The Solar Body
We may “know” the universe of galaxies is out there, and we do indeed gaze with wonder at our galactic body shining across the summer sky. But the largest of the bodies we are really able to experience is the Solar Body. We see this body from different angles, as earth circles the sun. We watch it change over time, our cycle but one figure in the eternal dance of our sister planets. And we feel it with our animal bodies: the sun warming our tender skin, human beings reveling in the seasonal breath of life within the skin of the earth.
Check it—that’s how high the sun gets on my birthday! Tip the ol’ head back, to its natural easy limit (just shy of craning) and I’m looking right at that great ball of plasma at the center of it all. Seems pretty far up there; it really does take a leap in February, after the two chilly months straddling Solstice; for so long, we’re looking way down across the winter planet’s deep backwards tilt, while the southern horizon swings eastward not much more than hands-breadth below our precious local star.
Ah, Bodhi. Another year gone by and again the anniversary of my birth is being spent within your warm embrace. Morning on the back porch, catching some eastern rays as the orange and white cliffs spin down and away from the brilliant beacon in the sky. Midday finds me on a bench under bare cottonwoods, continuing my day of reading and integration. And now, as the afternoon fades to evening, the pools call and the books are set aside. Ah, Bodhi; earth-warmed waters, take me in. How I love the touch of your cobblestones under fingers and palms that slowly pull this floating body across the pool, sun rippling on stones below, chin slipping through the subtle, pliant surface tension of your waters.
Body temp rising, head now resting in a grassy nook between a couple of rocks along your edge, high clouds streaming through the deep blue sky. Ah, Bodhi, here in this mighty canyon, where ancient waters scoured away towering layers of limestone and volcanic ash all the way down to where today’s small, lively stream dances ceaselessly a few feet away. . . and draws my awareness out, and up, beyond the cliffs shining upstream in soft afternoon sun.
There, the mighty Valle Caldera, miles-wide crater lake turned meadow, heart of this vulcan giant rising alongside the continent-cracking Rio Grande Rift; the earth’s molten innards forming and following deep fissures, scalding heat rising into shifting crustal plates, within reach of groundwater reservoirs and so bestowing the nourishing warmth now sinking into these bones. This is the landscape on the western horizon of my home vista, the shapely profile of earth’s supple body upon which these two eyes rest so often: blushing pink with dawn’s first light, darkly shadowed by towering thunderheads, silently receiving the setting sun.
And now, this human body reclines in sacred waters and rides the earth slowly eastward on its eternal daily spin, as the western cliffs rise toward the solar heart. This particular valley is about to leave the fiery ball behind as we spin inexorably through twilight and on into night. Commemorating the beginning of yet another orbital cycle of my own, I ponder our place in the annual ring-around-the-sun.
Remembering yesterday’s evening constellations—Taurus high in the south, Orion following behind, both now hiding in plain sight beyond the blue eastern sky—and recalling, too, Scorpio and Sagittarius straddling the Milky Way’s shimmering heart just before the turning earth found morning’s first light (these pools call at all hours!), a new awareness slowly rises: of the three-dimensionality of earth’s current place in the solar disc, sensing the presence of Capricorn and Aquarius there in the sky, beyond and behind the blazing sun. . . and one more gossamer stepping stone falls into its place within what is still a fragmentary apprehension of this largest of the bodies that is accessible to the sensory experience of our small, animal selves.
This Solar Body, our star at its center, four tiny rocky worlds circling rapidly around, four distant gaseous sentinels following more stately circuits, countless specks forming a vast perimeter far beyond (a few “big” ones half the size of our moon), all within an even more distant sphere that retains icy dusty remnants of a vast cloud of gas and primeval matter that long ago fell together in the ever-stronger gravitational embrace that gave birth to all this, whirling ‘round the solar dynamo. . . . This is the territory within which our precious, water-kissed home planet ever spins, while also wholly—holy holy!—being a single isolated fragment of our vastly larger galactic home. Human eyes can (just barely) see farther yet, and glimpse our closest galactic sister, Andromeda, and so gain the merest hint that even the mighty Milky Way, largest of our bodies that these human senses can discern, is also but a member of an infinite realm of its own.
We may “know” this universe of galaxies is out there, and we do indeed gaze with wonder at our galactic body shining across the summer sky. But the largest of the bodies we are really able to experience is the Solar Body. We see this body from different angles, as earth circles the sun. We watch it change over time, our whirling but one figure in the timeless dance of our sister planets. And we feel it with our animal bodies: the sun warming our tender skin, living beings reveling in the seasonal breath of a larger life that courses within the skin of the earth.
Each day as we are carried around, here in our home-places on the surface of the spinning earth, we watch a 24-hour panorama of the Solar Body pass overhead: our first glimpse of the home star each dawn . . . mid-day basking in its sustaining heat . . . perhaps the nearby moon in the afternoon sky (changing phases showing each day’s place in its do-si-do ‘round earth as we circle Sol in tandem) . . . a glorious splash of lingering light in clouds after sunset (fellow planetary fragments of the solar body shining bright, their locations shifting week to week as they, and we, circle and circle, ever on our way) . . . on into the nightly tour of heavenly wonders (here, too, foregrounded by planetary brethren, each in its ever-wandering place) . . . until once more our ceaseless eastern spinning reveals a subtle wash casting up from the horizon, expanding, gradually dimming the stars (perchance Venus or Jupiter may shine still as a morning beacon), until suddenly and finally the sun again pierces our eyes.
And as each year spools out along the thread of our earthly orbit, season after season in turn cast our planet’s night-side gaze in new directions: Orion dominating winter, then slipping toward the sunset as Leo rules the spring, before handing the starry stage off to Scorpio and the heart of the Milky Way through summer, until Cygnus the Swan and the square of Pegasus rise up from the east and carry us through autumn and our return to Orion’s domain. In the course of this yearly turning, we can monitor the patient wanderings of Jupiter and Saturn in front of the great ring of zodiacal constellations: nearby Jupiter skipping along at about one each year (this winter and spring dancing with the Gemini twins), while distant Saturn takes nearly thirty years to complete the same journey, and so has been gracing our summer evenings for several years now, sliding slowly toward Scorpio.
Meanwhile, Mars makes a showy biennial appearance, circling in a single constellation for over half a year, then dashing around the full zodiac in a year and half before pausing for another round, two years and month after the last! Suffice to say this is an odd but obvious consequence of our adjacent orbital geometries; no doubt Mars’ dramatic dance was especially confounding—and thrilling!—in pre-Copernican times. Every two years, its pale orange dot first appears in the wee hours of the night, rising a bit earlier each month as we gradually gain on it in our unequal orbital race; this is the time when it pauses in its zodiacal journey and circles, flaring ever brighter as we come closer, until dazzling with its brilliance as we pass by on our inside track. We’re now in the midst of the 2014 version of this jousting-match with the warrior planet. Seven months after our close encounter, we’ll have cycled more than halfway around the sun and Mars will be nearly five times farther away, shining wanly in the autumn dusk before slipping out of sight on the far side of the sun.
By then, of course, we’ll be looking at the whole solar body and stellar panorama from an entirely different vantage point, the autumn sun glaring forth all day long from the same sky we now see popping into view each evening, the realm of Leo and his springtime companions.
So, yes, this Solar Body can be seen, felt, lived in. It takes time, years and decades, much as it takes seasons and years to see and feel the place on the earthly body that you call home. I’ve been at it for almost two of Jupiter’s 12-year cycles; in 2016, the king of planets will revisit Leo, marking our 2nd anniversary of my gazing up and out from the foothills of the southern Rockies and beginning to notice that what I saw each night was more than just a dome of delightful, distant light. A month later, the night view had shifted a bit, Leo and Jupiter lower in the west. A year later, there was Jupiter again, but now far from Leo, coursing through the dim stars of Virgo. So it began.
The expansion of self and soul that had embraced two regions, begun to meet a continent, and then to glimpse our shared identity as a planet was dilating further yet . . . reaching, opening, seeking . . . to know, and to touch, and to enter into the holy whole within which this all also lives. We turn ever toward and likewise away from the sacred solar heart, with gratitude for the light it is and also for the dark mysteries of the infinite realms beyond.
But here and now—again and still—night has come, and warm water soothes human flesh and blood, here in this valley carved into a volcano alongside a crack in the continent on a planet that spins forever within our shared solar body.