zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Percussions and repercussions

Percussions and repercussions

[ by Charles Cameron — ecology, fire, forests, an elevator in Denver, and how one thing leads to another ]

Guy Davenport, a stylist worthy of his Masters


HeraclitusHerakleitos — sees this world as one seamless “all” in constant motion and taking many forms — with what we call “fire” as the recurring form within that flux that he can point to by name, using it as his best metaphor for that “all”…

In the beautiful translation of Guy Davenport (drawn here from fragments 28 and 29 in his book, 7 Greeks, p 161:

Everything becomes fire, and from fire everything is born, as in the eternal exchange of money and merchandise.

This world, which is always the same for all, neither god nor man made: it has always been, it is, and always shall be: an everlasting fire rhythmically dying and flaring up again.


This is just a quick post, a little creativity flaring up and dying down again while I am preparing longer pieces on Nidal Hassan (as discussed by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, JM Berger and emptywheel), a zennish biography of John Cage, and Rain (with a capital roar) in African religion and urban settlements.

I was glancing at Chris Bright‘s entry Anticipating Environmental “Surprise” in State Of The World 2000, and my eye was caught by the phrase, “Surface fires do not climb trees and become crown fires.”

I’d never heard of “surface fires” and “crown fires” before, and “crown fires” in particular had me thinking there’s poetry here…

So I took a deep breath, slowed down, and read more carefully. And as I was reading the whole short section that began with those words, one part of my mind was soaking in the vivid images the text conjured up for me, but another part was calculating percentages in what seemed to be a rapidly accelerating descent.

I have tried to picture that double effect — of lush rainforest and the numbers that illustrate its fiery fall — in what follows:



Surface fires do not climb trees and become crown fires. They just crackle along the forest floor, here and there, as little patches of flame, going out at night, when the temperature drops, and rekindling the next day. They will not kill the really big trees, and they do not cover every bit of ground in a burned patch. But they are fatal to most of the smaller trees they touch. Overall, an initial surface fire may kill perhaps 10 percent of the living forest biomass.


The damage may not look all that dramatic, but another tract of forest may already be doomed by an incipient positive feedback loop of fire and drying. After a surface fire, the amount of shade is reduced from about 90 percent to around 60 percent, and the dead and injured trees rain debris down on the floor. So a year or two later, the next fire in that spot finds more tinder, and a warmer, drier floor. Some 40 percent of forest biomass may die in the second fire. At this point, the forest’s integrity is seriously damaged; grasses and vines invade and contribute to the accumulation of combustible material.


The next dry season may eliminate the forest entirely.



Those falling numbers remind me of the floors whizzing by in an elevator I once frequented in Denver — where the framed elevator license said, ominously enough, Type: Plunger.

And so here we are at “Ground floor: Perfumery, Stationery and leather goods”.

One very simple part of how complex the world we live in really is has to do with repercussions…

Comments are closed.

Switch to our mobile site