Miracle. All of It.

For the purposes of the book, Robin, who desperately believes in the sanctity of life beyond himself, begs his father for these nighttime, bedtime stories, and Theo gives him easy travel to other planets. Father and son going to a new planet based on the kinds of planets that Theo’s science is turning up and asking this question, what would life look like if it was able to get started here? And what would that change in our sense of who we are and where we’ve been dropped down?

And they make this journey across the universe through all kinds of incubators, all kinds of petri dishes for life and the possibilities of life. And rather than answer the question — so where is everybody? — it keeps deferring the question, it keeps making that question more subtle and stranger. And I wasn’t sure where I would go with this ultimately in the book. And one thing I kept thinking about that didn’t make it into the final book but exists as a kind of parallel story in my own head is the father and son on some very distant planet in some very distant star, many light years from here, playing that same game. And the father saying, OK, now imagine a world that’s just the right size, and it has plate tectonics, and it has water, and it has a nearby moon to stabilize its rotation, and it has incredible security and safety from asteroids because of other large planets in the solar system.

Imagine that everything happens just right so that every square inch of this place is colonized by new forms of experiments, new kinds of life. And the father trying to entertain his son with the story of this remarkable place in the sun just stopping him and saying, Dad, come on, that’s asking too much. Get real, that’s science fiction. That’s the vision that I had when I finished the book, an absolutely limitless sense of just how lucky we’ve had it here.

— Richard Powers, from Ezra Klein’s Podcast Interview titled “This Conversation With Richard Powers Is a Gift.” (September, 28, 2021, The New York Times)


Notes: (1) The podcast and/or transcript is long but worthy.  (2) Post title 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. (3) Photo Credit

Miracle. All of It.

Stop. If you’re inside, go to a window. Throw it open and turn your face to the sky. All that empty space, the deep vastness of the air, the heavens wide above you. The sky is full of insects, and all of them are going somewhere. Every day, above and around us, the collective voyage of billions of beings.

…There are other worlds around us. Too often, we pass through them unknowing, seeing but blind, hearing but deaf, touching but not feeling, contained by the limits of our senses, the banality of our imaginations, our Ptolemaic certitudes. […]

They had heard about the butterflies, gnats, water striders, leaf bugs, booklice, and katydids sighted hundreds of miles out on the open ocean; about the aphids that Captain William Parry had encountered on ice floes during his polar expedition of 1828; and about those other aphids that, in 1925, made the 800-mile journey across the frigid, windswept Barents Sea between the Kola Peninsula, in Russia, and Spitsbergen, off Norway, in just twenty-four hours. Still, they were taken aback by the enormous quantities of animals they were discovering in the air above Louisiana and unashamedly astonished by the heights at which they found them. All of a sudden, it seemed, the heavens had opened.

Unmoored, they turned to the ocean, began talking about the “aeroplankton” drifting in the vastness of the open skies. They told each other about tiny insects, some of them wingless, all with large surface-area-to-weight ratios, plucked from their earthly tethers by a sharp gust of wind, picked up on air currents and thrust high into the convection streams without volition or capacity for resistance, some terrible accident, carried great distances across oceans and continents, then dropped with the same fateful arbitrariness in a downdraft on some distant mountaintop or valley plain. […]

On August 10, 1926, a Stinson Detroiter SM-1 six-seater monoplane took off from the rudimentary airstrip at Tallulah, Louisiana. […] [O]ver the next five years, the researchers flew more than 1,300 sorties from the Louisiana airstrip […].

They estimated that at any given time on any given day throughout the year, the air column rising from 50 to 14,000 feet above one square mile of Louisiana countryside contained an average of 25 million insects and perhaps as many as 36 million. [Read more…]

that which you hold holds you

She wondered how the moon, two hundred and thirty-nine thousand miles above the roof, could affect her as profoundly as it did. Being four times larger than the moon, the earth appeared to dominate. Caught in the earth’s gravitational web, the moon moved around the earth and could never get away. Yet, as any half-awake materialist well knows, that which you hold holds you. Neither could the earth escape the moon.

—  Tom Robbins, Still Life With Woodpecker: A Novel (Bantam; June 17, 2003)

 


DK with Crescent Moon. Waxing Crescent Phase. 7:38 pm, September 11, 2021. 71° F. (@dkct25 on Instagram)

Sunday Morning

In a May 1952 paper for her religion class, “Religion as I See It,” Plath laid out her “basic tenets”: man was “born without purpose in a neutral universe,” without inherent morals, and was responsible for his own destiny. There was no afterlife. “His mind may live on, as it were, in books, his flesh may continue in his children. That is all.” God was not to blame for man’s evils or triumphs. Plath claimed that she could “never find my faith through the avenue of manmade institutions,” and called herself an “agnostic humanist.” She happily admitted she was a pantheist at heart: “For my security, I resort not to the church, but to the earth. The impersonal world of sun, rocks, sea and sky gives me a strange courage.” For her, the vital world was earthly and present.

— Heather Clark, Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath (Knopf; October 27, 2020)


Notes:

  • Plath was 19 years old in May 1952.
  • Photographs: DK @ Daybreak. Jan 10, 2021. 6:43 to 7:20 am. 28° F, feels like 18° F. Cove Island Park, Stamford CT. More photos from this morning here.

Lightly Child, Lightly

Life should carry more meaning than the facts would bear. Which facts were these: we occupied a tiny corner of the universe, minor planet orbiting a minor star, in an even tinier corner of cosmological time. Still we wanted all of it, the sun and the moon and the firmament that held them, to be about us. This want had been bred into humanity, selected by nature, so it must have served some purpose once, but it had long outlived its usefulness… What was needed now was to know.

— Christopher Beha, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts: A Novel (Tin House Books, May 5, 2020)


Notes:

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

It was over, he said. It was too late, we had dithered too long. Our society had already become too fragmented and dysfunctional for us to fix, in time, the calamitous mistakes we had made. And, in any case, people’s attention remained elusive. Neither season after season of extreme weather events nor the risk of extinction for a million animal species around the world could push environmental destruction to the top of our country’s list of concerns. And how sad, he said, to see so many among the most creative and best-educated classes, those from whom we might have hoped for inventive solutions, instead embracing personal therapies and pseudo-religious practices that promoted detachment, a focus on the moment, acceptance of one’s surroundings as they were, equanimity in the face of worldly cares. (This world is but a shadow, it is a carcass, it is nothing, this world is not real, do not mistake this hallucination for the real world.) Self-care, relieving one’s own everyday anxieties, avoiding stress: these had become some of our society’s highest goals, he said—higher, apparently, than the salvation of society itself. The mindfulness rage was just another distraction, he said. Of course we should be stressed, he said. We should be utterly consumed with dread. Mindful meditation might help a person face drowning with equanimity, but it would do absolutely nothing to right the Titanic, he said. It wasn’t individual efforts to achieve inner peace, it wasn’t a compassionate attitude toward others that might have led to timely preventative action, but rather a collective, fanatical, over-the-top obsession with impending doom. It was useless, the man said, to deny that suffering of immense magnitude lay ahead, or that there’d be any escaping it. How, then, should we live?

Sigrid Nunez, What Are You Going Through: A Novel (Riverhead Books, September 8, 2020)


Notes:

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

I want to reinstate a respect for soil. We must touch the soil. How many times do we touch our mobile phone every day? Maybe 100 times. How many times do we touch the soil? Hardly ever. We must give dignity to peasants, farmers and gardeners. We are all part of this healthy web of life maintained by soil. The Latin word humus means soil. The words human, humility and humus all come from the same root. When humans lose contact with soil, they are no longer humans.

Satish Kumar, from “The Link Between Soil, Soul and Society” (The Guardian)


Notes: Quote via Liquid Light and Running Trees. Photo – Soil by Alexandra

Sunday Morning

“Mansfield’s last note, from an unfinished story, ends with an observation that only the dying Mansfield would make: “It was an exquisite day. It was one of those days so clear, so still, so silent you almost feel the earth itself has stopped in astonishment at its own beauty.”

~ Yiyun Li, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life


Photo: “Clear Day” by Zoo Human

She always bats 1.000

As Rob Watson, one of my favorite environmental teachers, likes to remind people: “Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics. That’s all she is.”

You cannot sweet-talk her. You cannot spin her. You cannot manipulate her. And you certainly cannot tell her, “Mother Nature, stop ruining my beautiful stock market.”

No, no, no. Mother Nature will always and only do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate, and “Mother Nature always bats last,” says Watson, “and she always bats 1.000.”

Do not mess with Mother Nature.

Thomas L. FriedmanWith the Coronavirus, It’s Again Trump vs. Mother Nature  (NY Times, March 31, 2020)


Photo: Economic Times

Sunday Morning

No opera, no gilded columns, no wine-dark seats…
no altos, no basses
and violins sobbing as one; no opera house,
no museum, no actual theatre, no civic center–
and what else? Only the huge doors of clouds
with the setting disc through which we leave and enter…
No masterpieces in huge frames to worship,
on such banalities has life been spent
in brightness, and yet there are the days
when every street corner rounds itself into
a sunlit surprise, a painting or a phrase,
canoes drawn up by the market, the harbour’s blue…
So much to do still, all of it praise.

~ Derek Walcott, from “No Opera” in White Egrets


Notes:

  • Poem Source – Cha Journal Blog. Image: Via Mennyfox55
  • Excerpt from “‘White Egrets” book review by Tom Payne in The Telegraph: “But some poems startle with their directness and truth; the images connect, and the ebbing tide leaves some real treasure on the beach. Among a handful of pearls is a love letter to his home, modest as Ithaca, with resonances of the poet’s life.”
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