Recessions – the Silver Lining

“When the oak is felled the whole forest echoes with its fall, but a hundred acorns are sown in silence by an unnoticed breeze” Thomas Carlyle

Recessions and more rarely Depressions are not all bad – they are just ‘different’ from the normal run of things, and we are sometimes frightened by different things. Downturns and Upturns are a wholly natural phenomenon and regardless of what world leaders might like to think, they are not in control.

Let’s look at another wholly natural phenomenon that our 24-hour news service also inevitably labels as a ‘disaster’. The UN says that over 350 million hectares of land worldwide are affected by fire annually so we should be used to it by now. Fire can be an important land management tool as well as a ‘disaster’, so let’s try and look at things a different way.

If we follow the natural stages of forestation we will find the young forest that is light and airy and supports a wide range of trees, shrubs and undergrowth. Everything seems to grow vigorously spurred on by the light, water and space. Soon, we see the evidence of this success.

The mature forest is dominated by the successful tall trees and the high canopy becomes more and more dense. Before long growth on the forest floor is stunted and little survives in the dark apart from ferns and fungi that can live off the death of other plants. The trees have battled for the light and have won; they have all the light and a clear run to the nutrients from the forest floor too. Theirs is now the only show in town and they have established the ‘only’ way to win. When a single tall tree eventually dies, a hole is ripped in the canopy and light pours to the forest floor – and the race to succeed the ancestor begins, only the strong survive and soon the hole in the canopy is filled with another tall tree playing the same game to survive.

Then comes the catastrophe, the forest fire consumes all in its path. No single hole in the canopy this time, the canopy is gone. Now the light and the air circulates freely and the laws of survival themselves have been changed. This time it’s not just the tall trees who can win, this time the race is more open, this time the ground plants might cover enough territory to stop the trees gaining control and keep the clearings open. Over the years new seeds and species may have arrived but been controlled by the lack of light and nutrients and now their day has come. This time the tall tree game is not the only game in town.

Sometimes the forest really needs a cleansing fire. Nothing can, or should last forever; that isn’t good for the forest or even for the trees. Success breeds complacency and arrogance and weaknesses creep into the genes. When an old tree fails the hole is still in a very high canopy and only another tall-growing tree is designed to fill it. New species can appear but they had better be fast growing and tall enough to reach the light, if not…

But after the fire, all things are possible. While the tall trees are bewailing the loss of the past and the status quo, the new arrivals are busy claiming the light for themselves.

Life goes on, at least for those with the eyes to see new ways of succeeding.