ecological progression

Today is Christmas Eve. (Does “eve” really get capitalized?) That translates into, “Oh wow, it is the end of the year”. And while an appropriate response to December 31st could be “so what”, my sense is that most of us will feel some sort of tug towards reminiscing about the past 360 and some odd days. I think it would be strange, given the national tragedy of Newtown, if most people were not caught in reflecting (the glaring exception might be Wayne LaPierre).

I have sought, through this blog, to encourage the use of nature as a way to understand the cycles and patterns in our own lives. Walking hand-in-hand with this encouragement is the notion that our inner patterns and character can be better understood through an appreciation of our connection (or perhaps lack thereof) with nature (however you may define “nature”). As I stand on the threshold of 2013, looking out over the paths I have traveled and those that spread out in front of me, I am acutely aware of the ecology of self and the focus it offers.

On Wednesday of this past week, in the midst of teaching at Manhattan Middle School and still thinking about the 26 individuals murdered in a Connecticut elementary school, our principal came over the intercom. “This is not a drill, all classrooms are directed to go to lockdown”.

This year has been a year of addressing the shackles that have held me back, celebrating my contributions to the present and not shying away from the potential of the future. Partly this is the result of having weathered the past decade with some sort of new experience and perspective. Partly it is the result of wanting to break free from my own constructed constraints and the desire to interact with my potential. Yes, at the age of 47, I have finally discovered a potential, a focus, an inner ecology. It is a 3D hyper-volume (to borrow from Hutchinson) of cycling history, desire, nourishment, creativity, experience and vision. One of its current foci is teaching science to children.

The ability to say this has been slowing developing all year. In the seconds that followed our lockdown order, it became incarnate, a full-fledged mission, expressed in the self-spoken sentence, “I will protect these kids, both body and mind”. I suppose it is similar to those that, in the face of some situation, see and know the presence of a god. So, while I am an atheist, teaching, in that moment, became my god. And I didn’t even have to make any deals. I merely had to let who I was come to the fore. In those few seconds I looked around the classroom, realized this was the niche I filled and the habitat I belonged to.

In the end the whole situation was a necessary overreaction. Yet recent history and the time of the year molded the experience into a personal celebration of what lies ahead. During the past few days I have felt in myself a change, a slightly different way of addressing the marker of time that is December 31st. I have certainly thought back over this past year, been joyful about events and grateful for the people that now populate my life, been sad at those who do not and taken a minute to reflect on the lessons that required effort to survive. The change is that I am not dwelling in that head space as I have in years past. Now I have an appreciation that those were seasons that have come and gone. Instead I see them as the cycling of nutrients, the life and death of an ecosystem, the preparation for the coming Spring. So while we should not forget the past, we must not overlook the present nor dismiss the future. We can take stock, raise our hands in connection and keep moving forward.

The happiest and safest of holidays to everyone. Peace.



spatiotemporal focus

I have read part of Einstein’s theory of relativity. The analogy to the moving trains I get. The math, and ultimately the details of the theory, I do not. Time and space can be beguiling concepts. For example, I have just finished reading The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, and have read that the expansion of the universe is the result of space expanding between galaxies. Um…OK. (I felt better after reading that astronomers are not quite sure what this means either.) Yet, as I make my way back from Australia, via Maui, I am feeling surprisingly grounded in my ability to assess time and space.

While the past few years pursuing my PhD has been an amazing experience, there have been some long periods of time within that journey that were not much fun. Addressing and overcoming personal challenges in the context of achieving a goal is not new. In fact, the effort associated with such challenges may ultimately define the value one assigns to the goal. Inherent in this realization is the ability to distinguish the passage of time.

Each of us uses individual means to chart time. I tend to vary my approach. Sometimes referring to a wrist watch, at other times eschewing my watch for the bright lights of my iPhone. However, when looking over the events of one’s life, events, that when taking place, seemed to either stretch the progress of time into slow-motion drudgery or speed it along like a flash of light, watches and iPhones are inadequate. When we assess personal progress over the course of years we require something more substantial.

My substantially larger timepiece, and the framework for my groundedness (which does not appear to be a word and I am sticking with it), is the variety of ecosystems I have experienced. This realization hit me as I was sitting atop a surfboard and watching three sea turtles play in the waves at Ho’okipa. And while the immediate perspective was focused on the pervious four weeks, my appreciation for this ecological clock grew as I expanded its application to the preceding decades.

Intermission: So here is where I was going to enumerate the ecosystems I have experienced and the progress I have made. That seemed self-serving and egotistical, and ultimately undermined the entire purpose of this post, which is to encourage an appreciation of our surrounding environment (aka ecosystem). What I consider the ecosystems of my life most certainly are different from what you consider an ecosystem. So we shall rush to the end. Ah, the lights are flicking…

This devout child of the mountains and alpine environments was basking in the foreplay of salt water and mysteries of the deep. This spatial experience, this very moment of being present, put into focus a temporal journey. And that journey, it suddenly became very clear, had the fragrance of perfection. No mechanical timepiece could define the travels of my senses. The smell of pines and eucalyptus, the spray of seawater and snow crystals. I was guided by my environment and it in turn proved the most empathetic of mentors.

And maybe, ever so slightly, I gained a better understanding of Einstein’s genius.