Fynbos

All around this site you will find a special plant:

The Fire Ephemeral – Fynbos of South Africa

A plant that saves my life

Half way around the world from where I live, there is a plant species called a fire ephemeral that continues to save my life. I have never touched these flowers or smelled their fragrance. I once saw a documentary about them that I have been unable to forget. Even though it has been more than twenty years since I saw this film, the images are sharp in my mind.

The lively coastal town scene draws me in

The film opens with a panoramic scene of city life in a coastal town, the curved arch of its sandy beach sheltering against the backdrop of a giant mountain: there, people walk gaily along streets, they swim in the ocean, and they sail on the sea. The joyous sounds of life abound: the slap of water against a sailboat, the clank of metal chains ringing against the dock, the symphony of voices rising together from the cafes and shops.

A pristine valley, unknown to the city below

Then the camera slowly fades and pans upwards along the mountain’s sharp inclines until it settles upon a valley so pristine it looks as if it is completely protected and unknown to the humans in the city below. On this tranquil plateau, deer munch lazily on wild shrubs, birds flit between branches, and beautiful tall flowers rise high and triumphant into the sky.

There is no hint of what is to come

—The total and violent destruction of every living thing by a fire that rampages through the forest, leaving a blackened, scorched landscape that smolders for days. The cataclysmic change is so horrific it makes me cry. As if the devastation is too much to take, I am granted one small comfort: most of the small animals and birds escape when they sense the fire and scatter to safety.

None of the vegetation survives

While the animals are able to scamper to safety, none of the vegetation survives: where once green shrubs, abundant ground cover and flowers filled the valley, only blackened, smoldering soil remains. Then the most amazing thing happens: the camera zooms in close to the hot, steaming ground and through time-lapsed photography, I see a tiny seed pop open like popcorn. Soon, a green tendril arches its way toward the heavens and then, other seeds begin popping open everywhere, giving rise to a delicate army of green fingers. As if racing to overtake the devastation, the green sprouts muster forces and grow into a field of wild flowers.

The fire that destroyed everything triggers these flowers to germinate so they could bloom. The scene is triumphant.

I hold onto this scene

Perhaps I hold onto this scene because of the grotesque contrast between the mesmerizing beauty that lulled me that day and the tranquility that was suddenly snatched away leaving only blackened destruction. Yet as I ponder that scene further, what captivates me most is the way in which the shrubs and flowers regenerate, not by some rescue or human intervention, but rather because of the very force that destroyed them, the fires that roar through the region every ten to fifteen years. In fact, if it were not for the fires, these plants would cease to exist. Their life cycle is dependent upon fire to trigger germination. As they drop their seeds, those seeds lie dormant until a fire springs them to life. We can learn much from these plants about resiliency, especially those known as fire ephemerals.

I often turn to the triumphant fire ephemerals

And so, when I feel distress, I turn to the triumphant fire ephemerals and as I see them rising high and courageous above the rubble, I know: That is how I will rise. That is how I will live: resilient, despite the trauma, despite the abuse. I will keep finding the beauty in life; I will keep rising up like the fire ephemerals, responding to the fire, stronger. I will never give up.

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