Monday, December 21, 2009

Ode to the Sun and to All Life

Here in the northern hemisphere (north of the equator) we today celebrated the winter solstice, or the shortest day of the year. In the southern hemisphere, however, today marks the summer solstice. Following is an amalgam of quotes that will hopefully shed at least a little (sun)light on an appreciation of the solstice, the flow of seasons, and the cycle of life here in the depth of the darkness of winter:

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

-John Muir, quoted in The Earth Speaks by Steve van Matre and Bill Weiler


Science is giving us this amazing story of how we co-arise, of how we are not separate, of how we are created. ... Our body is composed of heavy elements created in the early explosions of supernova in the universe. That was where carbon was created, where oxygen was created. ... We are composed of the elements of this planet. Your bones are calcium, phosphates, sylicates, nitrogen - various elements found in the earth: The clay of earth literally, mysteriously molded into your shape. Most of your body is liquid. ...Most of that liquid has the chemical consistency of the ocean. We sweat and cry seawater. We're not just on the earth. We're of the earth.

-Wes “Scoop” Nisker, author, performer, radio commentaror, and Dharma teacher quoted by Anneli Rufus in this past week’s "East Bay Express" from a recent talk he gave at Spirit Rock Meditation Center


Every particle of every thing
rock, water, flower, human
has been in the same place flaming
in the heart of our ancient sun
before the earth
came flying out of it.

The irises in your eyes
the tissue of roses

the slow giant rocks in mountain hearts

were all born flaming
locked in the sun as it drifted
like a light on dark water.

-Lawrence Collins, Only a Little Planet (reproduced in The Earth Speaks)


At first glance, a leaf may look as thin as paper; actually it is a spreading one-story factory with ample room between floor and ceiling for sunlight-packaging machinery. The standard leaf is designed for utility to present a broad surface to the sunlight. A mature maple tree spreads several hundred thousand leaves with a surface of some two thousand square yards (about half an acre) of chlorophyll.

A square yard of leaf surface in full operation packs about a gram of carbohydrate per hour. This may seem to be a small amount; a gram weighs about as much as the common straight pin. But food production of that half acre of chlorophyll mounts with each hour of every day. There are no Sunday and holiday shutdowns. Photosynthesis does not require a bright sunny day, it works even better when the sky is overcast. Operating on average of ten hours a day during June, July and August, each square yard of maple leaf surface packs a pound and a half of carbohydrate. The seasonal production by the leaves of a single maple tree can total 3,630 pounds of packaged sunlight!

-Rutherford Hayes Platt, The Great American Forest (reproduced in The Earth Speaks)


This is the way life works on earth. Each living thing is a spark of sunlight energy, a crystal bead in the net of life. As humans, like other forms life, we are only here for a few moments, a mere glistening in time on the film of life covering the planet. When we die, the sunlight energy holding the building materials together flickers out, and those materials that make us up are eventually taken up through the threads of the net by other living things to be used again. Life on the earth represents a continual process of birth and death, decay and rebirth as the building materials are used over and over again by all living things. You see, the earth is not like our mother, it is our first mother. The sky is not like our father, it is our first father. The union of earth and sky beget all living things in this oasis in space.

-Steve van Matre, The Earth Speaks

You see, life is always going on. It's always happening. It never stops. And by life I mean real life, real live living things. In this world we have created of pavement and automobiles and big buildings it's easy to forget our connection to the natural world. However, cultures spanning both the world and time have been aware of our presence as beings of the earth. Steve van Matre (eventually) asks in The Earth Speaks, "People should not spend their entire lives in a skyscrapered city, for in the midst of those articial canyons they will likely forget who and where they are. If people are stopped on the street of a major city today and asked what supports the life of the earth, they will probably reply that their city does. Isn't it strange that people can name the trees along the sidewalk but don't understand how sunlight supports the life of earth?"

Aha! And this is it! This “ancient sun.” And it truly does, the sun powers this planet we know in our flesh-and-bones-reality - without it there would be no life on earth. The sun provides energy for plants through photosynthesis - as humans we eat those plants, our animals eat those plants, the fossil fuels that largely power our world are the remnants of those plants and animals, and we need those plants to breathe.

So as the shortest day of the year comes to an end here in overcast Oakland, CA, as the cycle continues and days again begin to lengthen, as time on earth and throughout all of space carries on, let us take a moment to appreciate the sun and the cycle of life.

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