The Community in the Forest

I spent last week visiting friends who live on a mountain in Northern California. Two years ago a massive forest fire tore through the community, burning 9 out of 10 homes. While the black skeletons of singed trees still dot the landscape, the forest’s regenerative energy fills every niche.  What I have seen is not a collection of individual trees and shrubs struggling to claim their spot in a barren land, but a forest community in regeneration.

This intense regenerative energy has been so pervasive, that the garden, planted just 7 weeks ago, has exploded into magnanimous proportions I’ve never seen before. Already, gourds hang like ornaments from the fence, tomato plants reach five feet, and the prolific zucchinis are being shared with friends.

Mullein, a “weed” my friends have never seen on their land – whose seeds can lie dormant in the soil for over 100 years – has become a common sight. The plant breaks up the dry, exposed soil, its large taproot mining deep for minerals and nutrients to feed the carpet of orphaned baby trees at the surface. Mullein’s tall seed heads, which protrude 2 to 8 feet into the air (above any snowpack) and produce 100,000-180,000 seeds, sustain wintering birds who have lost their sources of the pine nuts and other avian fare. After 2 years this biennial dies, leaving a pathway full of mineral rich, organic matter within the soil, and its large decomposing leaves create a layer of rich mulch at the surface. As an “early succession” plant, once Mullein’s job is done and the soil improved, it leaves.

Mullein’s medicinal gift to humans and other animals? It repairs and cleans the lungs, useful for damage after a fire. It helps us breathe.

As the forest community regenerates, Mullein has taken its rightful place as a working part of the infinite diversity that creates the abundance of nature. Nonviolence, what Gandhi has called the “supreme law for human beings,” is about knowing what our purpose is and about working with the laws of Nature; taking our rightful places and becoming our true selves.


Imagine if all our human systems—economics, education, politics, agriculture, etc.—were as regenerative and life-giving as a forest? That would be the ultimate biomimicry! Last Friday, on Nonviolence Radio, Stephanie and Michael spoke with permaculturist Matt Powers, discussing how we can move in this direction in their discussion on Permaculture and Nonviolence. Check it out here!