Thoughts on well-being, sustainability and those things that constitute a good life beyond consumption.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Not your typical drive home from work

Few scientists can describe the awe and wonder of having the privilege to work in a field that searches to explain the world around us.  But today, on NPR’s All Things Considered, there was a wonderful essay by Adam Frank, an astrophysicist, dispelling misperceptions about the communications skills of scientists:

Frank begins by quoting the poet William Blake, wondering whether we really can “see the Universe in a grain of sand”.  This is a piece you really should listen to.

Through the lens of science we can see how even the smallest thing can be a gateway to an experience of the extraordinary, if only we can practice noticing.
We walk past a thousand, thousand natural miracles every day, from the sun climbing in the sky to the arc of birds seen out our windows. Those miracles are there waiting for us to see them, to notice them and, most importantly, to find our delight in theirs.
As I was listening to this during the drive home from a hectic day at work, I noticed the stormy midnight blue sky to the north, illuminated by a sun low in the sky.  As if this wasn’t dramatic enough, a white flash in the corn field to the left caught my attention – a mature bald eagle on a deer carcass; most drivers were speeding along too quickly to notice.  Coincidence?  Good timing?  Luck? Or was I simply encouraged by Frank to notice – the miracles in nature that are always there if we only take time to pay attention.

With this inspiration, despite having way too much work and too little time to meet some deadlines, I chose to take a long walk when I got home.  Nothing unusual at first – squawking crows coming in to roost for the night, the gray tones of late winter in the woods behind my home, juncos flitting up from the ground, lots of mud interrupted by a few stubborn patches of snow refusing to say goodbye. 
Suddenly, an unanticipated cloudburst began pummeling me with icy droplets.  But these drops had the fresh cleansing smell of a spring rain.  There were new holes from the resident Pileated Woodpeckers; another tree is being dismantled by a porcupine, I presume.  And on the ground, thousands of tiny Collembola, difficult to distinguish from the fungal spots on decaying leaves, except that they spring up – a bit like Mexican jumping beans, but much tinier.  Are they startled by my footsteps or the raindrops?

Coming down the hill and out of the woods, the setting sun was illuminating the treetops, and I noticed the red and green tinge of color.  Leaf buds peering out from the protective scales to see if the day length is long enough to signal spring.  On top of the mountain, the white is still snow, not the flowers of Service Berry (Amelanchier sp.), but these will appear soon.  A friend today reported hearing the first Phoebe of the season.  As I walked to the house, I saw crocus flowers that weren’t out just two days ago during a late snow storm, along with fresh buds on my Hellebore.
Again, from Frank’s essay:

The connection between the everyday reality we experience and boundless landscapes of cosmic beauty, inspiration and joy is actually so close, so present for us. It’s there in the dust on your car, the mess on your desk and the swirling water in your sink.
I really look forward to listening to his future essays.


  1. I heard this as well while driving home and seeing the ominous clouds and rain. I thought of the brilliantly orange full moon that was setting while I walked my dogs this morning -- I have never seen a setting moon this color or this beautiful against a deep blue sky at first light. And I saw a phoebe on the porch at the Osprey House today! Now back to work. Thanks for the reminder of this wonderful essay.

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