Introducing the Gaian Way’s Four New Council Members

Last week, we explored the process of adding non-human (or more-than-human) board members to our Gaian Leadership Council. But it wasn’t that easy, and lots of questions arose: How many should we include? Who would speak for them? How would their perspectives be incorporated into decision-making? And the corollary: How would we avoid making them into token members?

While we have initial answers for all of these, only over time and through practice will we truly work all this out. I do promise that next year, we’ll share what we’ve learned in the first year of this practice—the good, the bad, and the ugly (hopefully there won’t be anything too ugly, like our non-human board members seizing control and kicking us humans out—but then again, that’d be an interesting story to tell!). But for now, and without further ado, let me introduce our four new board members:

Southern Live Oak

The first addition came from our council chair and Crescent City Gaian Guild Guide, Bart Everson. Weekly, Bart interacts with Southern Live Oaks in New Orleans City Park where the guild he leads meets. He invited a specific oak to join the board:

Welcome Southern Live Oak to the Gaian Council! Your many years of experience are greatly appreciated. (Image by Bart Everson via flickr)

Southern Live Oak, also known as Quercus virginiana, grow along the Gulf Coast and up the eastern seaboard all the way to Virginia. We’ve invited one particular individual Live Oak to the board of the Gaian Way. This tree is rooted in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain in what is now New Orleans City Park. The Crescent City Gaian Guild meets there every week, but that is a very recent development from the perspective of the trees. This particular tree sprouted from an acorn around 800 years ago. At that time, the Choctaw people called the area Bvlbancha, meaning the Land of Many Tongues, as over twenty distinct languages were spoken there.

Some distance from the high ground favored by humans, this tree grew into a mature adult in the 13th century, surrounded by other trees in a subtropical moist forest biome, enduring many hurricanes and periodic floods. Europeans arrived in the early 18th century, establishing a settlement on the Mississippi River, and the land around this tree was used as a plantation with forced labor by enslaved people from Africa. By the early 19th century, this tree felt the vibrations of gunshots, as young men fought duels nearby. Numerous ancient trees were felled during this period, decimating the old growth. In 1845, the plantation was acquired by John McDonough, who owned more land than any individual on the planet at the time. He left the parcel to the City of New Orleans upon his death, and the area was reserved for recreation in 1852.

Hurricane Katrina destroyed approximately two thousand trees in the park in 2005, but this tree endured. So it is that this tree still stands, one of the few truly ancient trees remaining in the area. Today, this tree has a dozen major branches, five of which are propped up by pillars; the trunk is patched with concrete. This tree plays host to numerous other living beings, including squirrels, crows, ants, various fungi, resurrection ferns, and the epiphyte known as Spanish moss. In 2013, some humans attempted to name this tree the “McDonough Oak,” but we feel strongly that we still haven’t heard this tree’s true name. 

Little Brown Bat

Coming from Robinne Gray is one of our two flying board members, and our only mammal, the Little Brown Bat. Robinne was drawn to add Little Brown Bat’s voice to the Gaian board in order to represent a creature dependent on nighttime darkness, another aspect of the natural world that humanity has been erasing. And she felt it important to include a species that has often been feared or persecuted (e.g. snakes, spiders, insects generally) due to humans’ shallow understanding of the animal’s lifeways and how it fits into the larger ecosystem.

Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) lives across much of North America. Little Brown Bat joined the Gaian Way Council to give voice to those who are crepuscular, relying on nighttime darkness; those directly dependent on robust insect populations (particularly aquatic species, thus also on clean water) to feed; those who require undisturbed habitat to hibernate (torpor), migrate, and breed; species in danger of extinction; and those with the special talent of echolocation! Widespread and adaptable, Little Brown Bat has generally coexisted well with humans, and has offered benefits to humans that include insect pest predation, pollination, and seed dispersal. Little Brown Bat has made good use of human-made structures like old barns for roosting and abandoned mines for hibernating; however, other structures such as wind turbines are a threat to it and its cousins. Once the most common bat in eastern North America, the little brown bat population has been dramatically reduced (as much as 90 percent) by white-nose syndrome.

One of our feistier council members. But admittedly, Little Brown Bat’s schedule makes organizing meetings a bit more difficult. (Image from Troy Gipps, Massachusetts Division of FIsheries and Wildlife)

Sandhill Crane

The other flying board member, invited by John Mulrow, is the Sandhill Crane. This bird literally called to John during his first Fall season back in the Chicago area, with their dinosaur squawks filling the sky. 

Sandhill Crane is a child of Gaia who has been practicing ecological rhythms on Turtle Island for nearly 2.5 million years. Antigone canadensis, as they are sometimes called, lives year-round in parts of Florida and the Caribbean, and otherwise travels up and down the continent to feed, breed, rest, and live among the elements. Every Spring and Fall they broadcast a loud rolling cry across the Great Lakes Region as they migrate with the turn of the seasons. Sandhill Crane is populous, but their livelihood is threatened by changes in Gaia’s climate patterns. They are our partner in sensing, recognizing, and revering our one shared planet. The importance of Gaia’s health is unmistakable when we imagine the consistency of climate and pattern that guide Sandhill Crane on its way.

Listen to our most vocal council member, Sandhill Crane. (Video from JazzyRobn via YouTube)

Horseshoe Crab

And finally, from the ocean and one of Earth’s more ancient inhabitants is the Horseshoe Crab. Erik Assadourian chose this one both because of his experience finding them washed up on the beach as a child–so otherworldly they were!–and especially after reading an article about their terrible plight in The Economist last fall.

And our elder council member, Horseshoe Crab (Image from Marshal Hedin via Wikimedia Commons)

Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus) is our oldest board member, having been part of Gaia for about 440 million years, longer than the dinosaurs. As a chelicerate, Horseshoe Crab is actually more closely related to spiders and scorpions than crabs, and lives in coastal areas, on sandy bottoms along the East Coast of the U.S. (three other species are found in Asia). We are grateful that she will lend us her wisdom and ancient perspective, especially after the horrible experience she has had lately with humans. Horseshoe Crab has seen the massive changes that Gaia has undertaken during that time. Born in a time with temperatures similar to ours, Horseshoe Crab survived a jump of 30℉ and the decline back down to current temperatures. Oh what she could teach us! Instead, in recent years, humans discovered that Horseshoe Crab’s blood is beneficial in making vaccines and testing the presence of bacterial endotoxins (which can be present on implanted medical equipment). So humans have gotten into the business of milking their blood and throwing them back into the sea. Many die after release. And while there are synthetic alternatives, they are more expensive so even as Horseshoe crab is vulnerable to extinction the milking continues. This, along with habitat destruction, has made our ancient brethren vulnerable to extinction, meaning that humans, rather than the vast ecological changes Horseshoe Crab experienced over her long life, may be the end of her.

Welcoming Our New Council Members

We are excited to start this new partnership with our more-than-human council members. And are excited to gain from their wisdom and experience and only hope we can give an equal amount back to them for their time and guidance. I hope you will welcome our new board members as well. As non-humans with better things to do than to spend their days on computers, they do not have email addresses. But if you want to send them a message of welcome, you can do so in a comment below or send an email to and we’ll happily pass on your message!

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8 Responses

  1. Christine Freeland

    Welcome revered kin of the natural world we are part of to the Gaian Council, I am new to this group and am gladdened to see your inclusion and know that all will benefit from your wisdom.

    • Erik Assadourian

      Thank you Christine. And welcome to the Gaian community!

  2. Catherine Folio

    Welcome, dearest Horseshoe Crab! When I volunteered with NJ Fish and Wildlife 20 years ago, the Horseshoe Crabs became my children. I witnessed their great migration to the NJ southern beaches of Delaware Bay for 10 years, and helped close down those beaches from 5/7 – 6/7 each year so that the endangered Red Knot and other shorebirds could feast on the HC eggs to fuel up for the last leg of their flight to their Arctic breeding grounds. There is nothing like a full-moon or new-moon night in Cape May, NJ standing on a bay beach, shining a flashlight on miles of Horseshoe Crabs noisily clacking their shells in a most ancient breeding scenario which has sustained their species for hundreds of millions of years! The beaches again are closed to human interference to keep the crabs and birds safe. Gaiaspeed the Horseshoe Crabs!!

    • Erik Assadourian

      Wow, thanks Cathy for that story of your interaction with Horseshoe Crab. Sounds like an awe-inspiring experience to see so many of them.

  3. Theresa Jones

    Oh I love this concept. Hello to the Horseshoe crabs on the other side of the world from me. You have taken a piece of my heart. I am so sorry they are milking your blood and then throwing you back to perhaps die a slow death. We humans are still so arrogant and ignorant. With you help, we will keep trying to become more aware, more conscious and engage more actively in co-creating life on this magnificent planed of ours.

    • Erik Assadourian

      Thanks Theresa! We hope to organize a ‘meet the council’ conversation sometime this summer. Hope you’ll join us!

  4. ken ingham

    The idea of having animal perspectives represented on the Gaian Way Advisory Council is an excellent one. I hereby nominate the Castor Cousins (Canidensis and fiber) for a shared seat on the GWAC. These venerable rodents have worked tirelessly to sustain the good health of Gaia, the One Evolving Earth Organism to which we all belong, Over millions of years they have accumulated a kind of wisdom that allows them to create, and maintain wetlands without even thinking about it. At the mere sound of a trickle they instinctively build a dam for the purpose of holding the water back, creating rich habitat for insects, amphibians, fish and birds. We can learn a lot from them.
    We humans like to draw a distinction between instinct and intelligence. Beavers have both. Many thoughtful decisions go into the making of a beaver dam, everything from site selection to the size and arrangement of the sticks, where to place a rock, how much mud and sod to use. Once the water begins to accumulate they must decide where to locate a lodge, where to build side channels for the purpose of retrieving additional food and building materials while at the same time expanding the new wetland. Depending on the food supply, they decide whether to have babies or wait until next year.
    How many beaver populated North America prior to the arrival of the Europeans? I have seen estimates as high as 400 thousand; half a billion wouldn’t surprise me. It took less than a century to decimate them almost to extinction, as had already been done in the old world, all for the purpose of making fur hats. Is that intelligent? Beaver know more than we about how to maintain riparian zones. If we are truly intelligent, we’ll back away from the lakes and streams and leave waterfront ‘development’ to the beaver. We can only hope to discover a niche for ourselves in the Anthropocene that is as sustainable as that occupied by beaver since the Oligocene. A logical first step would be honor them with a position on the GWAC.
    Suggested Reading:
    Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America by Leila Philip
    Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb
    The American Beaver and His Works (1868), by Lewis Henry Morgan

    • Erik Assadourian

      I love the enthusiastic vote for Beaver! Don’t tell Horseshoe Crab but Beaver was my original choice. But there were no marine species included and we already had a mammal. But as the board expands, so too will the non-human board, and perhaps Beaver will be the next to join!

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