Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ever-Changing Clouds

Clouds drift in and out of literature as ethereal props, metaphors, and backdrops. Clouds appear in existential narratives that beget mythologies.
Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the while I am being carried across the sky by the beautiful clouds.
Ojibwe Proverb
Clouds portend darkness, add by richness contrast, and are harbingers of hopeful change.

Rabindranath Tagore suggests clouds have a cumulative quality that colors life.
Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.
Rabindranath Tagore, Stray Birds
Clouds appear to us as amorphous and ever-changing. Clouds are heavy. Clouds are light. They float in an out of our lives.
Tomorrow will open again, the sky wide
as the mouth of a wild girl, friable
clouds you lose yourself to. You are lost
in miles of land without people, without
one fear of being found, in the dash
of rabbits, soar of antelope, swirl
merge and clatter of streams.

―excerpt from the poem Driving Montana, by Richard Hugo
Cloud was one of 10 nouns given to students by Richard Hugo with equal helpings of verbs and adjectives, along with enumerated constraints, as a poetry writing exercise.

While counter-intuitive, Hugo's constraints freed the fledgling writers to use words like cloud as an ethereal medium from which feelings emerged.

The word cloud covers the many moods and infinite possibilities between the hope and despair.

Life would be dull if we had to look up at cloudless monotony day after day.
― Gavin Pretor-Pinney, The Cloudspotter's Guide

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Water Tale

Spinning a globe on its axis, or viewing satellite images of the earth, the immense surface area of water is deceiving. Most of the earth is covered by water. But two-dimensions belies the three-dimensional truth.

Consider two spheres:
Earth Sphere
The earth is a sphere slightly flattened at the poles. If it was possible to drill a core through the earth, it would be 7,918 miles long. The earth's diameter is about 7,918 miles across. 
Water Sphere
If every water molecule on earth was contained by a sphere, the sphere would be much smaller than the earth sphere. Visualized as a sphere, earth's water would be 860 miles across.
Volume of all earth's water as compared to the earth's volume.
US Geological Survey
Water as a sphereEarth as a sphere
860 mile diameter7,918 mile diameter

The tiny blue sphere located east of the much larger total water sphere represents all of the fresh water found in the ground, lakes, swamps, and rivers. The fresh water sphere is 169.5 miles in diameter.

You could not step twice into the same rivers; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.
Heraclitus of Ephesus


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Breaking Waves

Repeated variations on a theme play out continually in nature. Variations like the micro-scale formation of snow crystals we imagine, the large-scale diurnal and seasonal cycles we experience, or the many variations of fresh and saltwater waves we see.
Breaking wave
North Piha, west of Auckland

Fresh and saltwater waves abound:

The underlying theme of a breaking wave is that the wave steepens until its crest becomes unstable, then breaks.
"The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to get sharper."
― Bertrand Russell
A shore break is grand, unrelenting, ever-changing, yet somehow the same. Breaking waves are the narrative of the ebb of flow of energy and the story of entropy.

Breaking wave on Lake Superior. Photograph by Tim Case

Each wave builds, crests, and dissipates its energy into a rush of white water.

Breaking waves fit into the cosmological theme of well-ordered to less well-ordered that plays out continually in nature.

Observing breaking waves is calming and meditative, if not hypnotic.
“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace
Waves embody the repetition of a pattern. They demonstrate the infinite and subtle variations on how a single pattern can unfold.

The beginning, the middle, and the resolution of a wave is the same on a grand scale, but infinitely different in detail.
“Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Illusion and Delusion

Our relationship with nature is often marked by illusion, delusion, and a false sense of separateness.
Sand Castle, Cannon Beach

Making a sand castle on the edge of a sandy lake, an estuarine bay, or an ocean, we delight in creating, shaping, and altering the landscape.

The pleasure of sand castle making gives some insight into the desire to shape and exert controls over our ecosystem.
Nature, with equal mind,
Sees all her sons at play,

Sees man control the wind,
The wind sweep man away.

Matthew Arnold, from Empedocles on Etna
Man controls the wind, but the wind sweeps man away.

The Delusion of Control

Poet Matthew Arnold reveals our delusion of control, that is
the false duality of man of- and man apart from- the very flow of the wind.
Like sand castles, the shape and seemingly static quality of nature is, at best, temporal. The false struggle that pits man against nature is part of the human narrative.
“When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
Aldo Leopold
Part of the human narrative reveals a sisyphean quest - whether it is the unrealized plan to divert the Mississippi River for flood control, or a scheme to protect Los Angeles from boulders ejected from adjacent mountains by tectonic compression (cf. The Control of Nature by John McPhee).
"Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment."
Buckminster Fuller
Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson
Artists have used the natural landscape to create the illusion of control.

The Illusion of Control

Sand castle building almost certainly gives us a window into the psyche of the makers of land art.

Land art, Earthworks is a phrase coined by Robert Smithson. Land art is created using soil, rock, organic media, and water.

The landscape becomes the means of the creation.
"...the artist seeks.... the fiction that reality will sooner or later imitate"
Robert Smithson
Land art celebrates the illusion of control.

Spring Summer 6, Walter Mason

Humans are like daisy petals coalesced in a pool. We ebb and flow with nature contracting toward orderliness, while simultaneously expanding toward chaos.
"I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in."
―  John Muir, 1913