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.