May Nature Be Our Teacher
By Shannon Casey
Day 1 of 5: Our Collective Flourishing
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
-Aboriginal Activists, Queensland, 1970s
In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer describes the phenomenon of mast fruiting. Pecan trees, she explains, “don’t make a crop every year, but rather produce at unpredictable intervals.” What’s more, they do this in synchrony. I was surprised to learn that scientists don’t actually know how the trees coordinate this. So far, there are only plausible hypotheses. The trees might communicate through the air via pheromones (chemicals that trigger a response from other members of the species). Or, perhaps mycorrhizae, the fungus that grows with the trees’ roots, are responsible for creating an underground communication network. Kimmerer continues, “If one tree fruits, they all fruit—there are no soloists. Not one tree in a grove, but the whole grove; not one grove in the forest, but every grove; all across the county and all across the state.”
This communal process is a bit counterintuitive. After all, we’re taught that evolution is about survival of the fittest—the fittest individual. However, there are many examples in nature of mutual flourishing, and this is what the pecan trees demonstrate so spectacularly. Kimmerer adds, “we make a grave error if we try to separate individual well-being from the health of the whole.” It’s an essential lesson—our flourishing, our liberation, is bound up together.
Even if we don’t know exactly how to get there, we know that it is possible. We don’t know exactly how the pecan trees accomplish the feat of mast fruiting either, but collective flourishing exists in nature, and it’s in our nature. Kimmerer puts it succinctly: “All flourishing is mutual.”