Astronomers entered 2013 with an unusual level of excitement about several comets that will be visible to the naked eye this year. The first two are currently shining in southern hemisphere skies, one of which, Comet PanSTARRS, should remain visible as it moves into northern skies later this month. Check in with AstroBob for updates as it continues to rise higher in our skies through March; as he notes, “On the 12th, a thin lunar crescent will shine just to the right of the comet (which) will it make finding this fuzzy visitor easy-peasy.”
These two are the opening acts for the year’s Main Event, which will unfold toward the end of the year. Comet ISON may be spectacular, one of the brightest objects in the night sky, perhaps even visible in daylight; or, it may disintegrate as it makes its close passage by the sun. Only time will tell!
Image: Yuri Beletsky (ESO), from the Atacama desert in South America.
From Tracking Bobcats in California by Sylvia Linsteadt, on the Dark Mountain blog
I think there is an essential heartbreak at the core of modern human life. We have made ourselves alone as creatures. We don’t remember anymore the languages of the bobcats, the black bears, the weasels and frogs, the kingfishers, crows, voles, elk and rattlesnakes who are our closest relatives on this planet (not to mention the trees and grasslands, fruits and flowers without which none of us would be alive at all). They speak and sing, love, fight, nest and rage, scream and suffer just as we do, but we don’t know how to hear them. We don’t think we are supposed to. We have made ourselves believe we no longer belong, that we are apart, that this is a good thing, and meanwhile, some ancient grief has lodged straight into our cellular tissue, our dark marrow, and won’t leave. That’s why, the very first time I came to the beach with a teacher and began to read a trail of coyote tracks, in a side-trot, through sand, I woke up later that night with my eyes full of tears.
This is part of our heritage as human beings, part of our tangled psychological and biological make-up: we were made to read the tracks and signs of animals as they move through ecosystems. We were made to do this before we ever passed on mythologies, or wrote down songs. Our brains themselves developed as we followed elk tracks through sand, as we ate and worshipped and sang to the animals that we depended on both for our survival and, I would like to argue, our sense of self.
Suppose the molecular changes taking place
In the mind during the act of praise
Resulted in an emanation rising into space.
Suppose that emanation went forth
In the configuration of its occasion:
For instance, the design of rain pocks
On the lake’s surface or the blue depths
Of the canyon with its horizontal cedars stunted.
Suppose praise had physical properties
And actually endured? What if the pattern
Of its disturbances rose beyond the atmosphere,
Becoming a permanent outline implanted in the cosmos—
The sound of the celebratory banjo or horn
Lodging near the third star of Orion’s belt;
Or to the east of the Pleiades, an atomic
Disarrangement of the words,
“How particular, the pod-eyed hermit crab
And his prickly orange legs”?
Suppose benevolent praise,
Coming into being by our will,
Had a separate existence, its purple or azure light
Gathering in the upper reaches, affecting
The aura of morning haze over autumn fields,
Or causing a perturbation in the mode of an asteroid.
What if praise and its emanations
Were necessary catalysts to the harmonious
Expansion of the void? Suppose, for the prosperous
Welfare of the universe, there were an element
Of need involved.
Pattiann Rogers, from Firekeeper: Selected Poems
(originally from Expectations of Light, 1981)
Image: Kathleen Perelka
The extraordinary patience of things!
This beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban houses—
How beautiful when we first beheld it.
Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;
No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,
Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rockheads—
Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve. Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of the granite,
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff. — As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we are made from.
by Robinson Jeffers, 1929
Image: Lovell Birge Harrison (1854-1929)
Sunburst at Sea, c. 1913
The Johnson Collection
NASA just keeps coming up with new wonders! This week, they’ve released the first recordings from twin spacecraft that are settling into their 2-year mission to learn more about the Van Allen Radiation Belts, concentrations of high-energy particles held in place by Earth’s magnetic fields. The audio released this week is just a taste of what’s to come; the Radiation Storm Belt Probes are just in their initial 60-day testing phase. Researchers are excited at the audio quality they’re getting, and hope to use the two spacecraft to generate stereo recordings in the months to come.
The current recording is brief, and researchers stress that they are not recording audio in space; these are radio waves, with oscillations at acoustic frequencies of up to 10kHz (humans can hear from about 20Hz to 20kHz). The Van Allen Radiation Belts are often energized by solar storms, spurring dangerous concentrations of high-energy radiation, including “killer electrons,” which can disrupt satellites; the radio waves being studies here are thought to be one of the key energy sources that create these perilous zones. Meanwhile, though, the sounds offer a tantalizing audio glimpse of the dynamic, energetic sheath of electromagnetism that forever pulses around our seemingly-solid planetary home.
Here we go again! Another early fall rainy day is followed by a bright sunny morning on which the front yard comes magically to life: tiny, shining wings fluttering skyward from the moist soil, carrying flights of ants – mostly queens, a few males as mobile mating partners – heading off en masse to find new homes.
Last year, I was caught totally by surprise, flabbergasted and enraptured, when I looked out the window and saw the yard full of tiny tinkerbells; see this earlier post for that initial befuddlement, along with the research I did to discover the details of the annual ritual flight.
This year, I could step past confusion (and its flip side, “trying to figure it out”) and right into reverie at the fleeting wonder of it all, along with some close observation. I sacrificed a couple minutes of pure experience in order to get a few pictures to share. The story they tell is well worth the trade-off!
The earth here is always teeming with the tiny black ants that today spawned some new colonies; literally any square foot that you lean down to take a look at will be laced with diligent workers traveling this way and that, intent on their place in this instant of the colony’s extended embodiment here in Lower Cañoncito. This morning, the ground was scattered with patches of the newly-winged messengers:
Some rose right from the ground, though most seemed to seek at least a pebble to climb to the lip of, and a few scrambled up tufts of grass:
All this was exciting enough, but then I looked closer and discovered a bit of extra delight, mystery, and drama….
One of the highlights of the weekend for me was Tom Hirons’ rites of passage workshop. After talking about his own experience of a wilderness rite of passage and introducing the ideas behind it, Tom sent us off into the woods for half an hour. We were asked to choose between two ‘tasks’: either to walk through the woods praying (silently or out loud) or to dig a hole the size and shape of your face, about 6 inches deep in the earth; to lie down with your face in the hole and scream. ‘Whichever of the tasks is more challenging to you,’ he said, ‘choose that one.’ I chose the hole. What a strange, ridiculous, hilarious, powerful, emotionally overwhelming thing to do! It took me a while to lie down. I felt self-conscious and daft. Someone had followed me into the thicket. I spent a few minutes making the hole a ‘more perfect’ shape. But when I lay down on the earth and screamed into the hole I’d made, I almost immediately ‘lost’ my sense of self. All around me in the woods, other men and women were howling and screaming into small, earthy holes. More than anything else, I wished that everyone in the world would give themselves permission to do this, to let go, to express themselves at a most fundamental level. It sounds unlikely, downright odd even, but screaming into the earth opened in me a profound sense of compassion. After a while, I realised I wasn’t screaming but making a kind of whale-song and my lungs seemed to have quadrupled their capacity; I could hold a sound for what seemed like minutes.
Anyone who hasn’t done this, or something similarly wild and strange, might be tempted to reject it as hippie nonsense. All I’d say is, try it for yourself and see; or better still, sign up to one of Tom’s workshops. I heard that one man had scribbled a sign on a piece of paper and laid it next to him while he howled: ‘I’m OK!’
For more about the weekend: Charlotte Du Cann shares a richly woven “postcard from the woods” about the festival, and here’s a recollection with images from Jeppe. Below, an image by Jeppe, Funeral for a Species:
When the garden of your unchosen lives has enough space to breathe beneath your chosen path, your life enjoys a vitality and a sense of creative tension. Rilke refers to this as “the repository of unlived things.” You know that you have not compromised the immensity that you carry, and in which you participate. You have not avoided the call of commitment; yet you hold your loyalty to your chosen path in such a way as to be true to the blessings and dangers of life’s passionate sacramentality.
No life is single. Around and beneath each life is the living presence of these adjacencies. Often, it is not the fact of our choosing that is vital, but rather the way we hold that choice. In so far as we can, we should ensure that our chosen path is not a flight from complexity. If we opt for complacency, we exclude ourselves from the adventure of being human. Where all danger is neutralized, nothing can ever grow.
To keep the borders of choice porous demands critical vigilance and affective hospitality. To live in such a way invites risk and engages complexity. Life cannot be neatly compartmentalized. Once the psyche is engaged with such invitation and courage, it is no longer possible to practice tidy psychological housekeeping. To keep one’s views and convictions permeable is to risk the intake of new possibility, which can lead to awkward change. Yet the integrity of growth demands such courage and vulnerability from us; otherwise the tissues of our sensibility atrophy and we become trapped behind the same predictable mask of behavior.
~ John O’Donohue
from Eternal Echoes
This entry comes to us courtesy of Dean Keller at The Beauty We Love,
one of the online repositories of insight that I visit on a regular basis
Image: e.e. cummings, New Moon
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
Wendell Berry, from Standing by Words, 1983
I’ve been slack about filling out the BBB category of “rock elders late-career DVDs.” But tonight I’m back on the case after getting a bit of an Elton jones after seeing Brandi Carlile and her really good (and a bit crazy) band last night – Brandi’s worked with Paul Buckmaster, you see; and whatayaknow, Elton encouraged her, and Stills, too!
So, anyway, this DVD been on my shelf waiting to be written up for awhile now. In 2007, Elton celebrated his 60th birthday by playing his 60th show at Madison Square Garden. But this wasn’t a typical Elton concert, and certainly not the show he’s settled into in his residency in Vegas. The three-hour extravaganza dug deep into his early catalog, with only 8 of the 33 songs originating after 1975 (and 17 from Don’t Shoot Me and earlier), making this a great treat for those of us who love the classic Elton-and-Bernie years, but haven’t found much use for the later Elton (but note: The Captain and the Kid is worth a listen, and this electro remix album with Pnau, sampling from his whole career, hit #1 in the UK this summer).
The band features his old mates Nigel Olsson on drums (“Nigel! Outasight!”) and Davey Johnstone on guitars and mandolin; the arrangements are laced with cello from Martin Tillman, along with a huge youth choir. Elton’s vocal commitment and intensity shines throughout (though his range has definitely shifted lower since his heyday), and his playing is rich and rollicking. Rarely performed old gems include Where to Now St. Peter, Ballad of a Well-known Gun (“we haven’t played this one for maybe 30 years…”), High Flying Bird, and (yes!) his beautiful ode to New York in the early 70′s, Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters. Here’s a taste, picking up in the climax of Holiday Inn, with maybe my favorite jam of the show: cello, mando, piano (sorry, Flash-less tablet viewers; YouTube’s time-stamp embed doesn’t work with their html5 code; skip to 1:50!):
Other highlights include the great revolutionary anthem Burn Down the Mission (by turns majestic, angry, longing, and determined) and a nice guitar/piano/cello jam at the end of Levon.
An essay I wrote about sound and listening – as reflected in art, and science, and experience – for the online journal Field Notes, has just been published. The piece begins and ends with personal reflections much like what is often shared here on BrightBlueBall, with extended sections in the middle on sound art (ala EarthEar) and sound considerations in science and policy, such as I work on with the Acoustic Ecology Institute.
Downloaded the issue by clicking here.
My essay begins on page 25. The other pieces are very good, too!
1. Tom Lawrence: The Waterbeetles of Pollardstown Fen
2. Scott Sherk: Phonography: Art or Documentation?
3. Jim Cummings: My Ears will Never be the Same
4. Marcus Kürten et al.: ‘Something Which Lasts Passes By’ — A Collection of Hearing Memories
5. Hein Schoer: The Sounding Museum — Between Art and Science: Cultural Soundscapes in Museum Pedagogy
6. Budhaditya Chattopadhyay: Soundhunting in a City — Chronicles of an Urban Field Recording Expedition
Past issues of Field Notes can be downloaded at this link.
And so again, here I am. Gazing across the valley, shades of grey overhead inviting me up into the bulging bottom surfaces of clouds drifting slowly downwind. A steady sequence of thunder-rumbles sound from both a couple miles to the east and from the ever-present slope of the small ridge across the creek: the direct path and the echo just a split second apart as the sound spreads across the land, the rolling, tumbling echo revealing in its extended rhythms the shape of the land it touches along the way.
I am waiting. Watching. Listening. Bearing witness to the Here and to the Now. And hoping — yes, against my inner Buddhist aspirations — hoping for a downpour, for the relief of rain, for the exuberance of immersion. For each shock of lightning-flash, every tumbling extended thunder-roll, all that wind-driven water angling from cloud above to earth below.
Yet, wait I must. Watch, I do. Listen: to the eternal story, the original language. Finches cheep, doves flutter, grosbeaks, jays, titmouse, chickadee all clamor for a snack before the storm. Winds slip through piñons thirty feet in front of me, and in deeper surges, across the hill a hundred yards to my right. A plane passes through, and the sky stills as if giving it space.
Taking Neil’s exhortation to “walk like a giant on the land” to heart, here’s the latest entry in astro-dazzle sweepstakes: the Sloan Digital Sky Survey has turned their early data into a three-dimensional map, and further proceeded to create a video fly-through for our mind-blowing pleasure.
The SDSS has so far covered just a third of the sky, and this is just the first batch of 3D data to be released from that. And oh, they’re not looking at stars. That’s so yesterday. This here is but a fragment of the physical structure of the universe, as revealed in these clusters and filaments of galaxies upon galaxies upon (repeat ad infinitum…):
The cosmologists and astrophysicists say that this new 3D data about these large-scale structures will help unravel the mysteries of dark matter (which seems to account for about 25% of the universe’s mass) and dark energy (which exerts enough influence on matter that scientists say it accounts for 70% of the universe). So, yup, all those bright shiny galaxies in the video: less than 5% of the universe.
At the risk of blowing my scientific front here: I can’t help but think that such framing (especially of “dark energy”) is simply a fancy way of saying “we have no idea” what underlies the structure of the universe and the wonder of creation. Is it so hard to posit that this mysterious integrative energy – the fundamental driver and shaper of the formation of all galaxies, stars, planets, forests, and diatoms – is something more like “spirit” or “life force” than what we normally think of as “matter” and “energy”?
Perhaps the equations and theories that are brewing around all this will turn out to be valuable, though if so, I’d bet it’d be in revealing totally unexpected and even more mysterious causal complexities (ala the ways that “sequencing the genetic code” has revealed a dynamic ecosystem of interactions that’s more like a mysterious dance than the workings of a causal machine); or maybe this inquiry is taking place in a deep lost corner of the mechanistic rabbit hole, trying to fit the ineffable into a nice square hole.
I say go for it, academicians, see what sense you can make of this, our biggest picture of life. But meanwhile, I’ll content myself to marvel at the beauty of it all and rest in the ease of simpler explanations, ones that are content to flow from an omnipresent ground of mystery.
Four guys. Full on. With a tale to tell, in a language all their own. Well, I suppose the language isn’t unique – bass, drums, rhythm guitar, lead guitar in 4/4 time – and truth be told, it’s a pretty darn simple set of phonemes. In the hands of Neil and Crazy Horse, though, the playful, propulsive thrash of garage band chaos opens into a mythic tunnel of glorious noise, a Primal Rock and Roll Orchestra.
On Friday night under a star-spangled sky laced with moon-glowing clouds, a few thousand New Mexicans were lucky enough to be at the unveiling of This Year’s Model—or call it This Decade’s Model, their first time on stage together since 2004. The show commenced with several minutes of roiling, pounding, searing jam (“jump on in, the water’s fine!”), then Neil swung to the mic, his voice layered atop the instrumental waves, the story beginning to be told:
Long ago in the book of old
Before the chapter where dreams unfold
A battle raged on the open page
Love was the winner there, overcoming hate
Like a little girl who couldn’t wait
Love and only love will endure….
Yowsa! What an opener! And on higher:
Spirit come back to me
Give me strength and set me free
Let me hear the magic in my heart
Love and only love will endure
Hate is everything you think it is
Love and only love will break it down
After settling us down just a mite with his enigmatic Powderfinger, a classic for any of us who’ve ever found ourselves in a bit over our heads (it’s the tale of a younger brother left home while dad and big bro were out and about, whose fate it was to futilely face down some mysterious gunship on the river), Neil then proceeded to toss a slew of brand new songs at us, each one a gem:
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.
Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.
Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Book of Hours I, 12
Translation: Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
From A Year With Rilke