By Nicolas Simon
Capital Information Service
LANSING – Growing up in Dallas, Texas, the world was preoccupied with the new, the present, and the endless variety of city life.
Despite this obsession, the city was both stagnant and claustrophobic to my Midwestern parents.
Soon after, they began to compare the benefits of contemporary city living to the traditional values offered in the Midwest. Eventually, they decided that cluttered concrete was no cradle for creativity and swapped their suburban setting for land with areas time seemed to forget.
Our family moved to Michigan and purchased 50 acres of unmanaged old growth forest outside of South Haven, not far from the shores of Lake Michigan.
This mysterious land was filled with trees that towered over my head, sand dunes that rolled between stands of pines and streams that meandered through swamps with green cloaks. As a young boy with a predisposition for adventure novels, it was easy to imagine that I was the first person to explore these woods and paddle these streams.
Influenced by these ideas, at the age of 9 I started building a trail. I thought this would be a good way to leave a lasting mark that someone had been here and where they wanted to go.
There was there, in the middle of my monument to progress, an arrowhead, which opposed the naivety of my childhood notions of exceptionalism, like a poem by Percy Shelly which speaks of the futility of construction. monuments.
In trying to leave a unique mark, I rather accidentally discovered the first clues to understanding the true timescale of the natural world, as well as our place in that lineage.
As I grew older, I learned the basics of geology from my father, who was as passionate as a storyteller as he was a scientist. He taught me to read the earth-toned rock and earth layers as if they were chapters in a book that was far beyond anyone’s comprehension.
Along the Michigan coast, the Petoskey Stones told tales of the salty oceans of before, the metamorphic deposits told tales of war on ancient volcanoes, and the polished beach glass preached on the freshwater seas. today.
Later, the lakes that once seemed permanent and unchanging have revealed themselves as a painted canvas for thousands of years.
In Wisconsin, the tall cliffs of the Door Peninsula towered over the masts of the most powerful ships, in the most dramatic high water mark the lakes could ever produce.
Conversely, sonar displays a rocky ridge, hundreds of feet below the surface of Lake Huron, on which some of North America’s first humans hunted.
It shows us how humans have evolved with the Great Lakes since prehistoric times and reminds us to be adaptive and collaborative when it comes to dealing with the environment.
Other examples of the region’s history can be found from the land. Amid the modern orchards and farms that make up the agricultural system, artifacts of a much older ecological system are easy to find if you know where to look.
Groves of maple and birch trees can be found in the forest arranged in a straight line, which nature tends to avoid.
Further investigation of these trees, some of which were saplings when kings and queens were still the norm in Europe, reveals human modifications in the form of torn bark and tool marks. These groves, now overgrown, bear witness to a time when the region was in turmoil, whether it was the manufacture of canoes or maple syrup.
Other trees known as trail trees offer a literal and metaphorical map of the past and remind me of my own efforts to leave a path so future explorers know they are not alone although we may be apart. by the time.
Flying over the tops of these trees and swimming in these streams, sandhill cranes and lake sturgeons, both living fossils.
Cranes have been flying over what is now the Michigan area for about 10 million years. Their distinct calls were heard in the region before the formation of the Great Lakes, echoing over the heads of now extinct species such as the mammoth and the saber-toothed tiger.
Yet these birds are relatively young compared to the lake sturgeon, which has remained virtually unchanged for 150 million years (about 70 million years before T. Rex).
These animals have found a way to survive multiple mass extinction events and massive changes in global climate, a fact that is gaining in importance as other species, including humans, attempt to find their own homeostasis. with nature.
To keep this balance, the forest teaches us that we must be active players in ecology, like any other species.
Where mammoths and bison trampled the prairie to flat prairie, humans now have to fulfill this role with prescribed burns. Trees that were previously knocked down by beaver must now be cleared by loggers to promote new growth.
If these management efforts are not made, some habitats such as forest beds and meadows will no longer be able to support their own species. Loss of biodiversity on this scale can create a vicious cycle that causes entire ecosystems to collapse.
For me, achievements like this are the main reason why we need to think of nature on another timescale and redefine our role in the ecosystem.
Studies have shown that a hands-off approach to forest management is one of the main contributors to forest fires.
Researchers believe this is so because there is no other megafauna left in North America to fulfill important roles in the forest due to overhunting. A national example can be seen by examining states like California and Oregon, where wildfire rates exploded without human intervention in the form of controlled burns, a practice dating back to ancient Native American ecology.
The lack of proper techniques, coupled with a growing climate, threatens some of the world’s surviving fossils. California wildfires have destroyed redwoods, some of the largest and oldest living things on earth.
Likewise, a wave of fires in Australia threatened the Wollemi pines, another ancient plant whose origins could be traced back 200 million years. They remained rooted in the ground long enough to see the earth itself change shape, hitchhiking to the top of the continental plate that makes up Australia.
These trees had never been reached by humans until recently, but even they are not immune to the effects caused by our species in such a limited time.
Some argue that these species have had their day and that changing conditions will naturally lead to the loss of species.
However, I would like to highlight the millions of years of climate change that have already occurred during the time of plants on earth.
To reverse this trend, we must begin by understanding the planet with a continuing history that began long before we arrived and will continue long after we are gone.
Only then can we truly appreciate the speed and degree to which humans have altered systems that took geological ages to develop. If more people took the time to stop and admire the living and dead fossils that surround us, I believe the world would gain a new urgency in not becoming the latter.