President’s Article: August

Scorched Earth and Renewel

In unprecedented times such as these, it can sometimes be good to a look at the longer view of where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re heading.

In terms of historic white settlement (we must acknowledge this being the original of home of our Native sisters and brothers for generations), for years, Missoula has been a thriving oasis of cultural activity, steadfast economic growth and community wellness. You could honestly consider her a shining example of what forward thinking can accomplish by those who love her most; her citizens. Thoughtful planning and action taken by past generations instilled a sense of combined stewardship and responsibility for succeeding generations to help preserve and build upon a heritage of sustainability and livability of place. And there were hard fought battles, both lost and won, to collectively maintain a quality of life second to none. You may liken this place to a thriving forest where the benefit to one species of life is often beneficial to all species that happily live, grow and die within this type of ecosystem. It is not without competing agendas or the desire to carve out a niche for oneself, however. Survival of the fittest is a concept that even Mother Nature can subscribe to (in fact, I think she invented it). But I believe overall, Missoulians have traditionally tried to see the whole forest for all of the individual trees (and non-trees alike), metaphorically speaking.

Obviously the here and now is unlike anything any of us have encountered before in our lifetimes. I liken it to a “scorched earth” scenario both economically and culturally. Again, metaphorically speaking, It’s on par with the situation of the Great Burn of 1910 that devasted forestlands and communities from the Bitterroot Valley all the way to Sand Point, ID in terms of absolute disruption of everyday life. And in its wake, a literal scorched earth. Yet today, all of these destroyed forests have bounced back in hearty fashion. And now on the heels on one of the most prosperous periods of growth the area has ever witnessed comes this biological threat that forces every walk of life and activity to virtually shut down overnight with no end in sight for when the smoke will clear, the embers die out and any sort of renewal will begin.

This is where you and I come in, my friend. Our particular scorched earth, our home, is a living organism just like a thriving forest. This town, this community, this living and breathing unified whole … is knocked down but still very much alive. In light of the shock and awe, the utter destruction of what was once our favored existence, of the longing and isolation that has been unfairly but equally thrust upon each of us, it’s time to reflect. When a forest burns, the occupants often have strategies for protecting themselves or regenerating from the devastation of flames, and the forest as whole can actually benefit from occasional burning. From one online authoritative blog article I found, I poached this appropriate line, “In many ecosystems, fire promotes a greater variety of species of plants and animals since it creates a more diverse set of environments.”

How does this apply to us as individuals? Our suffering business community? Non-profits? Education? Government? Our very survival? Although we are all smoldering in the ashes of uncertainly and continuing to protect and take care of ourselves and hopefully one another, we still have choices. Choices to stay dormant or choices to thrive. Choices to remain hunkered down or choices to lift up and engage. In the face of devastation such as this, either side of this choice coin is entirely valid and understandable. However, if the choices we make are meant to take care of ourselves and our own interests solely, then we are not seeing the forest for the trees, in my humble estimation.

For all of us, the responsibility of community requires engagement and care for our fellow human being, especially during devastating times. If we all give a little more of ourselves to others or others’ interests besides our own, this community will not only grow, but it will thrive. Sprouts of green will slowly color the black burnt earth. Just as renewal starts slowly after a wildfire, so must our attitudes be renewed in quiet reflection. Today, I hope you can reflect on what vision you have for our forest on the rebound. Our home. For posterity sake, how do you want your children and grandchildren to tell the story of this generation … and how we helped plant the seeds, water the landscape, lift the tiniest of lifeforms in the web of life out of the ashes and transform the whole into the mighty forest it once was … and will be again and for eternity. I hope you can dig deep into your roots and find the heart to give more of yourself to your community even in the tiniest of ways. The entire ecosystem needs you now more than ever.

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