Category Archives: Earth

Touching and being touched by the landscapes and hidden nooks

The act of praise


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.

Kathy Perelka marsh sunriseWEB

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

We must unhumanize ourselves a little

Carmel Point

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?

Sunburst at Sea 375












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

Earth’s Van Allen Belt Song: coming soon in stereo!

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.  

Click here to hear the first Van Allen Belt “song” to be released (30-second MP3)

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.

Flying Ant Day 2012

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:

Ants on rockWEB

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:

Ants ready to goWEB

All this was exciting enough, but then I looked closer and discovered a bit of extra delight, mystery, and drama….

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Telling the earth how you feel

This really inspires me; what a powerful act!  Em Strang shares a deep moment at this year’s Uncivilisation gathering in the UK:

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:


My ears will never be the same


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.

Evening again

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.  

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Tipping points

It’s late July, and the summer rains remain few and far between.  By now, we’d hope to see a five-day forecast fully populated with Thunderstorms Likely icons, and a few Severe Thunderstorms thrown in for good measure; instead, we’re having to hang our hopes on days when the prognosis tips to Scattered, rather than Isolated, storms.  

Out here in the southwest and Rockies, we count on these summer rains—all of us do: piñon, cougar, deer mouse, side-oats gramma, cooper’s hawk, swift fox, human, bobcat, and bunny. In a good summer, we’d get close to half our annual allotment of eleven or twelve inches of rain between the 4th of July and just after Labor Day.  But those good years are slowly becoming exceptional, no more than one year of five.  Much more common are feeble rainy seasons like this one, two or three of every five years.  In July here in Cañoncito, we had one half-inch storm and a couple of close-to-quarter-inch ones.  There’ve been years when that would have been a typical week!

IMG 9881This is what climate change has been predicted to look like in the southwest.  The future’s here.  (Oh, were that so….we’re just a few steps along that new road, in fact.)

Driving along the Front Range of the Rockies from Denver last weekend, I got a regional look at this summer moisture pattern, a three-hundred mile Big Picture within which my five-mile-wide dark cloud and lightning vigil takes place each day.  It was not a pretty picture.

Actually, it was too pretty a picture: nearly all the mountains along the way stood clear and tall from their jagged peaks down through folded forested ridges to the plains at their feet.  Beautiful!  And just not right for a midsummer late afternoon.  In only two fairly small (ten-mile wide) areas were the mountains socked in, the dark, dark bottoms of towering cloud masses 

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Turning the corner, rounding the bend, riding the wheel

This weekend, it happened.  Here, anyway: the Moment occurs in its own time in each and every place.  Yesterday afternoon, I felt the change, and this morning’s short walk in the nearby landscape between the house and river left no doubt: winter is over, and spring is in the air.

Oh, we’ll surely get more snow, a few more deep freeze nights; the frost-free date for our gardens is still a couple months away.  Yet the unmistakable signs are all around.

River art ripples

The sun is toasting my skin, my flesh, my bones.  The morning breeze feels warm, not chilling.  Under the box elder, cottonwoods, and junipers in the bottomland, that eager spring grass shines bright green.  A bee came by to say hello while I sat on the wooden bench (though the hive in the base of the elder appears to be still dormant).  The stream is flowing clear and near its strongest steady, non-flash-flood, best – too wide to jump across!  And the water’s singing its sweetest springtime songs: tiny-bell cascades of light, bright tones chime from little riffles every ten feet or so.  From any spot where I stop to look and listen, two or three of these distinct clusters of stream-voice call gently, one a bit upstream, another a tad downstream, and sometimes also a third, directly below my dry-dirt perch on the bank.

Only three nights ago – Friday – darkness brought a sudden, deep single-digit chill.  Saturday, a cold wind kept me hustling on my way when outdoors.  Yesterday, though, after a morning in the house, I was surprised to feel a high-50s warmth when I came outside to do some greenhouse chores.  And now, Monday morning, it’s springtime in Cañoncito!  So it feels like we turned some hidden corner this weekend, and suddenly, all has changed.

Yet of course, it’s never so distinct.  Perhaps more like rounding a gradual bend, revealing a changing landscape.

Photo: Ann Hunkins

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