[permaculture] [Scpg] Oaks, Mosses, Miwok Wisdom

Wesley Roe and Marjorie Lakin Erickson lakinroe at silcom.com
Fri Jun 4 15:07:14 EDT 2004

For all of you interested in Oaks and forest health, take a moment to explore
this fascinating website.
Here is one page from the website to get you interested.  Margie Bushman

LUMINOUS - Restoring the Light on Indigenous Wisdom
Project Director - Dr. Lee Klinger

Back in the summer of 1985, immersed in fieldwork for my dissertation on the
cause of a massive decline of Yellow Cedar and other old-growth trees in
southeast Alaska, I turned a small mistake into an important finding. At the
time US Forest Service scientists studying the same problem had focused
their attention on several fungal pathogens, including a species of
Phytophthora, which they implicated as the cause of the Yellow Cedar
After determining that these fungal pathogens were not the cause, seeing as
they were not expressed in most of the dying trees, I began to observe that
wherever the trees were dying there were thick growths of mosses covering
the ground and the trunks. Arriving one morning to survey my plots, equipped
with all but my pencil to record the data, I cursed myself then wandered off
instead digging and probing with my shovel. Exploring below the forest
floor, my suspicions about the mosses quickly heightened as I found, again
and again, that the soils under moss mats were lacking of roots. As the data
later confirmed, the mosses were acidifying the soils and killing the roots
and the mycorrhizae of the trees.
In the end it became apparent that the decline was not a problem with the
trees, it was a problem with the entire forest. As old-growth forests age
they slowly acidify, allowing mosses and lichens to accumulate and later
participate in the onset of decline. In the library search that followed I
was surprised to learn that there were no other reports or findings of a
similar nature anywhere in the scientific literature. While I have since
made a long and respected scholarly career out of investigating and
confirming the critical role of mosses in forest decline, a question keeps
resurfacing. For all the fine biologists and ecologists in the world past
and present, why had none before seen or documented the powerful effects of
mosses on trees? Only now, 18 years and more than 50 studies later, am I
aware that the finest of them did know! And, they also knew quite well what
to do about it. However, documentation of their findings is not to be found
in any library.
Centuries ago, on a hillside in Marin, a band of Miwok called Olompali (or
"Southern People") had a vision, a way to create abundance from these trees
in seven generations based on a deep understanding of the living earth and
of the subtle force of mosses, a force I, too, have come to know well.
Today, on that same hillside, their ecological wisdom is cleverly recorded
in the peculiar fire scars on downhill sides of trunks, in the strange white
coatings on the bark, and in the odd placement of sea shells around the
largest and oldest trees. No sooner are we able to confirm, through the
efforts of modern science, that burning, liming, and whitewashing provides
nutrients and buffers which restore the health of forests, that we find the
Miwok have long been burning, liming, and whitewashing these forests.
If we consider, too, that the many crooked trunks of the older oaks are bent
by design, trained to grow sideways and into the hill; that archeologists
are finding hundreds of stone mortars in the area, grinding sites littered
with splintered bones and seashells from waters outside the bay; that there
are many mysterious shell middens, heaps of broken shells, bones, chunks of
limestone, and ashes, piled up to 40 feet high with no evidence of any
significant habitation nearby them; then suddenly our view shifts. No longer
simple hunter-gatherers, the legions of shaped and tended trees clearly
reveal the Miwok to be an organized tribe of sophisticated agriforesters who
cultivated fruits and nuts, especially acorns, in great orchards that they
treated year after year with fire, lime, and love.
Today I again find myself in a forest of dying trees, some more than 500
years old, holding a shovel full of soil lacking in roots. Mosses are
everywhere, covering the ground and trunks of dying oaks which bear no hint
of fungal infection, all the while the US Forest Service and the State of
California are directing every last person and dollar into research on a
single species of fungus, Phytophthora ramorum. This time, however, I stand
on the shoulders of giants - the Miwok Indians who have already shown us how
to end Sudden Oak Death and who, through their excellent care of the Giant
Sequoias, have grown the grandest temples of all.
Thus, I submit to all interested supporters this proposal seeking start up
funds of $450,000 for LUMINOUS: Restoring the Light On Indigenous Wisdom, an
ambitious effort to save the great oaks, dying for lack of care, by
reinstating indigenous practices used so effectively for millennia. Of
course, this requires that we commit, as did our forebears, to seven
generations of stewardship. Beginning in Marin County (CA) where oaks are
dying by the tens of thousands, this project plans to begin restoring the
forests to their former might tree by tree as participants pledge to treat
and tend an ancient tree for the future generations using indigenous
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