The Aesthetic Voice Of Nature

“The function of art is to free the spirit of man and to invigorate and enlarge his vision”
— Katherine Dreier

A human’s first encounter with a pattern in Nature is almost always accompanied by an emotion coming from our physical senses – usually stimulated by Nature’s beauty. Seeing a majestic mountain peak or dawn’s golden light, hearing the beautiful song of a bird, the smell of fresh rain, or feeling a rush of wind are all experiences of beauty provided to us by nature.

Aesthetic perception can evoke many emotions. According to Peter Saint-Andre:

“it can inspire, enlighten, send shivers up the spine, delight, anger, frighten; it can make one think, feel, shake one’s head in astonishment, cry, laugh out loud; it can evoke feelings of triumph, melancholy, light-heartedness, serenity, excitement, boredom, rightness, anxiety, joy, sorrow.”

Aesthetic perception offers the power of deep focus. For example, when one focuses the right brain through writing, sketching, or photography, one sees patterns and relationships that are otherwise overlooked.

Aesthetic perception can raise questions. But, there are questions with answers and questions without. Nature’s logical voice works on questions with answers – that is, a problem of such a kind and stated with such clarity that it is certain to have a definite answer. That answer may take ten years to find, or a hundred, but an answer exists. By contrast, in the world of aesthetics, the question is often more interesting than the answer, and often an answer doesn’t exist. How does one answer a question such as “What is beauty?” In Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet he says:

“We should try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.”

That first sensory encounter with a pattern in nature is accompanied by the emotion of a beautiful happening. No matter what might happen later, that first response is aesthetic. And, that aesthetic response is usually the avenue to a spiritual experience where one connects to Nature within one’s soul.

That spiritual experience is discussed in the next blog entry.

Your comments are welcome !!!

The Spiritual Voice Of Nature

“Even a stone, and more easily a flower or a bird, could show you the way back to God, to the Source, to yourself. When you look at it or hold it and let it be without imposing a word or a mental label on it, a sense of awe, of wonder, arises within you. Its essence silently communicates itself to you and reflects your own existence back to you.” — Eckhart Tolle

Nature’s spiritual voice emphasizes the depth of intimately “knowing” and not just “knowing about”. Not simply naming something and its attributes. It is the voice of value and meaning. It is the voice of sanctity – a voice of awe and reverence for all that lives. The spiritual voice evokes a search for the larger dimension of unity, context, and balance. A search for interrelationships. That search results in a deep resonance in the innermost center of our soul in which we lose our separateness and become one with Nature. That voice evokes a feelings of gratitude, awe, wonder, and being connected to a whole. Thoreau describes this as being “at oneness”.

Hearing Nature’s spiritual voice means being present to and engaged with whatever is happening at the moment. Listening to Nature’s spiritual voice is being free of a sense of time. Eckhart Tolle describes this as being in the “Now” – completely free of ties to the past or the future.

Nature’s spiritual voice communicates a reverence for life — a philosophy that says that the only thing we’re really sure of is that we live, and want to go on living. And this is something that we share with everything else that lives – from elephants to blades of grass. We are brothers and sisters to all living things. Albert Schweitzer expressed this idea of reverence for life, in “Out of My Life and Thought”.

“Who among us knows what significance any other kind of life has? For the truly ethical man, all life is sacred, including that which from the human point of view seems lower in scale. If a person has been touched by the ethic of Reverence for Life, he injures and destroys life only when he cannot avoid doing so, and never from thoughtlessness.”

There is that aesthetic voice that speaks as we absorb the beauty of the moment. The wonder and awe of the color, the form, and the pattern. And there is the spiritual voice that speaks with sanctity as appreciate the interrelationship of an object with ourselves and our surroundings. That awe of knowing that everything somehow fits together.

But at some moment, we may yearn for another kind of understanding. Our left brain kicks in as it attempts to explain how and why an object is formed. We want to “know about” the beauty we are experiencing. The next blog entry emphasizes Nature’s logical voice.

Your comments are welcome !!

The Logical Voice Of Nature

A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.
– Albert Einstein

Nature’s logical voice provides tangible labels, judgments, facts, analyses, and opinions about a pattern in nature. It is a voice that speaks with lists, numbers and computer simulations. It asks about such things as size, habitat, movements, and chemical makeup.

Nature’s analytical voice communicates patterns such as the center a sunflower where the florets are laid out in a definite geometric order. The angle between one floret and its outbound neighbor along a spiral, is a constant angle of 137.51 degrees. This empirical observation leads to questions (and further research) about why this arrangement exists. In fact, we find that this and other spiral arrangements are ubiquitous in nature. We see spirals in sea shells, sheep horns, strawberries, and pine cones – to name a few.

This process of exploration and discovery can become a stunning synthesis of the aesthetic, the spiritual, and the ideas of modern science. The analytical has a strangely spiritual component to its voice as it defines factual unities amongst seemingly diverse patterns in nature. There are similar patterns of order, symmetry, self similarity, self organization, Fibonacci numbers, scaling patterns, and networks across widely diverse natural objects. Almost always, these logical sequences produce patterns that have a strong aesthetic appeal as well. Fractal images, for example. What is quite surprising is that many of these unities work in harmony with each other. They are interrelated.

So, nature’s analytical voice can express, in quantitative terms, the harmony and the interrelationships that are communicated by nature’s aesthetic and spiritual voices.

The next and final post in this series on Nature’s voices summarizes these ideas. Please feel free to comment.

A Synthesis Of Nature’s Voices

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”
-William Blake

Nature’s three voices, the aesthetic, the spiritual, and the logical, are separate expressions from Nature that are deeply interrelated and sing in harmony. Science has shown that there are many diverse patterns in Nature that exhibit similar characteristics that are interrelated. It is almost as if Nature’s spiritual voice that focuses on relationships is in synergy with Nature’s logical voice. Moreso, these same patterns in Nature exhibit great aesthetic beauty in their symmetry, order, and self similarity. Again, a joining of voices.

In my view, it is difficult to explain the synergy of these three points of view simply as happening by chance alone or simply a product of our imagination. The trend is way too prevalent in Nature. The synergy exists between seemingly diverse patterns in Nature. In metaphorical terms, Nature’s patterns are interconnected and sing together with the same three voices.

I leave the reader to ponder this Unity of voices among Nature’s patterns — both animate and inanimate.

Thanks for reading this blog post. The purpose for these blogs is to develop a dialog between myself and my readers. You are encouraged to offer your comments in the space provided below.

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The Character of Nature’s Patterns

I am a nature photographer because photography provides a wonderful conduit for engaging patterns in nature.  I am not looking for wildlife “trophy” shots or artistic landscapes that can be hung on a wall.  I am looking for encounters with nature where I am engaged at a perceptual and spiritual level. Whether I get a picture is secondary to the experience of my senses. The joy of living in that moment becomes paramount.

Mike Moats is also a nature photographer. Like myself, he publishes eBooks on his special areas of expertise. He has published a wonderful book called Finding Character In Nature. He emphasizes the importance of “…finding the features that reveal the unique character of a flower, leaf, rock, or pattern in the earth…”.  Mike says that distinctive shapes, remarkable lines, exceptional contrast, unusual patterns, unique textures, and special lighting are all character. All of the items in his list appeal to the perceptual — the senses. For this reason, I believe that Mike’s list is important.

Miksang is a Tibetan word meaning “good eye”. It is a form of contemplative photography that attempts to bring the viewer back into the original contemplative state of the author of an image. Miksang requires letting go of the currents of mental activity that obscure our natural insight and awareness. With a quiet spirit that permits living in the present moment, one is able to let his or her senses engage the character of nature’s patterns that Mike Moats mentions.

So, find yourself a quiet spot in the woods or seashore. Acquire a quiet spirit by shaking off past and future thoughts – focusing only on the present moment. Then, through your perceptual senses, lock your soul onto a pattern in nature and engage its special character. Its distinctive shapes, its remarkable lines, its exceptional contrast, its unusual patterns, its unique textures, or the special lighting by which it is illuminated.

Thank you Mike for a wonderful idea.

The Analytic Aspect of Patterns In Nature

A recent post from Brad Dutton on my web page raised a question which I chose to answer and I’m repeating here. He asked: “…I am starting to wonder if there is a standard way to analyze nature. Something that might even be like a software algorithm. So your analytic aspect is what interests me. Do you have a section strictly to do with the analytic aspect ?”

I answered, in part, as follows:

Until recently, Western science has taken the worldview that any knowledge can be gained by breaking something down to its lowest common denominators and examining same by predictions using mathematics. The process is called “reductionism”. It has resulted in many “mathematical laws” that attempt to predict the actions of components (Newton’s law, etc.etc.). In fact, most Patterns in Nature books that I’ve read (typically written by mathematicians or their advocates) insist that patterns can be described through mathematical laws.That is a very incomplete point of view.

For centuries, a different view of nature has been held by the Confucian “Li”. A very good explanation can be viewed at:
http://liology.wordpress.com/category/chinese-thought/the-li-series/.

The Li says that nature is described by organizing principles rather than mathematical laws. The Li emphasizes a profound truth in nature – that everything is connected. Everything is a complex system. It goes on to explain that nature needs to be described as a set of organizing principles. (not as a set of mathematical laws as proposed by the reductionist paradigm)

We’ve known for some time that the behavior of complex systems cannot be predicted by mathematical laws. They can only be described algorithmically where the final outcome is never predictable or known. This gradual shift to a systematic paradigm by Western science has taken place only in the last 20-30 years. But, if you are looking for a way to analyze nature, I believe you’ll need to start by thinking “simulation” rather than “computation”.

What makes all of this very interesting, Brad, is that a guy named Geoffrey West has been recently suggesting that there is a “unity” in nature (he never dares to couch it using that term) that can be described using a mathematical law that we know as a power law. He suggests that many interrelating natural phenomena, at a systems level, are interrelated by their scaling power law exponent which is some multiple of “1/4”. He goes on to explain that the proposed reason is that natural systems are all connected and require some form of network architecture to be connected. He suggests that these networks are scale-free and have a dimension of “1/4” or a multiple of that. Much of this can be described with the Pareto Distribution which is a power law distribution. None of this is “exact”!! None is predictable. But it may now be explainable.

To quote West: “… biological systems obey a host of remarkably simple and systematic empirical scaling laws which relate how organismal features change with size over many orders of magnitude. These include fundamental quantities like metabolic rate (the rate at which energy must be supplied to sustain an organism) , time scales (like lifespan and heart rate) and sizes (such as the length of the aorta or the height of a tree trunk). It is remarkable that all of these can be expressed as power law relationships with exponents that are simple multiples of ¼ (e.g. ¼, ¾, 3/8) . They appear to be valid for all forms of life whether it be mammalian, avian, reptilian, unicellular or plant-like. These “laws” are clearly telling us something important about the way life is organized and the constraints under which life has evolved. ”

To me, in your search of a way to analyze nature or to organize nature’s “information”, you are dwelling in a very important field. Unlike Western science’s reductionism, however, with West’s ideas you are on a path where your “analysis” would be by examining nature’s organizing principles instead of trying to predict nature through impossible mathematical laws.

In the course of your work, I would be looking strongly at self-organizing systems (emergence), self-similarity (fractals), network theory (particularly scale-free and small-world networks), and scaling (power law growth and change).

Below are some references (to name only a few) that I’ve found useful:

http://complexityblog.com/papers/aaron/Amaral-Complex%20Networks.pdf

http://research.yahoo.com/files/w_ARS.pdf

http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn/courses/2004/cscs535/review.pdf

http://hep.ucsb.edu/courses/ph6b_99/0111299sci-scaling.html

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12877984

Google “Geoffrey West” where there are at least two of his lectures on YouTube where he talks about the idea of a universal scaling (power law) exponent. West is the “man” on this subject.

http://www.alliancemagazine.org/en/content/interview-geoffrey-west

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7108406426776765294#

http://people.ccmr.cornell.edu/~ginsparg/Phys446-546/gbwscl99.pdf

Google “Strogatz”, “Duncan Watts”, or “Albert-Laszlo Barabasi” for all sorts of material on netwoks.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/steven_strogatz_on_sync.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-organization

Many more. But, this should give you a start.

South Georgia Island – Crown Jewel Of The Southern Ocean

I am the albatross that waits for you at the bottom of the earth.
I am the forgotten soul of the dead sailors who crossed Cape Horn
From all the seas of the world
But they did not die in the furious waves.
Today they fly in my wings to eternity.
In the last trough of the Antarctic winds
— Sara Vial

Being a whale scientist, I thought that my first experience at South Georgia Island would be to see remnants of the age of whaling and to absorb the reality of the Antarctic heroic era. There is no doubt that I lived a bit of history as I stood in front of the Stromness manager’s villa where Shackleton ended his famous odyssey. I was moved as I read Browning’s passage on Shackelton’s headstone at Grytvyken. And, I felt the ghosts of whaling captains and whale station workers as I walked alone among the ruins of two whaling stations where, for over a hundred years, man slaughtered huge numbers of marine mammals — bringing them close to extinction.

But, my South Georgia Island experience was more mystical than factual or scientific. Here I saw a nearly pristine place. I say “nearly” because the remnants of whaling and sealing still exist but the people and ships are gone. Nature has once again taken over. Truly, animal life in a pristine way has reclaimed this wonderfully remote place.

South Georgia Island is located in the Southern Ocean over 2000 km east of the southern tip of Argentina. It is near the convergence of two major ocean currents where there is considerable upwelling of nutrients. This results in a vitality of life. South Georgia is a place where nature has been left to do its own thing without human influence. All while towering, rugged peaks endowed with dotted snow poke their heads through cloudy mists – like a maiden reluctant to reveal her beauty all at once. One can lie on the tussock grass and literally feel nature through all of the senses. One’s skin feels the force of nature. Driving winds, horizontal rain and cutting snow bring an acute sense of awareness. The eyes absorb vaulting peaks, a sea full of bergs, billowing tussock, and rolling heath.

One’s ears hear a mixture of sounds – seals defending their territory, penguin chicks and seal pups calling out, pairs mating. These sounds reach the ear all at once to create a dissonant but energizing music that no human could ever produce.

One is able to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel all at once. Almost a sensory overload – perhaps that is the emotion. It all does something wonderful to my soul.

But then there is the enormity of it all. The macro rather than the micro. The rugged interrelationships that are revealed in this enormity. The delicacy of life. The ability to survive in such a harsh environment. There is space for all – even though it is an island. But yet, the island is not the creature’s habitat. It’s merely a waypoint for those creatures who visit its plains, grasses, and cliffs to breed, birth, and molt. Except for the predatory and scavenging birds and the newborn, no one eats here.

As I absorbed this grandeur, I found that my intellect was also a sense. One quickly realizes that things are not really random. There are patterns. The patterns of procreation and birth. The patterns of groups. The patterns of sound. In these patterns I sensed an underlying intelligence.

I witnessed elephant seal newborn pups immediately move to mother’s nipple just after birth. I saw skuas sense an impending birth or death – waiting for the nourishment of a dead seal or the placenta released after a pup’s birth. I noted some marvelous automatic reflexes. A gull in flight flaps its wings or glides. And ever so slightly, the bird’s tail is moving up and down as it acts as an elevator or air brake.

How does a bird acquire these skills? A wandering albatross doesn’t teach its chick how to fly. In fact the parents leave long before the juvenile makes its maiden flight. Yet, with lots of practice on the ground, the chick does gain confidence (knowing somehow that it must get airborne to survive) and soars away. How does the chick figure this out?

The king penguins on South Georgia were apparently communicating with their vocalizations. I observed serial vocal patterns between king penguin groups – one then another. All along, the juvenile penguins were close by as if to take it all in.

I’ve visited South Georgia twice now. I’ve concluded that this place is the crown jewel of the Southern Ocean. It is an exciting, remote, and pristine island that teems with birth, life, and death.

South Georgia is a place where life begins and ends in its rawest form. It is not just a place. It is a congruence of unspeakable beauty with the rawest of life energy. One needs to find his own mound of tussock grass, settle in, and let the senses be filled. In doing so, one brings his soul in tune with all of this beauty. And that’s what I did.

What Is A Pattern In Nature ?

A Pattern In Nature Is A Connected Set Of Interrelationships

Heaven is my father and earth is my mother, and I, a small child, find myself placed intimately between them. What fills the universe I regard as my body; what directs the universe I regard as my Nature. All people are my brothers and sisters; all things are my companions.
— Chang Tsai

A friend of mine recently emailed me asking about my definition of a pattern in Nature saying: “ I am curious about your definition of patterns. I would define pattern as a repetition of an element. I get the image in my mind of orderliness. I think it would be helpful for the average person, like me, with no education in art or nature to understand your perspective, your definition of patterns.”

The word “pattern” is a term that typically describes repeating visual objects or events. An example is M.C. Escher’s 1938 woodcut entitled “Sky and Water 1”. Here we have a series of repeating fish and birds. Each object is precisely placed by the artist into a static display.

Such fixed and predictable patterns as Escher’s woodcut are, of course, rarely found in Nature. The design and placement of patterns in Nature do not come from an artist’s hand but from the connected and dynamic interactions of natural objects in both space and time. They interact with each other and are all components of yet larger patterns. These systems of interacting patterns that abound in Nature are called complex adaptive systems. A developing organism, a tree, a mountain stream, a maturing ecosystem, and the evolving biosphere are all examples of connected and dynamic systems of patterns in nature.

Fish schools are excellent examples of patterns in Nature. Here the group is formed because of simple rules applied locally by each individual. There is no need for a leader or overseer to dictate to the other fish how fast they must swim and in which direction. Every individual sorts this out for itself — solely by watching its nearest neighbors and adjusting its reaction to theirs. The adjustments are made according to three rules. Rule #1: Move toward the average position of my nearest neighbors. Rule #2: Move in the same direction as my nearest neighbors. Rule #3: Maintain a minimum distance from my nearest neighbors. These rules are applied when an individual fish senses the proximity of its nearest neighbors through the use of its eyes and its lateral lines – pressure-sensing organisms that run along the length of its body.

The collective action of individuals (each a pattern in Nature) following these rules results in a self-organizing super-organism, itself a pattern in Nature, with a behavior that is greater than the sum of its component patterns. This phenomenon of pattern emergence is ubiquitous in Nature where transient and interconnecting sub-patterns operate.

It is important to note that patterns in Nature are both irregular and finite. Escher’s woodcut has both a mathematical regularity and can easily extend beyond the frame onto infinity. A fish school, a honeycomb, and a tree trunk are all organized but can be irregular in shape. Their forms also occupy only a finite space.

Escher portrays a pattern that manifests a static order. Patterns in Nature, just like the fish school, are manifestations of an underlying dynamic order. Instead of being formed by the hands and soul of an artist, these patterns in Nature are dynamically formed by individual group members according to a set of organizing principles.

Historically, Western science has viewed Nature as constructed from a set of fixed laws that can predict almost anything through mathematics. The predictive equations of Newton and Kepler have sent men to the moon and have been powerful models in the fields of physics and chemistry. But, this “reductionist” worldview fails when addressing any complex system of interrelated phenomena and patterns. For example, the reductionist’s worldview of laws and equations cannot predict the complex behavior of biological systems like fish schools, stock market performance, the weather, and other patterns in nature.

The ancient Chinese described patterns in Nature as systematic organizing principles instead of mathematical equations. This worldview, known as the Li (pronounced “lee”), has been around for millennia. The Li represents the organizing principles that underlie every aspect of the universe. Jeremy Lent’s blog says that: “Before a thing exists, there first must exist its principles of organization… The concept of the Li fills in a missing dimension to our Western reductionist worldview while bringing us closer to understanding all complex adaptive systems that include patterns in nature.” The idea of the Li is that it emphasizes a holistic understanding of the universe by examining its organizing principles rather than by studying individual behavior through mathematical models. Joseph Needham says “Li is in effect a Great Pattern in which all lesser patterns are included…”

Only in the last few years has modern science begun to embrace a holistic worldview to study interrelated phenomena. What has emerged is the examination of complex adaptive systems, self-similarity (fractals), self-organization, and chaos theory. These subjects all address the idea of systematic organizing principles. The fish school noted above was described in terms of its organizing principles (the organizational rule set for individual fish) rather than through equations and physical laws. The tool used by Western science to study these organizing principles is computer simulation rather than mathematical equations.

Jeremy Lent goes on to say that “This highlights a fundamental difference between Western mental constructs of the universe, with an external Lawmaker appointing order to the natural world and enforcing it, and the Chinese construct, where order arises from the intrinsic relationship between things in the universe ….. This is the same dynamic being discovered by Western complexity theorists and systems biologists in recent decades, as they investigate the principles of self-organization in the natural world.” This merging of Western and Eastern ideas serves to build a conceptual unity that will ultimately help define the internal dynamics of patterns in Nature.

The question: “What is a pattern in Nature?”, can be answered by turning to the Li. A pattern in nature is a set of dynamic organizing principles that, when applied, result in an interconnecting organic or inorganic form or process. Put another way:

A pattern in Nature is a connected set of interrelationships that are manifested in some form or function.

This definition of a pattern in Nature by way of the Li is profound. For it describes a connection between all things in our universe. Not just a spiritual connection but also physical connections that are bound by real energy and real function. In thinking about the Li and its approach to defining patterns in Nature, one begins to see unity in Nature where all things are somehow connected through their organizing principles. Patterns in Nature are dynamic connecting interrelationships between everything. They are the manifestation of the fact that everything is connected.

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness, you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

Please Comment 

The purpose of my essays is to develop a dialog with my readers. In these essays, you have the opportunity to share comments and ideas about a topic. Please comment below.
 You are strongly encouraged to become one of my 11,000+ followers on Twitter. My Twitter ID is @ballenamar . With Twitter, in addition to receiving Tweets that announce my essays, you will see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.

 

We Are All Connected

 

 

While we may know some facts about nature, we do not really “know” nature.

 

Thomas Merton, the writer, poet, artist, and Trappist monk, once said in his essay entitled “A Search For Solitude”: “Man can know all about God’s creation by examining its phenomena, by dissecting and experimenting and this is all good. But it is misleading, because with this kind of knowledge you do not really know the beings you know. You only know about them”.

Most of our contact with nature is in passing. We drive by. We take a glimpse. We get a quick emotional “fix”. Nothing more. We are not connecting. There is no true immersion. We are not totally engaged in the moment. We are ready to move on rather than linger a while. We are preoccupied with “things” in our lives. We are not beholding nature. 

A forest is entered, not viewed. We do not really engage or know a forest until we are well within it both physically, aesthetically, and spiritually. Engaging nature means “knowing” rather than just “knowing about”. “Knowing” means observing and understanding how nature is connected. It means knowing our interrelationships, our connections, with our surroundings. It means us being connected with those surroundings – those patterns in nature.

LeafBut, how are we connected? Let’s address this question by first looking at a simple plant or tree leaf which you have found and are holding in your hand. That leaf is a pattern in nature. In fact, it is at least three patterns. Now, a pattern in nature can simply be a form or structure – such as the shape of the leaf. But, a pattern can also be a process like a behavior or metabolism in our bodies. A pattern can also mean the relationship between two patterns – like the ecosystem or food chain in a pond or in a forest.

Back to our leaf. It is obviously a physical pattern as we can see from its shape. But, we quickly see a second pattern – the veins in the leaf. These veins are shaped in a tree-like structure we call a fractal pattern. They serve a purpose which is another pattern. They transport energy to the plant and transport waste gases to the leaf for release into the atmosphere. Another pattern is the cells of the leaf. These cells are directly or indirectly connected to the veins. They contain chloroplasts which convert the sun’s energy into useful energy for the plant. These cells also bring in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They are all process patterns instead of structural patterns.

If we were to take our leaf and sit in a forest asking how we are connected to that forest and to nature, we might start by first looking at a plant’s connections as we just did. Ask the question: How am I connected to this leaf?

We humans have many of the same patterns as the leaf and the plant. First, we share some of the same genes. For example, mustard grass has 15% of the genes in the human genome. And, our lungs and kidneys have the same function and structure as the leaf veins – fractal patterns. Like the leaf, we inhale our atmosphere and exhale our waste products. And, of course, we have cells in our body. The fact is that there is a unity of pattern structures and functions between plants in our forest and us. There are connections on many levels. We know the forest because we know us. When you hold that leaf, you are holding a little bit of you.

Among the many beautiful trees there is one tree, set beside the stream, which calls you. You sit down, your back against the trunk. You feel the strength of that tree as you rest against it. You gradually become absorbed into its life, aware of its roots reaching down to draw strength and sustenance from Mother Earth. Its branches lift toward the sun, absorbing the life force from the sun and the air. You become aware of the flow of life from earth to heaven, the inbreathing and outbreathing. You become the tree.

— Paraphrased from The Still Voice

As we contemplate those features of our leaf that are similar to us, we may ask the following questions.

  • How am I related to this forest?
  • What patterns connect me to it and to Nature?
  • What patterns connect me to you?
  • What is the pattern that connects all of life and all that is not living?

As we sit in our forest, engaging Nature, and pondering these questions, we find ourselves considering the sacred. We find ourselves looking for the Creator in the Created as we ask: “What is the Pattern That Connects?”

In these questions about patterns and connections rests the core of “knowing” nature and nature’s patterns. We may never have complete answers, but we grow to “know” nature as we live the questions themselves.

Poet Alison Hawthorne Deming describes the connections between all things in her wonderfully profound poem “The Web”.

It is possible there is a certain
kind of beauty as large as the trees
that survive the five-hundred year fire,
the fifty-year flood, trees we can’t
comprehend even standing
beside them with outstretched arms
to gauge their span,
a certain kind of beauty
so strong, so deeply concealed
in relationship –black truffle
to red-backed vole to spotted owl
to Douglas fir, bats and gnats,
beetles and moss, flying squirrel
and the high-rise of a snag,
each needing and feeding the other—
a conversation so quiet
the human world can vanish into it?
A beauty moves in such a place
like snowmelt sieving through
the fungal mats that underlie and
interlace the giant firs, tunneling
under streams where cutthroat fry
live a meter deep in gravel, a beauty
fluming downstream over rocks
that have a hold on place
lasting longer than most nations,
sluicing under deadfall spanners
that rise and float to let floodwaters pass,
a beauty that fills the space of the forest
with music that can erupt as
varied thrush or warbler, calypso
orchid or stream violet, forest
a conversation not an argument,
a beauty gathering such clarity and force
it breaks the mind’s fearful hold on its
little moment steeping it in a more dense
Intelligibility, within which centuries
and distances answer each other
and speak at last with one and the same voice.

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

 

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Farewell To Stromness

The snow was blowing horizontally – biting and cutting my face. With my camera in hand, I laid on the snowy beach among the muck of animal feces and dead seal pups — crushed by testosterone laden males who were fighting to fornicate with the ladies of their earned harem.

We had traveled the rough seas of the Drake Passage, the graveyard ofCatcher Boat countless ships and their sailors – whose souls were gently guarded by the Wandering Albatross. Near South Georgia’s abandoned Stromness whaling station, the shore boat traversed the rough, sharp, brackish ice as it struggled to a snowy beach that greeted us with a cacophony of shrieks, trumpeting, and roars of life, of death, and the ecstasy of fornicating three ton bull elephant seals as they manhandled their harem.

Through all of this, among the mass of scat, I was in resonance with a wild nature now devoid of man. A far different kind of life and death struggle than that rendered by man’s killing and processing of the right whale at this place.

I was at the old (and now defunct) Stromness whaling station on South Georgia Island where the beached catcher boats were rotting away. I was watching not man’s brand of death that is never followed by life. Instead, through the driving elements, I was a privileged guest witnessing Nature’s dynamic web of life. A way of death that kindles new birth – new life.

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