Pinnacle Activity Ticker
As a little girl I played in mud puddles and set up housekeeping with my dolls in make believe rooms inside the cascading bushes which lined the drive that circled my parent’s house. I wound myself in antique lace from a trunk in my grandmother’s attic, and I climbed trees.
It was the trees I liked the best, and my favorite was an old Loquat tree which grew closely beside my house. Its leaves and the arrangement of its branches were similar to that of a magnolia, and one could ascend its sturdy limbs as easily as one ascends a staircase. I loved to travel half-way up the tree, where I could look out onto the pattern of my mother’s gardens below. There was a serenity in the view from up there - an order which was not apparent from the ground. I felt like the tree knew me, and it was my window on the world where I felt hidden and protected and I could look out onto the world without it looking back at me.
Children’s lives were less structured then, and we were more immersed in nature and the solitude of our own minds. We live in a different world today. Parents know this, and out of necessity we have curtailed the freedom we are both able and willing to give our children, and at what price?
Like good children ourselves, we have tried to do what we feel is best for our children, and there are probably fewer broken limbs. But have we overreached?
It is not only the child who needs and lacks periods of free time and immersion into the natural world and his own thoughts. It is the adult as well – and as with the child, it is not by choice that we are being stripped of it. The demands and obligations to family, career, community and world create a juggling act of mammoth proportions and again, at what cost?
For many millennia we were hunters and gatherers. Then we became an agrarian based society and possibly lost, to a great degree, a deeper and for want of a better word – a transcendent contact with the natural world. A disconnect began to take place. We began to manipulate the natural world and to control it, and for many more millennia that was the status quo. Yet, although we were not as connected to nature as in ages past, at that point we were still not separated from it.
Then, with the advent of the industrial revolution in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, this disconnect began to widen, and it has increased exponentially through the latter part of the 20th century and into this century.
We are increasingly encapsulated in a climate controlled and artificial environment and for the most part are outside the natural world now, separated from that within which we evolved for millennia. New studies indicate that the increasing rise in immune disorders, including common allergies, is being caused by this encapsulation. The immune system, they say, is simply not being exposed to enough in nature to be able to develop properly and distinguish between that which is natural and that which is truly foreign.
And yet, this separation from our evolutionary womb has not been all for the worse - for we also, for millennia, were limited by nature as well. The industrial/technological age has freed us from physical drudgery and from the limits of gravity and geography. It has ushered in a new and wonderful era, an information age unprecedented in human history, and one in which even the humblest of us can participate. It has given generic man something he has never had before, the luxury of access – access to knowledge, and to each other. We are interconnected through the internet on a level we have never experienced before.
Still, there is this disconnect with that of which we were so long a part, and as important as the physical relationship between man and the natural world is, anyone who has walked through a forest alone or stood at the edge of the sea knows that there is a deeper connection as well.
Perhaps the main gift that the technological era will afford us is the opportunity to reinter the natural world, not to control it, but to rediscover it. And not to rediscover it in and of itself, but to rediscover that something that lies beyond it and ties it and us together. In this season of gift giving, perhaps the opportunity for discovery is one of the most precious gifts we can give ourselves, and our children.
My father did that for me late one autumn when I was very small. My parents had taken me with them on a trip to a small northern city, and the evening before we were to return home I awakened during the night and was disquieted and could not sleep. My father bundled me up and took me out onto the hotel’s rooftop patio and, picking me up, asked me to look far up into the distant night sky.
He asked me what I saw, but I could not see anything but the stars and the moon. He then asked me what I heard. The city had grown quiet and I could not hear anything, save the soft sounds of the night. He then said, “You must listen very intently, and you will hear them...”
Years later Rachael Carson would write of how on a still autumn evening, one can go out into the night air and “stand very still and listen, projecting your consciousness up into the dark arch of the sky above you. Presently your ears will detect tiny wisps of sound – sharp chirps, sibilant lisps and lone call notes. They are the voices of the bird migrants, apparently keeping in touch by their calls with others of their kind scattered through the sky.” (Rachael Carson, “The Sense of Wonder”, 1964)
I do not think that there is a human alive who, considering the fragile life of a bird juxtaposed against the enormity of its journey can, like Carson, do so without
“…a wave of feeling that is compounded of many emotions – a sense of lonely distances, a compassionate awareness of small lives controlled and directed by forces beyond volition or denial, a surging wonder at the sure instinct for route and direction that so far has baffled human efforts to explain it.” (Rachael Carson, “The Sense of Wonder”, 1964)
I did hear them that night, the “lone call notes, sibilant lisps and sharp chirps” - the poignant yet joyful callings by which they encouraged each other on and maintained contact while scattered through the night sky. But it was more than just a hearing. It was a momentary connection which for years I would not be able to give words to. With a child’s innocence, I was convinced that in the moment that I had begun to hear the birds, they had become aware of me, too, and were calling out to me.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh would write of this type of looking and listening on the African plains, “…a creative act takes place – a leap of imagination. One goes halfway to participation in the life of other creatures, feels a part of their actions. Something inside oneself leaps as they leap, or is quiet beside their cropping quiet, or watches with their alert watchfulness. One is stilled in their stillness – a stillness trembling with life, like the stillness of a flame. And in the moment of participation, one has made the connection – or is suddenly aware of it. This act of imagination is an act of obeisance to life in another creature – life in an unfamiliar, yet related form. And by this act, as by every act of imagination, one is enriched.” (Anne Morrow Lindberg, “Earth Shine”, 1966)
And what are these connections, these experiences - including those, however fleeting, with our own kind? Are they really imagined? I think that they are real. Even on a physical level, we are told by physicists that the universe is interconnected on a subatomic level. We are also told that the largest known celestial body in the universe is the same number of times larger than man as the smallest sub-atomic particle is smaller than man. The scale of man sits halfway between macrocosm and microcosm, literally.
What does it mean? Have we known and through the eons have now forgotten? Surely, there must be within each of us a glimmer of remembrance, even if on a level just below our conscious awareness. Do we not all feel it? It is as the moment of sleep, right before one awakens, when the dream begins to break, but we, not being fully awake, still hold to the dream as real. Yet, the dream still begins to break. Is that what is going on now?
We all sense that something is breaking in upon mortality. It is as Benjamin Britton’s fugue on a theme from Paganini when each instrument in the orchestra is introduced in its sounding one by one - then, and with gathering numbers, the instruments seem to herald the coming of something most wonderful as they play, each one over the other, in a joyous cacophony of sound. Then one is aware, almost imperceptibly at first, that an underlying Sounding has begun to arise from a place unseen, a grand and regal melody, a theme which swells and one by one transforms the sounding of each instrument into that one theme, growing ever more discernable and before which even the cacophony disappears, until each instrument is found to be at one in an unspeakably beautiful and majestic Symphonic Score.
May the Joy and Peace of Christmas be with You All.