As 2020 winds to an end, I find myself immersed in readings about mangroves—their habitats, root networks, breathing systems. Odd, you might say, when so much is underfoot—farmer protests, the passage of laws that control who you can and cannot love or the de-notification of protected forest land. But as I think about the past year and what the next might bring, I find myself drawn more than ever to these distinctive trees, to their resilience.
It began a few weeks ago when I woke up early to go to the backwaters of the Mandovi River near my sisters’ home in Goa. In the estuarine region where the river meets the sea is an ecosystem of mangroves. As we set out for a walk on a reddish brown mud track that weaves through the wetlands, we passed Red Mangroves (Rhizophora species), its distinctive stilt root system arching high above the water, anchoring itself to the soil. As soon as the tip of one stilt root connects to the ground, it develops more roots which grow arcuately into the air to again run into the ground. The result is an intricate web of roots designed to offer support and protection as it expands these connections. A few hundred metres ahead are Grey Mangroves (Avicennia species). The high salinity of the soil has meant adapting by having air breathing roots that grow vertically up in pencil-like formations. Or snorkel roots, as they are otherwise known, that protrude from the soil and shallow water. Much like we need a snorkel to breathe when our heads are underwater, trees with submerged roots have developed these special mechanisms.
So what otherwise would be next to impossible conditions to survive in—with tropical storms and high soil salinity—the mangroves instead offer thriving habitats. Every few feet we would come to a halt to watch a black cormorant slowly sunning its outstretched wings, to trace the flight of a blue-eared kingfisher or watch a scuttling crab disappear into the node of a fallen branch. In their presence is a sense of the passage of time—of what they have witnessed as they have withstood the extremities of high winds and rain. Resilience. Robustness.
Poet and author David Whyte writes: ‘To be robust is to show a willingness to take collateral damage, to put up with temporary pain, noise, chaos or our systems being temporarily undone. Robustness means we can veer off either side of the line while keeping a firm ongoing intent […] It strangely, demands we find a calm centre in the midst of tumult. The quiet is what enables us to be cheerful in noise, equitable in the face of injustice or calm in the face of attack […] Robustness is not an option in most human lives, to choose its opposite is to become invisible.’
As I think back about the year that has gone by, I am struck by the many different root systems that have emerged. Whether it is through deepening relationships with the plants and birds that came from being forced to stay indoors, communities of care that cooked for each other, or the array of people both young and old who built and forged forged connections (much like stilt roots) through public protests, alongside the discomfort and uncertainty of this year was also resilience and endurance. In many ways, I feel more closely bound to the roots that buttress my life than ever before.
We would love to hear about what you drew on, how you endured and what made you resilient, so do share with us through this survey form. We are also excited to share that in a bid to deepen our connections with each other and the world we inhabit, we are launching the Reading Circle: a TCC Book Club on our individual and collective well being. Sign up here and join us every month as we explore one book or essay.
We hope the end of the year widens, expands and deepens connections with your root systems, and that you stay safe and well.