Sometimes those things that we perceive with the least definition tell us all that we need to understand. As day follows night, night follows day and, in the spaces in between, the penumbral shadow of earth blurs all definition, revealing the tattered edges of two worlds intertwined and telling us that one may not exist without the other.
Earth takes a long view, water falls, then drips and flows…at first in tears rolling off leaves, then in rivulets, trickles, and streams…pushing dirt and sand out of its path…ages pass and those drops become rivers cutting stone and moving mountains…every little thing matters, every little thing will become big, and every little thing will have an impact on a global scale…but we must take the long view to understand. Happy Earth Day.
On the fringe of the Nez Perce lands, a nebulous bank of clouds lifts slightly to reveal the texture of the earth beneath and we recognize, slowly, a progression of detail and order in the landscape…mist giving way to hollow ridges giving way to defined settlements, each defining a different realm of life on earth.
Can you hear it? The musical refrains that play in our minds are a gift. Like remembering words spoken or formulae transcribed, the music comes to us…connected to a place, a memory, a passing thought, or triggered by the light and a mood in the air…the music fills us up and completes a moment. Spring begins with fits and starts, like the variations of the rising and falling terrain of Appalachia, ultimately the snow gives way to blossoming trees and greening valleys…and we hear the song of a thawing mountain stream as it falls off the mountain into spring. Thanks to Aaron Copeland for the musical imagery of Appalachian Spring, animating our silent aerial perspective on the season.
Wandering a sea of cloud, no markers or road signs to illuminate our way, we follow a meandering path that begins with simple geography and celestial navigation influenced by shifting effects of wind and weather. Along the way we look for signs to reaffirm our sense of place in this world…alert for the moments when the seas part to reveal a hidden landscape and landmarks that inspire our continued journey.
Looking upon a chaotic landscape of snow crested ridges broken by mountain lakes and disorganized peaks, the effect is oddly soothing as though a visual embodiment of cacophony.
We look to the heavens for a sense of permanence, yet they teach us more about the natural patterns of constant change…cyclical and expansive. On a winter morning, the moonrise illuminates a snow covered planet, while the sun rapidly overtakes it…sunrise diminishing the moon’s brilliant moment…Soon, the warmth and colors of spring will displace the cold and glistening whites of winter.
I often dream of storms. Secured in a pressurized tube while cruising through the tropopause, watching a storm is like watching a dramatic silent movie…flickering black and white images appear and disappear in the darkness of our theater, the music in our heads and the irregular cracks of static on the radio, the only soundtrack. All this makes for a surreal experience. Raw energy, exploding into the night…Dramatic visions without sound, threats without audible indications of danger. The flashes of light emanating from the sky remind me of other places and other times when we watched the light swell from below, lifting earth and making clouds…again surreal and distant, another world…not to be forgotten, forever the fuel of dreams.
There are faces of earth that bear an inscription, mysterious and indecipherable, each message protrudes from the landscape as though a collection of Braille characters waiting to be touched and interpreted. Although we may not comprehend the message, there are things that can learn from our study…All things align in some way. At the atomic level, there is symmetry in all things, yet on a grand scale, that sense of balance and equity is shaped by other forces and circumstances. Color is what draws our attention to all things and we see the physical variations and diversity of color as the light bends around and reflects on an ever-changing canvas of earth…over which we ultimately have no control but are inextricably bound.
One never knows when they will pass this way again…If we are so fortunate, will it look the same, will the landscape have changed, or will we perceive the same values in the color, texture, and light when we retrace our steps? All things fall apart, all moments are temporal, and our very existence is finite and unpredictable. I choose to look at the world around me, in each moment and everywhere, with the curiosity and wondrous perception of my first gaze and the determination to absorb and remember the moment as though it were my last moment on earth.
In a glance, a first impression, a snap judgement, we see one color in the landscape…it’s brown. If we stop there, we miss the beauty of this scene. Looking deeper, examining the details, seeking a new understanding, we see a landscape that is not defined by its color, instead the subtle nuances of shifting light define the great contours of mountains and the geologic history written in them. As light touches the mountainsides and illuminates the subtle variations of color in the slope and sparse vegetation, we are drawn into a search for more…given this taste of detail, we yearn to understand how our first impressions blinded us to the beauty and complexity of this world.
In the southern sky, somewhere near Texarkana, the line of the terminator advances toward the horizon as we drift through the twilight zone, waiting for the approaching night. These are the things of which we dream when we stand on the ground and wish we were up there.
Monuments rooted in earth, rise above the desert floor and we revere them for their beauty and stature as they tower above the landscape seeming to touch the sky…but when Winter comes and snow falls on the desert, these earthen monuments float above the desert plain, drifting untethered, they free our imaginations from the strictures of expectation and leave us to drift in a moment of wonder.
“Letting go,” is an art that requires daily practice. I’ve always drawn…whether cartoons, realistic sketches, or technical diagrams, the challenge is always the same…to see the world for what it is and what it is not, while attempting to translate a little of both through some medium to paper. It’s something that is challenging when practiced everyday. It’s something that feels impossible if rarely practiced. The art of “letting go” is similar…practiced everyday, it is a challenge…practice it rarely (or never) and it can seem an insurmountable task. To be unable to let go is like being unable to do art…it’s hard because we fail to see the possibilities around us and we fail to practice…the very rotation of the earth about its axis provides a lesson in the ritual of letting go, night giving way to day giving way to night…and the lingering mist in the valleys remind us that even in its imminence, giving way and letting go is hard.
When we see our world for the first time from the air, it is as though we have brought water to a beloved desert…the beauty remains while our perception is forever altered and a thirst is quenched…just as we may never forget the touch of water, we will forever yearn for the sensation of wind beneath our wings.
We keep our eyes on the horizon, but the limits of our horizon are dependent on the direction we choose to travel. As we venture upward and outward, if only in our imaginations and our gaze, our horizon is limitless and we fly through invisible crossroads of stratified flight paths in pursuit of space and a reality unbound by the limits of earth.
I don’t know what thoughts my ancestors had as they slipped over the horizon nearly four centuries ago, venturing west across an open ocean for an unknown fate in an unknown land…but I know that some element of that lust for the horizon is engrained in my soul. We will always pursue the horizon, the distant line that defines the edges of our world…the more vague the definition of that horizon, the more it demands to be explored. Sometimes we are rewarded with new discoveries or visual treasures that enrich not only our memories, but our imaginations. We are richer for the experience of striving for the unattainable, aspiring to find the edges of earth, and bringing others along for the ride.
How small are we? Questioning scale with our feet planted firmly on the ground, the answer is nearly always clear…in flight, it becomes less clear as we move freely in the atmosphere and, with altitude, the world around us becomes an abstraction, beyond our touch and feel…we rely on facts, indications, and experience to build our situational awareness, to comprehend our reality. At times, we find that we are simultaneously large and small as grand extra-terrestrial patterns repeat themselves in varying scales on Earth…Imagining the textures of distant nebulae echoing through cloudscapes, mountains, rocks, and earthly wisps of dust, the competitive sense of size and scale becomes less relevant as we consider the value of these patterned relationships.
Sometimes we become mired in the emotional chaos of the storm, but as we cast aside our selfish concerns over the heavenly inconvenience of rain, we are grateful for the water…we meet the chaos head on and strive not to introduce our own drama to that of the turbulence, light, and shadow as we rise above the storm and drive onward into the new year.
I may have previously shared this photograph, but it’s more important to me now. You see, I am now the only one that remembers this moment cruising through the dawn of a Solstice morning over Yosemite…The other guy is no longer with us. The funny thing about the solstice is that it’s about the balance between night and day, light and dark, a tension that has been engrained in our spirits as the human race has thrived and endured while witnessing the cycle of light throughout the ages. There are turning points in every day where the light diminishes and the darkness rises only to be reversed by the dawn of a new day…a model for many a spiritual journey. Most of the time, we keep the perspective of a balanced universe and in the dark of night we look forward to the coming day, but sometimes the people we love (all people) lose perspective…no matter the cause…and they cannot see the light amid the deep and dark shadows that surround them. So often these same people are beacons of light shining for others, but who tragically can’t comprehend the light within themselves. As we turn the corner on the season and reflect on the Solstice, may the light in your life increase and the shadows fade to memory…and may you help the ones around you understand the light they bring to your life by telling them now, in this moment…and remember that as sure as there is darkness in the night, in the morning there will be light.