Plant life and animal life have been moving around the planet freely for millions of years in search of new spots to get more sun or food, a mate, or more room to move. As the last ice age ended ten thousand years ago, large animals followed the snow line northward as the melted snow made way for fresh fertile grasslands, and humans followed the animals.
There has always been a strong interdependence between flora and fauna, and humans have been part a part of it, as we are a part of the fauna, biologically- speaking. It wasn't until humans began to attempt to control the movement of plants and animals by saving and planting seeds directly, and controlling the breeding animals that humans have been able to stay, or some might say, "forced to stay," in one place. This transition from living in nature to controlling it through farming is likely one of the meanings of the Garden of Eden story in the book of Genesis. As the story goes, once the humans ate from the Tree of Knowledge they were fated to leave the garden and work by the sweat of their faces, farming in the thorny fields.
The ancient Hebrews weren't the only people in the world giving women credit for learning the knowledge -- for good and ill -- of the "secrets" living things. Other cultures, including our own Appalachian Cherokee, gave women credit for getting the knowledge of farming (see the story of Kanati and Selu, which is comparable to the Garden of Eden story). Women the world over had to be more sedentary than men to bear and raise the children, so they were more likely to see the best times of the year and soil conditions for planting seeds. Like the Hebrews, the Cherokee saw the transition toward more dependence on farming as a relative "fall" from grace, compared to the relative ease of gathering plants and hunting animals in earlier times.
The Cherokees did not become as dependent on farming as the peoples of the Fertile Crescent, however, because the forests in the Appalachians were highly productive and not drying-up into grassland as it was in Southwest Asia. Thus there was still much interdependency between the humans and the plant-and-animal world, as highlighted in Cherokee's story in The Origin of Medicine and Disease. In this story they explained the diseases from which they were suffering as a punishment for not being considerate enough of the animals. The story explains the plant-based medicine that the Cherokees used as proof that the plants must have felt sorry for their suffering. Since people living in the Appalachian mountains today get most of their food and medicine from far away, they'll probably have little chance of learning the intricacies of the Cherokee view of interdependency, but there is still much knowledge of the flora and fauna worth studying. Besides the cultural dimensions we can imagine thanks to hundreds of Cherokee stories, we can learn the biological system for identifying and classifying plant and animal species (taxonomy), and the interesting relationships between wild plants and the garden, where we can see that the "weeds" are not necessarily "out to get us." Through daily walks, trail hikes and runs, we will begin to get a feel for rhythms and dynamics of life on the river and mountain at the academy; and we can use the same methods around your own home too. We will use different maps available through Google Earth and other readily available maps and apps to make our customized, seasonal map of flora and fauna and their interrelationships, including those in Mama's precious garden.
To really see the dynamic aspects of flora and fauna, we'll need to get up early, as the birds do, to see what it takes for flora and fauna to make the most of it's day, to catch the worm, or the rare rays of sun that may only touch parts of the ground at sunrise; because the reality on our planet, and in the biologically-rich region of the southern Appalachian mountains, is that every day has unique conditions that require our full attention to adapt and succeed. We'll share images and observations in a slide show on this page. If there is anything that wild plants and animals will reveal to us, it is the manner in which they have to adapt and be creative with what they have. How have the plants and animals you discover adapted over the generations to be more effective in their respective habitats?
The garden is another good place to explore because it is where we interact with the wild plants and animals we have "trained," or domesticated, over the centuries, and it's where we still face the challenges of wild plants, sometimes called "weeds," and insects and animals, we sometimes "critters," because we don't usually want them in our gardens. Is there a way to make peace between the wild plants and animals, and the "tame" ones that are now dependent on humans? Is there something we can learn from wild plants and animals, even birds,? These are a couple of questions to start with as we create a living map around the academy, following and making trails from our gardens and back yards through the nearby fields and woods, across the creeks and rivers (if you dare), and back again.
Sarah, Etowah, and Selu have volunteered to help us begin our explorations using their experience as birders mentored by Georgann Schmalz (birdingadventuresinc.com/) and begin the project to catalog the fauna on a section of the Etowah River around Compass Mountain, the location of the academy. Their team, the "Sharp-eyed Shrikes" got third place in the high school division last year in the Youth Birding Competition, a 24-hour state-wide birding competition. Field-journal writing, photography, plant and tree identification will all be a part of the 90 minute introduction for Open House on Saturday January 10. More details and a schedule of future dates for more Flora and Fauna adventures will be available at the Open House on January 10, and on this page in the coming weeks.
2015 Flora and Fauna hikes around Compass Mountain, and around the riverbend to the garden.