Saturday, March 21, 2020

Cry of the Earth

Cry of the Earth
CC Jean Stimmell
Last year, under the sway, of spring, I wrote in these pages about building a small pond and waterfall in my back yard and what pleasure it gave me: calming my rushing thoughts, easing me back into nature and into the here-and-now.

Quite unexpectedly, two big, green frogs found themselves to my landlocked pool and liked it so much, they took up residence. They hung out, usually at the edge of the pond, but when I arrived, I could count on them jumping in with a splash.

They reminded me of Alan Watts translation of that famous Zen haiku, a perfect example of how to directly observe nature without intervening thought:
The old pond
A frog jumps in:
Recently, noting spring was coming again and had already melted the ice in my little pond, I started skimming out a winter’s accumulation of leaves. When the water still smelled foul, I pumped the water out, only to uncover, sadly, the corpses of my two frogs, bleached white by their watery immersion.

I am still mourning the loss of my loyal frogs. And feeling guilt as I reflect on my hubris, thinking I could recreate Nature. Instead of being sustainable, my pond, lined with an impermeable, high-tech rubber liner and covered during the winter in thick ice, became a sealed coffin, suffocating my friends from lack of oxygen.

The way I see the world, the pond I built is a microcosm of what we are seeing today with the Corona Virus. I’m disturbed about how this pandemic is being described by our leaders and the news media as a war. And all this prattle about how we are being invaded by alien beings!

I don’t see this as a war, but humankind refusing to accept our earthly limits, imposed, since the beginning of time, by a power infinitely greater than own. That power is Mother Earth, who operates according to her own terms and timetables. Sometimes she serves up something unexpected, like the devastating Japanese tsunami for which we humans played no role. 

But more often, Mother Nature gives us fair warning when we start exceeding our puny human authority.  Certainly, that’s been the case since the beginning of the industrial revolution, when we started spewing ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere.

We have long known the effects of carbon dioxide on our planet. Remember Al Gore’s best-selling book, back in 2007: An inconvenient Truth: The Crisis of Global Warming? Yet we did nothing.

Time has marched on. A third of all our fellow species are in danger of extinction and billions of individuals have already died as the result of climate change from global warming. The polar bear is the poster child of those who soon will be gone. Yet still, we do nothing.

The shifting climate has resulted in droughts and food shortages, resulting in escalating conflicts over increasingly scarce resources around the world. Yet we have done nothing except send arms to the side we want to win.

Killer hurricanes, tornadoes and floods are becoming the new normal, while devastating fires are wiping out whole towns like Paradise California and are now threatening whole continents like Australia. But yet we still do nothing.

Sometimes pandemics arrive on their own like the deadly flu pandemic of 1919. Yet for years now scientists have warned that rising temperatures caused by man-made climate change are causing shifts in animal populations, putting them in closer proximity to our burgeoning human populations, making new pandemics inevitable. Yet we do nothing. Actually, less than nothing, as we see by the recent disbanding of a pandemic task force.

Last week, the New York Times revealed the existence of an October 2019 government report, proving our leaders were “aware of the potential for a respiratory virus outbreak originating in China to spread quickly to the United States and overwhelm the nation.”[1]

Yet, once again, we did nothing. But this time, Mother Nature finally lost her patience and now Covid-19 is coming for us.

We will get through this, perhaps at a heavy cost. But hopefully, on the positive side, we will learn to be humble and respect our limits. Perhaps we will come to understand that we are mere mortals, not gods: Just another species, among a staggering number, all interdependent, all reliant on each other for our common survival and the health of our community.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Root of the Universe

My good friend Cate, knowing of my love for trees, told me about a special one she had discovered, blown over by the wind, exposing an intricate tangle of roots.  It has become, in a real sense, a spiritual mentor for her:

"For the last five years when walking that trail I've looked forward to seeing the root and the changes. It seems a little smaller than the first time I spotted it and it's lightened in color.  Interesting changes. What I first think of is- we get a little smaller as we age and lighter and more interesting (hopefully)." 

I went there today to see the tree and photograph it: Like Cate, I had a deep reaction to it on many levels.

The complex message it conveyed immediately brought to mind how Gaston Bachelard, a French philosopher with a poetic sensibility, felt about trees. Like Carl Jung, he believed that all humankind, whatever our color or wherever we come from, hold a common set of archetypes in our collective unconscious.

One of the most powerful archetypes, we hold in common, is the tree. What follows is a condensed version of his reverie about trees – and their roots:

A root is always a discovery. We dream it more than we see it… Images are primary psychic realities. In experience itself, everything begins with images. The root is the mysterious tree, it is the subterranean, inverted tree. 

For me, the tree is an integrating object. It is normally a work of art. Thus, when I managed to confer upon the tree’s aerial psychology the complementary concern with roots, a new life suffused the dreamer in me…The imagination then took possession of all the powers of plant life. To live like a tree! What growth! What depth! What uprightness! What truth! 

The imagination is a tree. It has the integrative virtues of a tree. It is root and boughs. It lives between earth and sky. It lives in the earth and in the wind. The imagined tree becomes imperceptibly the cosmological tree, the tree that epitomizes a universe, that makes a universe …” 

      these quotes from: Bachelard, Gaston. On Poetic Imagination and Reverie. Spring Publications, Inc. 

Friday, February 14, 2020


My neighbor's horse, Angel:     1/11/20
CC Jean Stimmell

Two takes on Equus:

1)  A distinguishing feature of Jungian analysis is the concept of archetypes, symbols rising from the dark, deep psychic pool of the collective unconscious where humanity’s common experience is stored.

Archetypes express a complex of images and emotions that surround the defining experiences of human life.  One of the most commonly recurring archetypes is the Horse: 

“The Horse archetype throughout the ages has been closely linked with our instinctive, primal drives." Taken from


2) While Linda Kohanov, in her book The Tao of Equus, makes the case that horses relate to the world from a primarily feminine, or yin perspective:

"As a result, the species is a living example of the success and effectiveness of feminine values, including cooperation over competition, responsiveness over strategy, emotion and intuition over logic, process over goal, and the creative approach to life that these qualities engender.” 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

One Way to Cope with Hard Times

A version of this essay published in The ConcordMonitor, 3/13/20

 Pond Essence CC Jean Stimmell 

Last summer, fretful about our fate as the world cartwheels out of control, I found myself drawn to the simplicity of Japanese ink drawings. I spent quite a bit of time attempting to duplicate that look – to find the essence of an object – by manipulating my photographs of water lilies and reeds.

It was hit or miss but finally one came out that I liked well enough to submit to a juried exhibit where it won an award. With humility, I’m discovering that the simplicity I crave, identifying the essence of a subject  is a profound undertaking that goes under the label of “minimalism.”

Minimalism is seen by many today as just the latest fad where people obsess over decluttering their homes, while the rich revel in living in glass houses with virtually no furniture, except a high-end stereo and a limited edition, Eames Lounge Chair.

In truth, however, minimalism has a rich artistic and philosophic history that goes way back. I also discovered, it’s a reoccurring theme that rises to the surface whenever society is in upheaval.

Yoshida Kenko, a poet in Japan 800 years ago, lived and wrote during such a time of conflict and danger, the result of incessant warfare between various groups outside of the established government, all seeking to extend their control over the country.

Sound familiar?

Kenko’s answer was to become a monk, embracing what Buddhists call impermanence: the idea that life is constant change. He wrote that a person was to be envied who lives in a simple, neat house, “not of the modern, garish kind” because it is “but a temporary abode, “ like life itself. He found  beauty in a room not overly furnished, “where there is room to move around.⁠1

He wrote that we should pay attention to everyday beauty: “Are we to look at flowers only in full bloom or the moon when it is clear.  No, we should concentrate on the simple austere aesthetic of the here-and-now: “There is much to been seen in young boughs about to flower, in gardens strewn with withered blossoms.”⁠2

Thoreau, writing in the 19th century, was on the same wave-length, valuing simple living and reveling in what can be observed in the moment. Like Kenko, Thoreau was living through tough times, probably the most traumatic in our country’s history: Not only our cataclysmic civil war,  but the shredding of local community by rapid industrialization and the advent of the train.

He believed, like Kenko, that is was a mistake to favor the vibrant colors of fall foliage over the simple, stark beauty of winter.

Immersing  himself in the here-and-now was an antidote to hard times:  “Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.”⁠3

Based on recent history, we shouldn’t be surprised that minimalism is on the rise again because – and I don’t think anyone will disagree– we are once again living through a period of extreme polarization and cultural disconnect. Under these circumstances, it makes sense to strive for sustainability by shrinking our liabilities and adopting frugal ways. 

Rather than looking for the salvation promised us by the capitalistic gods of advertising – only to be slowly crushed under the increasing weight of shoddy and superfluous material goods – wouldn’t it be nice to escape all that and, instead, surround ourselves solely with those few items that define the essence of who we are.

In light of the above, why wouldn’t I be drawn to the simplicity and purity of Japanese Ink drawings. 

And follow Thoreau’s advice about the importance of winter walks: To take that opportunity only winter provides to withdraw inward to sharpen my focus in the present moment – temporarily tuning out the shrill. food-fight fracas, consuming society at large. 



Friday, January 10, 2020


Two Children Threatened by a Nightingale
After writing my essay on "Confronting Doomsday," we visited the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL. Included inthe exhibits were art pieces by other leading surrealistic pioneers of the time, including this collage by Max Ernst This collage struck me viscerally! To me, in my gut, it felt like a representation of the end of the world: people fleeing in terror a chaotic and disordered landscape; one person unsuccessfully trying to push a panic button bigger than he was.

It is the perfect companion for my Doomsday  piece!

  After reading up on Max Ernst, I found out it's even more appropriate than I knew at the time. First of all, his whole perception of the world as a regularly ordered, sane place was shattered by being a combat veteran of World War I.

"Those four years of war for Ernst were as if he "died on the 1st of August 1914" and "re- suscitated on the 11th of November 1918 as ayoung man aspiring to become magician and to find the myth of this time”.

Young, angry, outraged and full of enormous pent up energy from the War, Ernst became involved with the one group who could possibly present an outlet for these passions: Dada.
His collages force the exterior real world to confront the hidden reality of the unconsciousTheycreateamultiplicityof associations by giving form to the new reality of dreams and the unconscious as presented byFreud. Ernst has forced the viewer to expand beyond the rational and logical waking world into the world of fantasy, dreams and illusion. By rearranging traditional schemata, placing the familiar image into new and strange context, he forces the observers to retune their old definition of visual reality and to reconcile the exterior and public world with the interior and private world of the unconscious. Ernst stated that the collage is "a meeting of two distant realities on plane foreign to both." Thus, visually Ernst attempted to reconcile the two equal parts of our existence and turn them into new and complete reality."

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Confronting Doomsday

Max Ernst: "Two Children Threatened by a Nightingale" (1924)

While most of us watched transfixed when the Times Square Ball dropped as the clock struck midnight – like the misanthrope watching a  horror movie – I couldn’t take my eyes off another timepiece:

This clock, the Doomsday Clock, rather than heralding in the new year, represents how long humanity will survive as depicted by the 12 hours on a clock face. Midnight represents the end of civilization or the apocalypse.

For 2019, it is set at 11:58 pm, two  minutes from  midnight.”⁠1 

 The Doomsday Clock, the brainchild of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, has been accepted as a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe since 1947.  Although The Clock evaluates all risks, including climate change, and emerging technologies, this year it is focused on nuclear dangers.

The Bulletin points out reckless language in the nuclear realm has heated up an already dangerous situation. It is clear we are on the cusp of a  new arms race, increasing  the likelihood of accidents and misperceptions, while, at the same time,  robbing resources from life-affirming objectives – like fixing our infrastructure, raising the minimum wage, and getting everyone health insurance.

The last time the clock was set this close to doomsday was in 1953, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union tested their first thermonuclear weapons. I was 8-years-old, practicing duck-and-cover under my desk in Northwood Grammar School. A nuclear attack seems so imminent, I pleaded with my father to build us a bomb shelter.

Oh, how times have changed. 

Today, we appear unfazed by the threat of nuclear war, held in thrall as we are, by social media and shopping on Amazon. Worst of all, as opposed to when I was eight, now new existential dangers lurk.

The Atomic Bulletin warns us about one thing, evident to us all, that the world has entered a prolonged period of extreme instability: A situation where the caustic political environment, coupled with an acceleration of disinformation and cyber-warfare, puts civilization on an unsustainable path. 

And that’s not to mention climate change, that 800-pound gorilla just now slouching out of the shadows into plain view. Paul Krugman puts it this way:

“While it will take generations for the full consequences of climate change to play out, there will be many localized, temporary disasters along the way. Apocalypse will become the new normal” — like what is happening right now in Australia.⁠2


Somehow, I survived grammar school without getting ulcers and our world didn’t disappear in a mushroom cloud. I realize that things were simpler in the 1950s, but what happened then provides a blueprint for a way forward today.

 I don’t believe that it was just dumb luck that we avoided nuclear war back then: Rather it was because regular people got fed up and demanded change.

 At the height of the ‘Cold War,’ about 50,000 women brought together by “Women Strike for Peace,” marched in 60 cities to demonstrate against nuclear weapons. A robust movement to save the environment arose, spurred by Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, These causes merged with burgeoning, feminist, civil rights, and anti-war  movements to form the 1960s counterculture.  

I believe that when we were young, our Sixties generation, standing up together for a cause bigger than ourselves –or our pocketbooks – changed history, at least for a while, striking a blow for peaceful co-existence, universal human rights, and protecting our precious little, spaceship  Earth.

It is time to do it again. 

And, once again, it will be the young who will inspire us and lead the way. Young people, like 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, speaking truth to power at the 2018 Climate Action Summit:

“People are suffering. People ae dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”⁠3

Go, girl, go!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year to All

taken from our deck this morning

Brilliant and Bright
the rising sun
on January 1:

A hopeful sign
for 2020