Showing posts tagged nature

Their little dance

“Point is, what’s so wonderful is that every one of these flowers has a specific relationship with the insect that pollinates it. There’s a certain orchid that looks exactly like a certain insect so the insect is drawn to this flower, its double, its soul mate, and wants nothing more than to make love to it. And after the insect flies off, it spots another soul-mate flower and makes love to it, thus pollinating it. And neither the flower nor the insect will ever understand the significance of their lovemaking. I mean, how could they know that because of their little dance the world lives? But it does. By simply doing what they’re designed to do, something large and magnificent happens. In this sense, they show us how to live—how the only barometer you have is your heart. How, when you spot your flower, you can’t let anything get in your way.”

— from Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufman, directed by Spike Jonze

(Photograph: orchid mantis by Jason Fried. Thank you, Mr. Fried and 37signals.)

The great cockroach saga

I’ve learned details about cockroach biology that make me practically want to salute them. Their behavior, the variety of species in the family, the adaptations they have evolved to live with humans or, in most cases, without them—all are part of the great cockroach saga. It is the story of persistence, and resistance, of sensitivity and ceaseless change. Change is indeed the roach’s trademark. In the essay called “There is Nothing Like a Roach,” I mention the miraculous effectiveness of the pesticide Combat in keeping the urban roach population at bay. Combat still works better than an old-fashioned spritz from a can, but as of this writing, late 1994, the cockroaches in my Washington, D.C. apartment are starting to get the better of the little black disks. My kitchen is polka-dotted with two dozen Combat parlors, but still some roaches survive. Either the insects have at last evolved a mechanism for detoxifying the poison or—my belief—they have learned to avoid eating it in the first place. After all, I have known house mice clever enough to shun glue traps, leaping like Olympic hurdlers over a series of them in order to reach a bag of ramen noodles sitting on the other side. Clearly these mice had learned something by watching the fate of brethren who’d stepped on the traps. If mice can improve themselves through observation, rather than just mutation, why not roaches? And if that sort of elasticity, robustness and lust for life isn’t beautiful, then not much good can be said for evolution, the mother of all invention, the one who stands by the side of the passing bio-marathon and cries, “Looking good! Keep it up! Stay alive! Stay alive.”

— from the introduction to The Beauty of the Beastly: New Views of the Nature of Life by Natalie Angier (Houghton Mifflin, 1995)

(Image: Thank you, Barnes & Noble.)

The great cockroach saga

I’ve learned details about cockroach biology that make me practically want to salute them. Their behavior, the variety of species in the family, the adaptations they have evolved to live with humans or, in most cases, without them—all are part of the great cockroach saga. It is the story of persistence, and resistance, of sensitivity and ceaseless change. Change is indeed the roach’s trademark. In the essay called “There is Nothing Like a Roach,” I mention the miraculous effectiveness of the pesticide Combat in keeping the urban roach population at bay. Combat still works better than an old-fashioned spritz from a can, but as of this writing, late 1994, the cockroaches in my Washington, D.C. apartment are starting to get the better of the little black disks. My kitchen is polka-dotted with two dozen Combat parlors, but still some roaches survive. Either the insects have at last evolved a mechanism for detoxifying the poison or—my belief—they have learned to avoid eating it in the first place. After all, I have known house mice clever enough to shun glue traps, leaping like Olympic hurdlers over a series of them in order to reach a bag of ramen noodles sitting on the other side. Clearly these mice had learned something by watching the fate of brethren who’d stepped on the traps. If mice can improve themselves through observation, rather than just mutation, why not roaches? And if that sort of elasticity, robustness and lust for life isn’t beautiful, then not much good can be said for evolution, the mother of all invention, the one who stands by the side of the passing bio-marathon and cries, “Looking good! Keep it up! Stay alive! Stay alive.”

— from the introduction to The Beauty of the Beastly: New Views of the Nature of Life by Natalie Angier (Houghton Mifflin, 1995)

(Image: Thank you, Barnes & Noble.)

Every single story that nature tells is gorgeous

“The beauty of the natural world lies in the details, and most of those details are not the stuff of calendar art. I have made it a kind of hobby, almost a mission, to write about organisms that many people find repugnant: spiders, scorpions, parasites, worms, rattlesnakes, dung beetles, hyenas. I have done so both out of a perverse preference for subjects that other writers generally have ignored, and because I hope to inspire in readers an appreciation for diversity, for imagination, for the twisted, webbed, infinite possibility of the natural world. Every single story that nature tells is gorgeous. She is the original Scheherazade, always with one more surprise to shake down from her sleeve. Of course, I can record only a tiny fraction of those stories, but what I offer represents a larger plea, for all the stories that can be told, for the preservation of nature on her own terms, complete with the golums and creeps and ogres of the world, the roaches, the snakes, the bloodsuckers, the lowlifes and the brutes.”

Natalie Angier, from The Beauty of the Beastly: New Views of the Nature of Life

(Image: Arachnid (Arachnida), print by Ernst Haeckel, Kunstformen der Natur, 1898. Thank you, Paleontology Online, Eric Gjerde, and Flickr.)

“I wanted her to understand how a land so peaceful could be shattered by earthquakes and war. I wanted her to understand why sometimes the gods bless us and why they  sometimes become angry and shake us, and fill our lives with pain. I want her to learn the lesson that nature teaches us. That we should not ask why we are wounded, only if the wound can be healed.”

— from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, screenplay by Shawn Slovo (based on the novel by Louis de Bernières)

martha-anne:

Another speculative internal illustration for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
www.martha-anne.co.uk

martha-anne:

Another speculative internal illustration for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

www.martha-anne.co.uk

(Reblogged from martha-anne)

This grand Mosque of Nature

“Ah, the bewildering vistas through the variegated pillars, taking in a strip of sea here, a mountain peak there, have an air of enchantment from which no human formula can release a pilgrim-soul…. Yes, the pine forests are the great mosques of Nature. And for art-lovers, what perennial beauty of an antique art is here. These majestic pillars arched with foliage, propping a light-green ceiling, from which cones hang in pairs and in clusters, and through which curiously shaped clouds can be seen moving in a cerulean sky …. The moving, swelling, flaming, flowing life is mystically interwoven in the evergreen ceiling and the stately colonnades. Ay, even the horizon yonder, with its planets and constellations rising and setting ever, is a part of the ceiling decoration.

“Here in this grand Mosque of Nature, I read my own Korân. I, Khalid, a Beduin in the desert of life, a vagabond on the highway of thought, I come to this glorious Mosque, the only place of worship open to me, to heal my broken soul in the perfumed atmosphere of its celestial vistas…. Here, then, I prostrate me and read a few Chapters of MY Holy Book. After which I resign myself to my eternal Mother and the soft western breezes lull me asleep. Yea, and even like my poor brother Moslem sleeping on his hair-mat in a dark corner of his airy Mosque, I dream my dream of contentment and resignation and love.”

— from The Book of Khalid by Ameen Rihani

(Photograph by Kimmo Savolainen. Thank you, Mr. Savolainen and behance.)

Getting along

If there’s anyone who’d really know what Robin the Frog meant when he sang about “somewhere else instead,” it would be Christopher McCandless. Or perhaps I am just misrepresenting my case here, as usual. Perhaps I imagine too much—or not enough. But I know what it’s like to want to just disappear. To go somewhere very far. To be no one in a place where I don’t have to meet or please anyone.

Looking back on her brief career as a high school teacher, a friend once told me that she was “not there” at all. She was somewhere else instead. Perhaps she meant that she kept hoping or working to get out of that job. And she did. I don’t know if she’s happy now. Or if she has attained the level or depth of happiness that her younger self thought was possible or necessary. The last time I talked to her, three years ago via Facebook, she sounded fine—in another country, with a husband and three kids plus the itch to keep getting her work published. She sounded settled.

McCandless didn’t want to settle—settle down anywhere or settle for anything. Unless it was the wilderness of his dreams. He had walked out on his life, not informing his family of his whereabouts. He believed he could give up everything to “commune with nature,” as my settled friend used to tease me about my own antisocial tendencies. He followed his bliss or whatever vision or cliché of fulfillment, self-awareness, or life-changing adventure he was going for.

Both Jon Krakauer, the author of Into the Wild, and Emile Hirsch, the actor who played McCandless (in the memorable film written and directed by Sean Penn), caution us against making judgments about the young man who lived his dream and died of starvation alone in the wilderness. Was McCandless merely stupid, irresponsible, arrogant, and suicidal? Was there any way we could understand what he was up to? Could we no longer remember the last time we experienced what Krakauer calls “a similar agitation of the soul”?

I’ve walked out on my life many times in many ways, causing much trouble for my family, friends, and coworkers. In my younger years, I found it easy to quit or to get lost. To dissociate from so-called ties or from my so-called self. My soul’s agitation led me to very interesting places. I was there when I needed to be there. I think I still have it in me to go somewhere else instead any time I please. But it’s not so easy now. Friends invite me to go with them someplace, to travel, and my first questions are: Do they have toilets there? Where’s the nearest hospital?  

Have I, too, settled? And so what if I no longer have the energy or itch to run away?

Robin would have told Chris: “Hey, pal, why don’t you stay and sit here with me for a while? The view isn’t breathtaking, but it won’t kill us, either.” Perhaps Chris would give the little frog some time or the benefit of the doubt. Then he’d smile and tell Robin: “I know what you’re getting at. I’d be glad to be there, too. But, as you know, there’s also something to be said for somewhere else instead.” And they’d sit and talk a little more. Sometimes they’d just be quiet. I think they’d get along.

Carl Sagan (1934–1996)
By far the best way I know to engage the religious sensibility, the sense of awe, is to look up on a clear night. I believe that it is very difficult to know who we are until we understand where and when we are. I think everyone in every culture has felt a sense of awe and wonder looking at the sky. This is reflected throughout the world in both science and religion. Thomas Carlyle said that wonder is the basis of worship. And Albert Einstein said, “I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research.” So if both Carlyle and Einstein could agree on something, it has a modest possibility of being right.
— from The Varieties of Scientific Experience, Chapter 1 (“Nature and Wonder: A Reconaissance of Heaven”)
(Photo: Thank you, last.fm.)

Carl Sagan (1934–1996)

By far the best way I know to engage the religious sensibility, the sense of awe, is to look up on a clear night. I believe that it is very difficult to know who we are until we understand where and when we are. I think everyone in every culture has felt a sense of awe and wonder looking at the sky. This is reflected throughout the world in both science and religion. Thomas Carlyle said that wonder is the basis of worship. And Albert Einstein said, “I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research.” So if both Carlyle and Einstein could agree on something, it has a modest possibility of being right.

— from The Varieties of Scientific Experience, Chapter 1 (“Nature and Wonder: A Reconaissance of Heaven”)

(Photo: Thank you, last.fm.)

Does trying to understand the universe at all betray a lack of humility? I believe it is true that humility is the only just response in a confrontation with the universe, but not a humility that prevents us from seeking the nature of the universe we are admiring. If we seek that nature, then love can be informed by truth instead of being based on ignorance or self-deception. If a Creator God exists, would He or She or It or whatever the appropriate pronoun is, prefer a kind of sodden blockhead who worships while understanding nothing? Or would He prefer His votaries to admire the real universe in all its intricacy? I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship.
Carl Sagan, “Nature and Wonder,” in The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, edited by Ann Druyan
What we are doing here [in our furniture workshop] is our reality. We have no axes to grind. But I think there are times when one should go underground when [one] can’t stand what is going on in the outside world, and that is what we did a long time ago. It is a thing of going into the catacombs and letting what is Caesar’s be unto Caesar. I would say, get the hell away from the city, away from the civilization, and go way back into the headwaters of the Orinoco or the Brahmaputra. Start over, crawl into little areas that are open to you and create little cells. I’m not saying 10 million people could do it, but I think the craftsman could. We wouldn’t need urban planners or sociologists or college students, just people who can do things, who enjoy nature and the life of the spirit.
George Nakashima, “The Craftsman,” LIFE ( June 12, 1970)
William Ackerman
My greatest happiness comes from nature and from beholding something that is remarkable in other people or in creation .  .  .  .
 .  .  .  I’m not one who has a lack of ideas and interests. I wish I had time for all of them. So, am I content? No. Do I have a lot of happiness in my life? Yes. Do I also have demons and do I have periods of tremendous fear and sadness? Yes. Thank God for the outside world. Thank God for Vermont. Thank God for physical work. If I couldn’t go out and clear land and thin forests and build another building here or build a barn for someone, I would just die. And I love surfing too. I love waves and that’s maybe my happiest thing.
— from “Will Ackerman: Beholding the Remarkable” by Anil Prasad (innerviews.org)
(Photo: Thank you, Fiona Joy Hawkins and windhamhillhat.)

William Ackerman

My greatest happiness comes from nature and from beholding something that is remarkable in other people or in creation .  .  .  .

.  .  .  I’m not one who has a lack of ideas and interests. I wish I had time for all of them. So, am I content? No. Do I have a lot of happiness in my life? Yes. Do I also have demons and do I have periods of tremendous fear and sadness? Yes. Thank God for the outside world. Thank God for Vermont. Thank God for physical work. If I couldn’t go out and clear land and thin forests and build another building here or build a barn for someone, I would just die. And I love surfing too. I love waves and that’s maybe my happiest thing.

— from “Will Ackerman: Beholding the Remarkable” by Anil Prasad (innerviews.org)

(Photo: Thank you, Fiona Joy Hawkins and windhamhillhat.)

Gerald Durrell (1925-1995)

Chairete,” [Yani, the shepherd] called in his deep voice, the beautiful Greek greeting, “chairete, kyrioi … be happy.”

The goats poured among the olives, uttering stammering cries to each other, the leader’s bell clonking rhythmically. The chaffinches tinkled excitedly. A robin puffed out his chest like a tangerine among the myrtles and gave a trickle of song. The island was drenched with dew, radiant with early morning sun, full of stirring life. Be happy. How could anyone be anything else in such a season?

— from “The Sweet Spring” (in My Family and Other Animals)

(The full text is here. Photo: yogadogsandchocolate)

The luminous trails
The phosphorescence was particularly good that night. By plunging your hand into the water and dragging it along you could draw a wide golden-green ribbon of cold fire across the sea, and when you dived as you hit the surface it seemed as though you had plunged into a frosty furnace of glinting light. When we were tired we waded out of the sea, the water running off our bodies so that we seemed to be on fire, and lay on the sand to eat. Then, as the wine was opened at the end of the meal, as if by arrangement, a few fireflies appeared in the olives behind us—a sort of overture to the show.
First of all there were just two or three green specks, sliding smoothly through the trees, winking regularly. But gradually more and more appeared, until parts of the olive grove were lit with a weird green glow. Never had we seen so many fireflies congregated in one spot; they flicked through the trees in swarms, they crawled on the grass, the bushes and the olive-trunks, they drifted in swarms over our heads and landed on the rugs, like green embers. Glittering streams of them flew out over the bay, swirling over the water, and then, right on cue, the porpoises appeared, swimming in line into the bay, rocking rhythmically through the water, their backs as if painted with phosphorus. In the centre of the bay they swam round, diving and rolling, occasionally leaping high in the air and falling back into a conflagration of light. With the fireflies above and the illuminated porpoises below it was a fantastic sight. We could even see the luminous trails beneath the surface where the porpoises swam in fiery patterns across the sandy bottom, and when they leapt high in the air the drops of emerald glowing water flicked from them, and you could not tell if it was phosphorescence or fireflies you were looking at. For an hour or so we watched this pageant, and then slowly the fireflies drifted back inland and farther down the coast. Then the porpoises lined up and sped out to sea, leaving a flaming path behind them that flickered and glowed, and then died slowly, like a glowing branch laid across the bay.
— Gerald Durrell, “The Pageant of Fireflies” (in My Family and Other Animals)
(The full text is here. Photo: eveninghour.com.)

The luminous trails

The phosphorescence was particularly good that night. By plunging your hand into the water and dragging it along you could draw a wide golden-green ribbon of cold fire across the sea, and when you dived as you hit the surface it seemed as though you had plunged into a frosty furnace of glinting light. When we were tired we waded out of the sea, the water running off our bodies so that we seemed to be on fire, and lay on the sand to eat. Then, as the wine was opened at the end of the meal, as if by arrangement, a few fireflies appeared in the olives behind us—a sort of overture to the show.

First of all there were just two or three green specks, sliding smoothly through the trees, winking regularly. But gradually more and more appeared, until parts of the olive grove were lit with a weird green glow. Never had we seen so many fireflies congregated in one spot; they flicked through the trees in swarms, they crawled on the grass, the bushes and the olive-trunks, they drifted in swarms over our heads and landed on the rugs, like green embers. Glittering streams of them flew out over the bay, swirling over the water, and then, right on cue, the porpoises appeared, swimming in line into the bay, rocking rhythmically through the water, their backs as if painted with phosphorus. In the centre of the bay they swam round, diving and rolling, occasionally leaping high in the air and falling back into a conflagration of light. With the fireflies above and the illuminated porpoises below it was a fantastic sight. We could even see the luminous trails beneath the surface where the porpoises swam in fiery patterns across the sandy bottom, and when they leapt high in the air the drops of emerald glowing water flicked from them, and you could not tell if it was phosphorescence or fireflies you were looking at. For an hour or so we watched this pageant, and then slowly the fireflies drifted back inland and farther down the coast. Then the porpoises lined up and sped out to sea, leaving a flaming path behind them that flickered and glowed, and then died slowly, like a glowing branch laid across the bay.

Gerald Durrell, “The Pageant of Fireflies” (in My Family and Other Animals)

(The full text is here. Photo: eveninghour.com.)

Annie Dillard
Cruelty is a mystery, and the waste of pain. But if we describe a world to compass these things, a world that is a long, brute game, then we bump against another mystery: the inrush of power and light, the canary that sings on the skull. Unless all ages and races of men have been deluded by the same mass hypnotist (who?), there seems to be such a thing as beauty, a grace wholly gratuitous. About five years ago I saw a mockingbird make a straight vertical descent from the roof gutter of a four-story building. It was an act as careless and spontaneous as the curl of a stem or the kindling of a star.
The mockingbird took a single step into the air and dropped. His wings were still folded against his sides as though he were singing from a limb and not falling, accelerating thirty-two feet per second per second, through empty air. Just a breath before he would have been dashed to the ground, he unfurled his wings with exact, deliberate care, revealing the broad bars of white, spread his elegant, white-banded tail, and so floated onto the grass. I had just rounded a corner when his insouciant step caught my eye; there was no one else in sight. The fact of his free fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest. The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.
— from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
(Photograph by Phyllis Rose. Source: fishermage.blogspot.com.)

Annie Dillard

Cruelty is a mystery, and the waste of pain. But if we describe a world to compass these things, a world that is a long, brute game, then we bump against another mystery: the inrush of power and light, the canary that sings on the skull. Unless all ages and races of men have been deluded by the same mass hypnotist (who?), there seems to be such a thing as beauty, a grace wholly gratuitous. About five years ago I saw a mockingbird make a straight vertical descent from the roof gutter of a four-story building. It was an act as careless and spontaneous as the curl of a stem or the kindling of a star.

The mockingbird took a single step into the air and dropped. His wings were still folded against his sides as though he were singing from a limb and not falling, accelerating thirty-two feet per second per second, through empty air. Just a breath before he would have been dashed to the ground, he unfurled his wings with exact, deliberate care, revealing the broad bars of white, spread his elegant, white-banded tail, and so floated onto the grass. I had just rounded a corner when his insouciant step caught my eye; there was no one else in sight. The fact of his free fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest. The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.

— from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

(Photograph by Phyllis Rose. Source: fishermage.blogspot.com.)

The gaps are the thing
Thomas Merton wrote, “There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.” There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage. I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus. Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have “not gone up into the gaps.” The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the clifts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock—more than a maple—a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.
— Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
(Photo: bfgb.wordpress.com)

The gaps are the thing

Thomas Merton wrote, “There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.” There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage. I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have “not gone up into the gaps.” The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the clifts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock—more than a maple—a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

(Photo: bfgb.wordpress.com)