Desert Traditions
…where new journeys into life, tradition & culture begin

Remember The Living Earth?

Food for thought. The problem with clearing out my office is that the work expands exponentially; I pick up a box of photos, a pile of papers, a wad of drawings and deliberate on each one. I just came across a quotation I used when I was working in community environmental education. The quote is more potent now than it was 20 years ago and its message is more urgent than ever. We have lost the poetry as we argue in blunt scientific terms about whether or not we are in climate change. I have just retyped the piece and will place it on my newly cleared office wall. This is one thing I will not throw away. Read the words slowly, contemplate them and get the point!

The Living Earth
‘I am the living earth. I am the softened tissue of rocks baked by the sun, split by ice, carved by water and winnowed by the wind. I am interwoven by myriads of tiny plants and animals that pulse and breathe. I am the invisible universe of sparkling molecules in the infinity of living soils that bless the mantle of this globe.

I am the carpet of the biosphere; the floor of the forest, the seedbed of all plants; and my living substance nourishes all roots and all leaves that rely on the sun and rain to make green sculptures out of clay. In the tall dim damp rainforest I house the bulk of animal life and support the endless upward toiling of trees and coiling of vines. I am the bottom line of all grand symbiosis in forest biology. I am the source of mineral molecules in lovey flowers born high among the birds in the rainforest canopy; I am the energy sink, the lovely muddy frugal cemetery for recycling all the forest’s elements in the transitions between life and death.

Touch me, smell me. I am your ultimate quality of life in ecology’s profound cycles. See me, hear me, you humans who pass by me with your round computer heads rocking in the forest sky above me. Spare me a thought you humans who depend on me; remember me as I die before you, when you take away my forest coverings and still the microbes that give me life – me the Living Earth.

Take your shoes off, touch me with your fingers, let your skin tingle as it touches mine.

Shift your gaze sometimes from the stars and remember the heaven beneath your feet. Remember me when the sun burns and the waters gouge me, be kind to the forest that remain and protect them from seamless destruction. Remember this, like me you are already eroding. Know this; like me you are only dust when you are dead. Accept this; unlike you, I am closer to recreation as the living Earth, to Genesis’.

Len Webb, Rainforest Ecologist
October 28, 1920 November 25, 2008

Footnote: Starting in the 1950s, the research of Len Webb and colleagues, from the Rainforest Ecology Section of the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry, identified the rainforests of northern Queensland as being the ancestral flora of the whole continent. They were unique, not merely the ‘rag-end’ of South-East Asian forests as had previously been surmised. Webb’s surveys found evidence for rainforest in 75 million year-old sediments across southern Australia long before Australia drifted close to Asia estimated to be about twelve million years ago.

Under Webb’s patient scrutiny the northern forests were found to contain the world’s greatest concentration of primitive flowering plant families, suggesting Australia may have been part of the region where flowering plant families first developed. His work subsequently made crucial advances in the understanding and management of Australian rainforests.

He was a key figure in the crusade to protect Australia’s rainforests as a non-renewable resource and heritage and frequently quoted from EJH Corner’s The Life of Plants to impress upon people the sheer magic of these ‘green cathedrals’.

“There is a giant tree, prominent in a forest that stretches to the skyline. On its canopy birds and butterflies sip nectar. On its branches orchids and mistletoes offer flowers to other birds and insects. Among them ferns creep, lichens encrust and centipedes and scorpions lurk. In the rubble that falls among the roots and stems, ants build nests and even earthworms and snails find homes. There is a minute munching of caterpillars and the silent sucking of plant bugs. Through the branches spread spiders’ webs. Frogs wait for insects and a snake glides … “