Saturday, June 27, 2015

Water Meditation

Civilization is recent and fleeting. Nature ― as far as we know ― is eternal. Water is fluid, clear, and shapeless.

Emerson used flowing water imagery and metaphors for water in his essays and poems. In the essay Nature, published in 1836, Emerson asks,
Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour and is not reminded of the flux of all things?
Water represents fluidity, transcendence, and spiritual insight. Water reminds us of the fickle and fleeting nature of how we perceive time.

Emerson encouraged independent thinking and imagination over convention. He reveled in the spiritual nature of natural phenomena.

Hyalite Creek

Appreciation for natural phenomena like the force of flowing water, the mechanics of an avalanche, the phases of the moon, or the life cycle of a mayfly invariably leads us to the vast infinity of poetry. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The water understands
Civilization well;
It wets my foot, but prettily,
It chills my life, but wittily,
It is not disconcerted,
It is not broken-hearted:
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
Elegantly destroy.

  • Nature, an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1836), Wikipedia.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Changing Atmosphere

Earth amassed its atmosphere from the gases of cooling rocks.
“The earth was initially very hot and without an atmosphere. In the course of time it cooled and acquired an atmosphere from the emission of gases from the rocks.”
Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
Today life persists in a thin band of Earth's atmosphere called the troposphere which has a mean height of 11 miles (~ 17 km) in the middle latitudes straddling the equator.

Layers of the atmosphere
source: NASA

While it's stands to reason that the atmosphere would continue to change over time, in recent decades the rate of change in the composition and characteristics of the atmosphere has become cause for concern, particularly when compared to the adaptive capacity of living organisms.

A range of public figures from naturalist David Attenborough, to science educator Bill Nye and entrepreneur Elon Musk have expressed concern over the impact of human activity on the composition and characteristics of the atmosphere.

On human population growth and industrialization:
"I would be absolutely astounded if population growth and industrialization and all the stuff we are pumping into the atmosphere hadn't changed the climatic balance. Of course it has. There is no valid argument for denial."
David Attenborough
On burning carbon-based fuels creating gases that trap the sun's radiant energy:
"Burning carbon-based substances like oil, gas, and especially coal, produces billions of tons of extra carbon dioxide each year. Methane gas from cows and pigs and other animals on our large farms ends up in the atmosphere as well, trapping more of the sun's energy as heat."Bill Nye
On the rapidly accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere:
"We're running the most dangerous experiment in history right now, which is to see how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere... can handle before there is an environmental catastrophe."Elon Musk

Earth's standard surface gravity of 9.8 m/s2 holds down the atmosphere, while atmospheric escape is the loss of atmospheric gases to outer space.
“The oldest, easiest to swallow idea was that the earth was man's personal property, a combination of garden, zoo, bank vault, and energy source, placed at our disposal to be consumed, ornamented, or pulled apart as we wished.”
Lewis Thomas, The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Between Every Two Pine Trees

John Muir left marginal notes in a copy of The prose works of Ralph Waldo Emerson located at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

John Muir's marginal notes in The prose works of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Marginal note 492 reads:

Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.
― John Muir

Soda Butte Creek

Muir expressed wonder at the rewards of the reverence of natural phenomena. Muir's optimism was to experience each trek into a pine forest or each introspective journey as a door to a life renewed.
“But the man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less cocksure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable Mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend.”
― Aldous Huxley
Nature is indifferent to space and time. Our home planet, an improbable satellite, rotates away from the Sun to create the illusion of time.

View west from Peet's Hill


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Range of Light

Study in clouds by John Constable
English landscape painters J. M. W. Turner and John Constable were two noted observers of the nature of light.

The sky is the source of light in Nature and it governs everything.
John Constable

Both painters rendered landscapes bathed in what art historian Richard J. Boyle aptly described as "the veil of atmosphere".

Turner and Constable evoked the intensity of light and keen observation of Nature found in the poems of their Romantic era contemporaries Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats.
Not so much life as on a summer's day
Robs not one light seed from the feather'd grass,

John Keats, excerpt from the poem Hyperion
John Muir wrote of the quality of light he encountered in the High Sierras:
And from the eastern boundary of this vast golden flower-bed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with light but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city.... Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light.
The Yosemite, chapter 1.
Late afternoon in the Eastern Sierra
Photo by Michael Hogarth