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Miracle. All of it. (This Year on Earth)

In 2018,

  • Earth picked up about 40,000 metric tons of interplanetary material, mostly dust, much of it from comets.
  • Earth lost around 96,250 metric tons of hydrogen and helium, the lightest elements, which escaped to outer space.
  • Roughly 505,000 cubic kilometers of water fell on Earth’s surface as rain, snow, or other types of precipitation.
  • Bristlecone pines, which can live for millennia, each gained perhaps a hundredth of an inch in diameter.
  • Countless mayflies came and went.
  • More than one hundred thirty-six million people were born in 2018, and more than fifty-seven million died.
  • Tidal interactions are very slowly increasing the distance between Earth and the moon, which ended 2018 about 3.8 centimeters further apart than they were at the beginning. As a consequence, Earth is now rotating slightly more slowly; the day is a tiny fraction of a second longer.
  • Earth and the sun are also creeping apart, by around 1.5 centimeters per year. Most of the change is due to changes in the sun’s gravitational pull as it converts some of its mass into energy by nuclear fusion.
  • The entire solar system traveled roughly 7.25 billion kilometers in its orbit about the center of the Milky Way. This vast distance, however, is only about 1/230,000,000th of the entire orbit.
  • There were two lunar eclipses and three partial solar eclipses, each a step in the long gravitational dance making up the roughly 18-year saros cycle. During one saros cycle, eclipses with particular characteristics (partial, total, annular) and a specific Earth–Moon–Sun geometry occur in a predictable sequence; at the end, the whole thing starts again. This pattern has been repeating for much longer than humans have been around to see it.

I like knowing these bits of cosmic context because they link me to a larger world. I can echo the words of Ptolemy: “Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth.”

Mary Hrovat, from “This Year on Earth” (3 Quarks Daily, December 24, 2018)

Don’t miss the rest of her essay here: This Year on Earth


Notes:

  • Photo: Phys.org.
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.
  • Inspiration: Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Miracle. All of it.

“You’re doing great, Nicole,” Jenny said suddenly, and these seemed like the first clear words I had heard in hours. “One, maybe two more pushes and she’ll be born!” It was the most powerful moment of my life, that moment shortly after one in the morning when I heard her cry and knew she was finally with us. Our daughter decided to come into the world with one fist raised. Seconds later she was placed on my chest, beautiful and flushed and still screaming at the shock of birth, and I touched her hair, her warm little cheek. Her skin felt impossibly soft, softer than I knew anything could be. At seven pounds, fifteen ounces, twenty inches long, she was not a small baby—her wails were also lusty, much louder than I’d expected—but she felt new and fragile in my arms. She stopped crying and gazed up at me, and my world shrank to the arresting dark blue pools of her eyes…

I had never been so tired, and I was sore to the very roots of my hair, but I couldn’t seem to close my eyes—how could anyone expect me to sleep when I had this fascinating little face to watch? It was almost impossible to believe this was the same unseen being who’d done jumping jacks on my bladder, greeting me with kicks and pokes and slow stretches for weeks on end. She was so small and so new, barely and yet wholly herself, already…

Suddenly I remembered the words of a friend…I love telling my kids their birth stories. It’s such a privilege to be able to do that. Yes, I thought, and also a miracle. The clichéd word didn’t embarrass me; this day and night was a wonder I’d never get over. As many times as this had happened before, to billions of parents since time immemorial, it was the only time it had ever happened to me. I had a child now, and she was mine. We were together. We would stay together. When Abby was old enough to ask me—to wonder, and to listen, and to care—I would tell her about her birth, her first days with us. You were born with one arm raised…I would say. When it was over, you and Daddy slept, but I couldn’t. All I wanted to do was look at you.

~ Nicole Chung, “All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir” (October 2, 2018)


Notes:

  • Photograph Credit
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.
  • Inspiration: Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Miracle. All of it.

Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and beauty of the world.  And it’s breathtaking…

Ever since we discovered that Earth is round and turns like a mad spinning-top, we have understood that reality is not as it appears to us…

We are made up of the same atoms and the same light signals as are exchanged between pine trees in the mountains and stars in the galaxies…

What are we, in this boundless and glowing world?

We have a hundred billion neurons in our brains, as many as there are stars in a galaxy, with an even more astronomical number of links and potential combinations through which they can interact. We are not conscious of all of this. “We” are the process formed by this entire intricacy, not just by the little of it of which we are conscious…

Lucretius expresses this, wonderfully: . . . we are all born from the same celestial seed; all of us have the same father, from which the earth, the mother who feeds us, receives clear drops of rain, producing from them bright wheat and lush trees, and the human race, and the species of beasts, offering up the foods with which all bodies are nourished, to lead a sweet life and generate offspring . . .

Life is precious to us because it is ephemeral…

~ Carlo Rovelli, excertps from Seven Brief Lessons on Physics


Notes:

  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.
  • Inspiration: Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Miracle. All of it.

The biggest heart in the world is inside the blue whale. It weighs more than seven tons. It’s as big as a room. It is a room, with four chambers. A child could walk around it, head high, bending only to step through the valves. The valves are as big as the swinging doors in a saloon. This house of a heart drives a creature a hundred feet long. When this creature is born it is twenty feet long and weighs four tons. It is waaaaay bigger than your car. It drinks a hundred gallons of milk from its mama every day and gains two hundred pounds a day, and when it is seven or eight years old it endures an unimaginable puberty and then it essentially disappears from human ken, for next to nothing is known of the the mating habits, travel patterns, diet, social life, language, social structure, diseases, spirituality, wars, stories, despairs and arts of the blue whale. There are perhaps ten thousand blue whales in the world, living in every ocean on earth, and of the largest animal who ever lived we know nearly nothing. But we know this: the animals with the largest hearts in the world generally travel in pairs, and their penetrating moaning cries, their piercing yearning tongue, can be heard underwater for miles and miles.

Brian Doyle, from “Joyas Voladoras


Notes:

  • Photo: Frank Brennan with “Blue whale nursing its calf just off Dana Point” via Orange County Register
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.
  • Inspiration: Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

 

Miracle. All of it.

Consider the hummingbird for a long moment. A hummingbird’s heart beats ten times a second. A hummingbird’s heart is the size of a pencil eraser. A hummingbird’s heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas voladoras, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas, nowhere else in the universe, more than three hundred species of them whirring and zooming and nectaring in hummer time zones nine times removed from ours, their hearts hammering faster than we could clearly hear if we pressed our elephantine ears to their infinitesimal chests.

Each one visits a thousand flowers a day. They can dive at sixty miles an hour. They can fly backwards. They can fly more than five hundred miles without pausing to rest. But when they rest they come close to death: on frigid nights, or when they are starving, they retreat into torpor, their metabolic rate slowing to a fifteenth of their normal sleep rate, their hearts sludging nearly to a halt, barely beating, and if they are not soon warmed, if they do not soon find that which is sweet, their hearts grow cold, and they cease to be. Consider for a moment those hummingbirds who did not open their eyes again today, this very day, in the Americas: bearded helmet-crests and booted racket-tails, violet-tailed sylphs and violet-capped woodnymphs, crimson topazes and purple-crowned fairies, red-tailed comets and amethyst woodstars, rainbow-bearded thornbills and glittering-bellied emeralds, velvet-purple coronets and golden-bellied star-frontlets, fiery-tailed awlbills and Andean hillstars, spatuletails and pufflegs, each the most amazing thing you have never seen, each thunderous wild heart the size of an infant’s fingernail, each mad heart silent, a brilliant music stilled.

Hummingbirds, like all flying birds but more so, have incredible enormous immense ferocious metabolisms. To drive those metabolisms they have race-car hearts that eat oxygen at an eye-popping rate. Their hearts are built of thinner, leaner fibers than ours. Their arteries are stiffer and more taut. They have more mitochondria in their heart muscles—anything to gulp more oxygen. Their hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer more heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures than any other living creature. It’s expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.

Brian Doyle, from “Joyas Voladoras


Notes:

  • Photo:Beth with Hummingbird
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.
  • Inspiration: Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

 

Miracle. All of it.

I used to live in Tucson, Ariz., and like Mr. Atkins I came to love the Sonoran Desert. The magic of the place, for me, is the way its sparsity makes it legible. It’s easy to identify the few shrubs and cactuses and to witness the drama of survival in their struggle to plant roots and retain water. The changes of the seasons are visible in bird migration patterns and the sensational periods of desert flowering. You can always gain your bearings once you know that the saguaro cactus grows more densely on the southern side of the hills and that you can estimate the recent rainfall by studying whether the ocotillo has dropped or regrown its leaves. When the fauna chooses to be visible, you have an unobstructed view. Whereas forests and mountains are overwhelming in their tangled profusion, the desert teaches an elementary class on nature’s rhythms to anybody who cares to attend.

Mr. Atkins communicates some of this in his book’s loveliest episode, when, while living in southeast Arizona, he gets lost on a solitary hike and stumbles into a rare moment of revelation. Anxiously trying to find his way back to the trail, and menaced by a threatening rattlesnake, he suddenly spots a single cottonwood tree beside a small brook—“the place that had been my destination all along, though I hadn’t known it was there.” In silence he watches a “small cyclone of cadmium-yellow butterflies” and a pair of eagles circling overhead. In this place of emptiness, of danger and derangement and death, he has been shown a secret about the miracle of life.

~ Sam Sacks, a Review of ‘The Immeasurable World by William Atkins’ Solitude in the Sand. Journeys in Desert Places. (July 26, 2018, wsj.com)


Notes:

  • Photo: Olivier Reynes Photography with Saguaro
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.
  • Inspiration: Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

 

Miracle. All of it.

“We’ll keep the tub moist and free of weeds for the next six years. When you turn sweet sixteen, we’ll weigh the tree and the soil again.” She hears him (her Father), and understands…

In the summer of her eighteenth year, preparing to head to Eastern Kentucky to study botany, she remembers the beech growing in its tub of soil, out by the barn. Shame rushes through her: How could she have forgotten the experiment? She has missed her promise to her father (who has since passed away) by two years. Skipped sweet sixteen altogether. She spends an entire July afternoon freeing the tree from the soil and crumbling every thimble of dirt from its roots. Then she weighs both the plant and the earth it fed on. The fraction of an ounce of beechnut now weighs more than she does. But the soil weighs just what it did, minus an ounce or two.

There’s no other explanation: almost all the tree’s mass has come from the very air.

Her father knew this. Now she does, too.

~ Richard Powers, The Overstory: A Novel


Notes

  • Photograph: Elena Shen with “Shades of Green” (Beech Tree)
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.
  • Inspiration: Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Miracle. All of it.


It must be a great disappointment to God

if we are not dazzled at least ten times a day.

~ Mary Oliver, from “Good Morning” in Blue Horses


Notes:

  • Photo: good4thesoul (via Your Eyes Blaze Out)
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.
  • Inspiration: Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Miracle. All of it.

It had snowed overnight, but there were already tracks on the ground. The fine powder had covered the perimeter of spruce and willow and was already starting to melt on the topmost branches when I set out on my expedition. Ahead was a denuded and frozen basin of snowy ridges and gently rising slopes.

The noise of the village had faded, and as I took my first steps onto the plateau, following the contour of the land, an intense squeak escaped from under my boots. It was all I could hear for the next 10 minutes. A muffled, metronomic marriage of snow groaning on sand. After that, I had reached my destination. I had crossed what many believe is the world’s smallest desert.

This was my introduction to one of North America’s most bizarre geological phenomena, the Carcross Desert in Canada’s Yukon. At first glance, it admittedly didn’t look like much. Hardly recognisable as a desert and only 600m wide, best measured end to end by bootprints, it was blanketed in snow, the sand only apparent between cracks in the melted crust. But the details sharpened over time. Closer inspection revealed a miniature kingdom of fine-grain sands, a rare habitat for plants, ungulates and insect species that may be new to science…

The Carcross Desert’s unique genesis is the result of 10,000 years of natural labour. The Yukon was last glaciated during the Wisconsinan McConnell glaciation, she explained, some 11,000 to 24,000 years ago. “Carcross would have had 1km of ice sitting on top of it,” she told me, while hunched over research papers and geological fieldwork studies. “You just can’t picture it.”

As the ice started to melt, lobes of ice began to retreat south, leaving the southern Yukon with heavily scarred valleys. Lipovsky likens this to a vast construction site, as “the ice bulldozed everything”. Over time, massive lakes formed at the snout of the lobes, then when the ice retreated, water levels dropped, leaving beaches and strand lines socked in between the valleys. To finish, sand was hoovered up by fierce winds and blown north-west, giving birth to one of the world’s most unlikely deserts…

To be categorised as an arid desert for scientific purposes, one needs to receive less than 250mm of annual precipitation, while semi-arid deserts receive between 250mm and 500mm. This is the category that Carcross falls into, despite sitting in the rain shadow of the surrounding mountains…

Despite such contradictions, what’s not debated is the sense of awe and sheer amazement the desert inspires. As you enter, its mystery deepens, the tall willow and spruce appearing in ghostly silhouette. Beyond this, surprises wait. Yukon lupine and Baikal sedge flower in summer. Rarely seen coast dart moths and dune tachinidae hover in the skies. Five new species of gnorimoschema, a genus of the moth family, have been discovered. The likelihood is there are more.

All this beauty in one of the Earth’s most unforgiving and complex environments is hard to fathom. This isn’t the Sahara, the Gobi or the Kalahari. But each step across its diminutive dunes makes you realise: this desert is a whole world of wonder unto itself.

Mike MacEacheran, from “The Unlikely Home of the Smallest Desert” (BBC.com Travel, June 22, 2018)


Notes:

  • Thank you Christie!
  • Photo: Dave Brosha with Carcross Desert. “The Carcross Desert, famous for being one the of the smallest “deserts” in North America. Located in Carcross, Yukon, Canada. I really don’t think there’s too many places in the world that combine such a strangely beautiful mix of snow and sand.”
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.

Miracle. All of it.

7:45 am. Yesterday morning. X-ray reviewed. Referral made to Oral Surgeon: “Young guy, really good, my patients really like him.” I return home and wait for phone to ring.

How long has it been? 6 months? 9 months? A year? Same dentist is grinding down the jagged edges of a broken wisdom tooth, bottom left. “You should get it pulled. It’s only going to get worse.” The answer was reflexive: “No.” Somebody wanted it there. It’s been there for more than 50 years. ‘Til death do us part. A small grin builds from left to right, as if to say: “Have it your way.” Yes, your patient is the same guy who refused teeth whitening, the crown-replacement, the mouth guard for night-time teeth grinding and anything but the basic maintenance program.

So it was. My tongue started working on the foreign. The new. The crack. The edges. The gap. Sliding over and around the edges, into the crevice, into a pocket, a repository for nubs of pistachios, bitty kernels of popcorn and hard corners of raisins – working to remove what the brush and floss failed to accomplish.

Months later, this thing turns to a low throb, exacerbated by my latest food obsession, crunchy granola. By the bags. Upper and lower teeth hammering on the hard grains, nerve endings pressure tested.

Then comes the Night. The low throb turns to a searing pain, the left ear aching and can’t bear to hold a 1/2 oz ear bud to pipe in a podcast, a playlist or any form of distraction.

[Read more…]

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