Category Archives: Earth
Touching and being touched by the landscapes and hidden nooks
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.
Curve-billed Thrasher reappeared in the yard today, orange-eyed, alert, dashing away jays that deigned to also seek out some of the seed scattered there on the path. The entire yard is aflutter with winged ones, steadily stoking their inner fires at the feeders, here in the midst of what will likely be a full week of below-freezing days and several sub-zero nights. The valley is blanketed by six inches of snow—settled from the fluffy foot that fell two days ago—and the hillsides all around are a speckling of pine-green branches mottled with snowy white mounds.
This activity outside my door is but the local embodiment of a hemispherical pulse as our planet slides its way toward the point in its annual ring-around-the-sun in which we in the north find ourselves leaning far back, away from the Solar Heart, now skimming low and briefly over the southern horizon, unable to fully warm the air above and around us. And the nights, ever longer, so deeply chilled: stepping outside, we are—instantly, intently—aware of our skin, the insides of our nostrils, our eyes, these tender edges of our bodies through which we meet the world around us, now in a palpable, vulnerable relationship with the very air. No longer a benign emptiness, the air takes on a physical presence, a sharpness, a density, actively reaching into us through these permeable boundaries, the very heat of our bodies seeping out into the dark night. Ah, the vividness of deep cold!
And that’s not all. These long nights are aglitter again with the glorious starscape that we revisit at this time each year. As the deeply tilted Earth spins us into and through the sunset band of color, our one most sacred star is shadowed by the rocky water-world beneath our feet, and the sky opens wide into the larger local surroundings that spread away from Sol on the winter side of our orbit. . . Orion bright and wide around his belt and sword. . . the V of the bull’s face (red eye aglow). . . seven Pleiades sisters splattered high in the sky. . . while Sirius gleams low over the hills, sparkling magenta-now-teal-now-golden-now-white, following not far behind our sun as both are swept along in the great currents of the Milky Way’s slow turning. Joining the wintry delight this year is mighty Jupiter, king of our planetary brethren, outshining everything: so big, so close.
All this—pecking juncoes, snowy junipers, sun low over the shoulder of the valley, nights frigid and fragile and brilliant and vast, our own eyes and hearts taking it all in—is this not God made manifest? What more might we worship than the dance of life (co-evolution of a planet), within the miracle of the seasons (solar pulses spurring that dance into Earth), embedded in a galactic home that dazzles us with its expansive spiral embrace, itself a remote condensation of matter within a vastness of energy surging forth from a source beyond understanding? To see, and feel, and honor this dynamic and incomprehensible power and beauty—and intelligence, and yes, design—that pulses across these nested scales of creation’s embodiment; to walk a path through this world that acknowledges this grandeur while seeking simply to be a vessel by which it may live within our hearts and actions; what else does anyone’s God ask of us than this?
We are living beings within a living world in a living cosmos, a cosmos whose dynamism and beauty reveals patterns we recognize also in wave-lapped shorelines, wind rippling through woods, the slow surging forth of dawn across drifting clouds, and our own churning feelings, questing souls, and deepest longings. As has ever been the way, to see our small lives—giving and receiving, breath by breath and touch by touch—as expressions of a design and creativity so much larger than us is to bow before that mystery, our purpose becoming one of service, and care, and reverence.
Around thirty years ago, a new story began to be told, a story that continues to unfold and become richer, deeper, truer with each passing year and each added voice. It weaves together sciences and religions, history and today, our human bodies and the starry depths. In books by many different authors, several films, and conversations in churches, wilderness retreats, and living rooms, this new story is still coming into form, and has built quite an audience among leading environmental and religious thinkers.
It’s a Creation Story, the first such story to emerge from diverse voices from around the planet, rather than within a particular local or regional culture. For millenia, primal peoples the world over told tales of mythic beings and forces taking shape as sky, earth, humans, animals: Creation Story 1.0. Later, organized religions emerged and spread, with Asians honoring a pantheon of Gods while the three cultures of the Middle East each revered a single God: Creation Stories 2.0. Today, both animism and deism remain potent belief systems, while science stands apart, examining the matter and energy that gave rise to our world. It’s time for a story that can embrace each of these mighty threads of human inquiry: Creation Story 3.0.
Thomas Berry is a lodestar for this new story of the sacred universe, as is Joanna Macy. Many others have informed its heart and its tendriled edges: Gary Snyder and bioregionalism; E.O. Wilson, Lynn Margulis, Stuart Kauffman, and other integrative scientists; poets of intimate and expansive embodiment like Mary Oliver, Pattiann Rogers, and Jim Harrison; the list goes on, with multiple strands back in time to Whitman, Emerson, Goethe, Rilke, and so many more. Each of us has our own litany of others upon whose shoulders we dance, and reach, and dream.
The new creation story draws on what we’ve learned in recent decades about the common themes seen in the formation of the cosmos and our solar system, the evolution of biological life, and the emergence of human society and consciousness, yet it retains an allegiance to the sacred—the fathomless power and intention within the very essence of all creation. This new story doesn’t aim to replace anyone’s God or faith; it’s a place to gather together humanity’s diverse ways of seeking to understand this world. . . and so know one’s God more intimately and fully. Still, the story leaves room for all ways of seeing, feeling, knowing, and understanding the deeper source of the the beauty we see around us: a creator-being, complexity driving emergent properties, the spark of love, “dark” energy, blind chance (though this last one tends to be frowned upon in these circles!). All that the story asks is that we see ourselves as part of this world, rather than somehow separate from it, and that we acknowledge that there is something more than what we can see: a set of connective and creative principles and energies that underly and flow through all we know. The more spiritually inclined among us look beyond the principles, yearning toward their source: an unfathomable mystery and intelligence. Many know this as God; others simply acknowledge the presence of a life force or spirit of some sort.
So: this new creation story is rooted in profound personal experience of—and relationship with—the world around us, and an equally profound openness to the divine, the core driver of our reality, however we may each see it. The story, while enlivened by this direct, lived experience, is expanded and informed by an ever-richer understanding of the synergies that drive growth and change within physics, biology, and culture—recognizing especially the ways in which science’s understandings are yet still laced with unreachable Mystery. The sacredness of all life grounds the story, while the eternal desire to know the world and our place in it is the breath that gives it voice.
The new creation story need not replace our many local and cultural stories, with their established foundations of purpose and meaning. But it would serve us well—in this time when modern communications and global challenges are both pulling us closer together as a planetary culture—to also weave a larger story that can hold all of humanity’s rich histories and cherished beliefs within its embrace.
These musings—today’s reflections you just read, and all the glimpses shared throughout this site’s witness to the years—are bits of my own ways of hearing and telling this new global creation story (my particular fascination has to do with becoming more concretely attuned to the nested physical scales within which we live, and to the relationships, the giving and receiving, found within and between scales). These few paragraphs, more specifically, bubbled forth after listening this afternoon to a recent hour-long talk by Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow, which is one of the best and most concise distillations I’ve heard of this thirty-year collaborative global endeavor; this little essay borrows part of its title from one Michael’s themes. Michael and Connie have been weaving their versions of this great story for over a decade, and Michael in particular is especially interested in bringing it into churches (he’s a former evangelical minister); this talk frames some of the key themes of the new global creation story in ways that aim to bridge the scientific and the religious ways of looking at both creation and the choices we make in our individual lives. He, and many others, see this new story as one that can be embraced by followers of many religious traditions, while also adding an appealing depth to the modern secular worldview. I highly recommend this talk both to those looking for an introduction to these ideas, and to those who’ve been following these themes for years. The first 25 minutes will give you the nut of Michael’s recent new framing of what this may be all about (try to listen at least until the Thomas Berry quote about honoring the earth); the second half explores many of these fascinating ideas in more depth. Again, here’s the link.
Photo: Jim Cummings
Mount Etna recently surged back to life, as it tends to do every few months or years. A local volcanologist, Dr. Boris Behncke, has posted videos from Saturday night, and they are spectacular! This 8-minute sequence may stretch your online attention span, but there’s a wealth of riches to be had herein. After thirty seconds of scene-setting, the fireworks ramp up, with a series of stunning lava-bursts from about ninety second to three minutes or so: huge spheres of glowing lava expanding outwards, then settling ever-further down the mountain’s flanks. From about six to seven minutes, there’s a wonderful sequence with the near-full moon setting behind the smoke plume and peak. As an added treat, the video gives at least a sense of the thunderous booms that follow a few seconds behind the visuals, the locally-familiar call of the mountain rolling across the landscape, day and night, into the streets and homes—and the hearts and bones—of all its neighbors.
For more on this eruption, including several links to more images of Etna, see this article at Wired.com. And check out these two posts from the good Dr. Behncke, on an especially interesting burst of activity in late October, and on the last surviving remnant of an old hut, built in a burst of foolishness in the 1960’s: an antenna, now poking its lonely head from ash and lava flows.
With no warning and no surprise, three sturdy wingbeats slide suddenly from on high. Settling, now still. Here you are. Strong breast, speckled; eyes vigilant, crown aglow from low sun behind—avian apex of the valley.
A peripheral suggestion casually slips up the bank, into piñon shade. Settling, now still. Here you are. Gorgeous coat in mottled sun; relaxed, feet front, head high—strong, sure morning sentinel of the valley.
Hawk perched alert in the center of the yard, until lifting surely back to its aerie. Coyote lounging amidst the trees, now strolling languidly through shining gramma, poking into low boughs, and dropping back into the arroyo from whence it appeared. In this way, into the quiet space at the heart of the solitude that I’ve chosen and cultivated, which has broadened and deepened with time, with attention, with care, here you are. Spirit tangible. Palpable. Embodied.
Gentle, rich presence: cool clear water soothing a valley’s parched heart. . . soft insistent breeze stirring each sun-seeking tendril. . . winter’s dazzling stars piercing the soul’s cold night. The wind and water, sun and stars—ever arriving, never lingering. Always touching, stirring, warming, lifting.
And so I walk on, here in the outskirts of the heart of this all-living world. Carrying questions. Keeping faith. Reaching deep. In the layers of wind whispering across the land, and this noontime moon-slice in soft blue sky, here you are. As the search discovers its path, here you are. Alongside flowing waters, here you are. In the sharing of kindred souls, here you are. In each breath and every touch, here you are.
Image: Colleen Pinski, Smithsonian Magazine
The voice used here addresses specific beings and/or or a divine realm
as a separate, though at times extended, “other.”
It occurs to me: perhaps it would be interesting
to revise it by changing “you are” to “I am,”
reflecting an expanded self-identity with the other,
and/or a fuller embodiment as or identification with
what’s being experienced.
Ah, such a coarse reversal doesn’t fully work
with the presence being explored here.
But the gesture is still worthwhile!
See the next post (above) for Merton’s musings on this theme.
Attracting a mate can be serious business—just ask a male elk or caribou, after a round of rack-jousting and head-butting—but it can also be all about beauty and care. Consider this five-inch pufferfish swimming gently about, crafting a seven-foot mandala of love, an irresistible spawning ground.
If the sheer wonder of the video isn’t enough for you, well, then go ahead and read about it.
Designer and data visualizer John Nelson thought it would be fun to stitch together a bunch of NASA’s “Visible Earth” images through the seasons. Once he did, he realized: it’s breathing. “All of a sudden I see a thing with a heartbeat,” he says, “I didn’t expect to be so mesmerized. . . I can’t look away.” (give it a bit of time to load all the frames, then it’ll run smoothly)
See John’s blog here, and a couple of good articles about this from NPR and Nat’l Geo. All these links also include a view that shows the subtler dance of green across the southern hemisphere, and John’s page offers views in much larger sizes as well!
It’s another restless night. . . as the hour eases past 3AM, I’m tossed gradually ashore on softly breaking waves of wakefulness, the dark night laced by lightning, the deep hours’ stillness shaken with thunder. By four, I sit in the quiet of the dark living room, tucked into the comfy chair next to the big front windows, cobwebs of late-night torpor stretched across the ceiling corners of my not-quite-awake mind, contemplating the churning sky, this living world, God.
The valley and the trees around my yard are quick-lit for a second of each minute with the electric splash of brilliant directional light from bolts a mile or so away—and a handful of times, half that far, just beyond the nearby hills. The storm moves slowly past, and I become ever more present, eagerly attending to each moment’s turn on stage. After forty minutes, a couple of final blinding flickering bolts, out just beyond Thor’s—eyes widen to take in their fleeting hypnotic pulses, strange and sacred tendrils lingering, shimmering, sky and earth joined in ecstatic connection and release. . . retinal after-images shining for seconds more, slowly fading phantoms dancing across the dimly lit-world outside.
The sky flickers continue in the distance as the storm moves away east, its thunder lost across the miles; another far-off hot spot in the southwest flares now and then as well, while the almost-exactly-full-moon (5:18am) peeks out low in the west, and billowing clouds on the tattered rear edges of the storm are rimmed with its peaceful light.
As dawn approaches—the cloud-draped eastern horizon falling forward toward our ever-present, ever-giving home star—the greys begin to hint at green: contours of the hills around, piñons ringing the yard, gramma and purslaine blanketing the ground, all gaining in detail and color from one moment to the next. A gap appears overhead, opening to allow a bit of infinity to tumble down, four brilliant remnants of the vast night. The only denizens of the deep strong enough to shine through the gathering dawn: distant brilliant huge Rigel, and ancient swollen red Betelgeuse (a knee and shoulder of winter’s soaring hunter, Orion); Aldebaron, the fainter-red eye of the bull of Taurus; and shining brightest of all, the big brother of our solar family, Jupiter, shaper of the verdant destiny of our third rock, via its gravitational grace—holding a space for the inner-planet realm of solid worlds, protecting us from countless cosmic pinballs while letting enough through to seed this would-be Eden with the raw materials for life’s grand experiment. Thank you.
And, after another half hour of earth-spin, this little valley—etched into the foothills of the southern Rockies, these regal ripples rising from the Great Plains—finds its way again to the prow of our spaceship earth. Always and everywhere, these last moments of morning twilight occur at the forward edge of the planet as it arcs patiently ’round the sun, seeking the season yet to come. . . and so here, now, this place once more bids adieu to the shadowed side of our turning ball, and encounters the gentle fresh dawning of a new day. Overhead, cloud puffs float by, a graceful broken quilt of many textures cast in shades of white-to-grey, suspended not far above these warming hills in a sky that has become a soft-blue miracle.
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.