Connectivity proves a profound force in nature

We need only take the time to realize its many manifestations

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken to everything else in the Universe.” 

John Muir, journal entry, 1869

Laurel Schiller (right) talks with attendees at a holiday part for the birds. Contributed photo by Fran Palmeri

Years ago, my friend Laurel Schiller introduced me to the concept of connectivity. At a meeting of the Friends of Oscar Scherer State Park, she gave a talk on how green corridors link wildlife in parks with other natural areas, greatly enhancing their existence. The wildlife could find food, places to live and new mates — widening the gene pool.

I came away from that talk with more questions than answers, but the next day, when I walked Sparky and stopped to photograph a scrub jay in a myrtle oak, I noticed how bird and tree related to one another in the park landscape.

It was a new approach in my green pilgrimage around Florida. I was no longer just working on a life list of Florida plants and wildlife. A bigger picture seeped into my consciousness and, yes, it was often wet. Now it was no longer a little blue heron, it was shorebirds fishing along flooded roads in Carlton Reserve; it was the Myakka River overflowing its banks in summer; it was rainy season sheet flow running through South Florida. I was seeing the “forest.”

I realized that connectivity is the driver in just about every aspect of our lives, starting with the human body and then extending to family, community and country.

My grandparents were all “off the boat.” My paternal grandfather immigrated to Scranton, Penn., where the Irish settled with the Irish. Nana and Otto settled in Germantown, where I grew up. Immigrants thought and lived in little boxes. Levittowns were springing up. The New World was considered to be vastly different from the Old.

Green corridors link wildlife in parks with other natural places. Contributed photo by Fran Palmeri

A century before my ancestors arrived in America, Alexander von Humboldt was thinking otherwise. Exploring the Andes In the 1790s, he collected a species of moss and remembered having seen a similar plant while growing up in his native Prussia. Climbing Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador, he wondered if the plants he found at different altitudes might be similar to those on other mountains in the world. Had the continents once been part of one huge land mass?

The idea was electrifying.

Continental drift (plate tectonics) would not be mapped until the second half of the 20th century. In the 1960s, my geologist husband and I enthused about this “new” concept.

Alexander von Humboldt. Image from

Later Humboldt created a map showing similar ecosystems circumventing the globe to accompany his book Cosmos. In her magnificent biography The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, Andrea Wulf writes, “Humboldt was not so much interested in finding new isolated facts but in connecting them.” He took connectivity to a global level.

Connections are everywhere in nature. One symbol for me is the spider web, connecting weaver with prey. Another is fungi, some of which can underlay an entire forest. Armillaria has filaments that spread underground for miles, making it the largest organism on earth, according to an article in Scientific American.

I have had personal experience with Armillaria. The night the old white oak on my lawn came down, it shook the house, a four-story solid brick structure, and it crushed parked cars and blacked out an entire neighborhood. At impact we sat up in our beds, certain this was the apocalypse we had feared all these years.

Just months before, I had gathered up bags and bags of leaves as I did every autumn. Unseen strings of fungi beneath the tree had destroyed its roots, leading to its sudden demise.

A juvenile sandhill crane explores a waterway with its family. Cranes, which are designated threatened species in some areas, benefit from increased habitat. Contributed photo by Fran Palmeri

Starlight links us with the distant past. A cold winter night finds Orion overhead in Nokomis just as he was in Washington, D.C., connecting past with present, a gift of precious continuity in my life. It is in such circumstances that I know that in the distant future, despite what may happen, he will be a constant, looking after this beautiful blue planet.

A Florida scrub jay perches in a myrtle oak at Oscar Scherer State Park. Contributed photo by Fran Palmeri

That we are all one is embraced by major religions and philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius who observed, “The higher we rise on the scale of being, the easier it is to discern a connection even among things separated by vast distances.”

The turn of the year connects us with our immediate past — last year’s accomplishments, forgotten dreams, unrealized goals — and the future — what we want to do, how we want to change, where we going with our lives. What we have done in the past matters not nearly as much as what we will do in the future. And let us not forego the Beautiful Now, which is the lynchpin of all those threads.

A summer sheet flow at T. Mabry Carlton Reserve brings in the shorebirds. Contributed photo by Fran Palmeri
Fish cross a flooded road at Carlton Reserve. Contributed photo by Fran Palmeri
The Myakka River overflows its banks at Myakka River State Park. Contributed photo by Fran Palmeri
A spider web is a symbol of connectivity in nature. Contributed photo by Fran Palmeri
Development breaks the natural connections. Contributed photo by Fran Palmeri
The pure continuum of sand, sea and sky. Contributed photo by Fran Palmeri
With no human disturbance, everything in this spring setting is connected. Contributed photo by Fran Palmeri