner–map of my reflections about plants. Somewhat akin to bouncing along a 4Wheel drive track, I dipped into new territory, found new information, endured switchbacks, puzzled over the parallel tracks, and arrived practically where I started, but better informed and re–focused. I also developed opinions about 4Wheel driving. For needlework fans, I used the Coral Knot[1] stitch to embroider the above circuitous map. Also called Snail–Trail stitch in old English books, this aptly describes our 4Wheel treks.

My concern: Loss of plant cover and what must be done. Seriously. Before we destroy more plant cover, hear this: When we lose plant cover, we lose a vital mechanism of the water cycle, the hydrology of the planet. Without plant cover, there is less oxygen in the atmosphere. Without plant cover, there is less green plant food available for all creatures, including humans. Personally, I cannot live without food, water, or oxygen. Can you?

Wait. What? You have a lawn, ground already covered with greenery—shrubs, trees, gardens? Lucky you. Much of the world’s ground cover is asphalt, concrete, buildings, cities, airports, some areas totally destroyed by industry, waste, dumps, shopping malls and entertainment centers. Before you label me a spoilsport or ingrate, listen to the basics.

Communities of plants like to live together. Not just any old plants, but those that have age–old affinities and trusted connections. They help each other, offering mutual benefits that encourage growth, sharing of water and nutrients, protection, and sustainability. These genetic patterns are inherent in their makeup. Natural (native) plant communities are the core of life systems that form prairies, wetlands, savannahs, forests, et al. If the core is disrupted, destroyed, mis-managed, missing key species, depleted—we already know the answer. We are surrounded by such areas across the planet. In our ignorance, carelessness, and greed, we are destroying the plant cover.

What to do? This is not rocket science. Ordinary plant communities hold the key to recovery. Ordinary people, gardeners, farmers, you and me can be key players in that recovery. Yes, the robber baron economy needs to be phased out, but the good news is that we can find plant communities right outside our door, in yards, parks, refuges, preserves, and natural areas. We can walk into native plant areas and get acquainted, call each plant by name, observe their position in the architecture of the group, marvel at plant growth from seed to maturity, and determine the history—climax community that has achieved its final stage in succession, or some other pattern of recovery? Successful models of sustainable plant cover have kept life systems alive since life on earth began. Let’s pay attention.

I have retrieved the term “plant communities” from botanical archives because the term “community” sounds more inviting to the common person than “ecosystem.” The concept of community is more accessible; we understand what that means because we live in human communities. Plant communities form habitats—places for animals to live. Endangered species suffer in great measure from loss of habitat (plant communities) along with other dangers. The scientific term “ecosystem” includes both plants and animals interacting with the physical environment. This complex network of interacting organisms would not function without its vegetation base: plant communities. To fix the issues, let’s start with the base.

Does this jog your thinking about how we live? Hmmm. Do you suppose the Creator had this plan in mind all along—to live in community together, offering mutual benefits, sharing food, water, services, protection, the joy of fellowship? Can we view a plant community as a model for living? Collaboration instead of competition? Not divided into factions, but working together?

In my next blog I will share some of the research that plant scientists are discovering, replicating, and their conclusions. A shift in approach seems badly needed—the issues are not always what we do, but how we do it. Many indigenous groups are way ahead of us. Truths we are discovering, they have known and lived with right along. Working together we can spread sustainable practices.

Neither an expert, nor a scientist, I claim 60 years of field experience following a naturalist/biologist. Numerous camping trips across eight western states, as far north as Denali National Park in Alaska, to the southern border of Arizona at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument offered an extraordinary education in vegetation landscape. From ground level observation and osmosis, listening to my partner, I learned the language, sketched, painted, and walked through many a plant community. A way of life has become a labor of love.


Nature Notes: Find a Field Guide to Habitats of your area. Those are the communities that endure. Start there. Visit a site (backyard, park, preserve, refuge, natural area). Get acquainted, identify plants. Photograph, sketch, take notes in your journal. Take a Nature Walk. Talk to the Ranger. Enjoy.

Gospel Lifestyle: How then shall we live? Live a life of gratitude! Thank God every day for the plants and their communities that keep us alive. Pray for the restoration of earth’s plant cover that will be able to sustain itself and all life. Join local plant restoration teams.


[1] Enthoven, Jacqueline. Stitchery for Children, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1968, p. 117.



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