Friday, June 22, 2007
I was down at the Hudson river early this morning. This is what it looked like.
This picture is taken at a gap in the Palisades known as the Sparkill gap, the first place north of Manhattan where the huge basalt dike dips down towards the river enough so that people can land a boat and move into the countryside behind it. Consequently, this was the first spot on the western Hudson north of Manhattan colonized by Europeans, and--starting with the Dutch-- white people have been living here since the mid-1600's.
This area also saw the establishment of one of the first thriving communities of former slaves, so it has been an area of mixed race for hundreds of years as well.
There is something magical about this particular spot right here at the river. Carlos Castaneda said that certain places are special, have a special kind of energy, and this is certainly one of them. The confluence of the Palisades plunging towards the river, the salt marsh at the mouth of the Sparkill, and the mighty Hudson River in the distance, combine together in a way that cannot really be captured in any way other than through direct experience.
I come down here often. Last October I obtained a seminal understanding in the spot where this photograph was taken.
This morning, there was a wind blowing from behind me out towards the river. As I walked towards the sunlight, a tide of insects swept in front of me, carried by the wind: thousands of tiny motes shimmering in the sunlight as they rushed towards a destination all their own. These insects are a whole world unto themselves; I am so large, and so utterly immaterial to the nature of their own being, that I might as well not exist at all for them.
But we are not so different. Like us, these tiny creatures have a heritage that stretches back billions of years, and in their tiny bodies carry the same DNA. Amazingly, the odds are that we even share some specific genes in common. Nature tends to obsessively preserve anything that works well, and it discovered a great deal of what works well so long ago that it boggles the mind.
There is a timelessness to it all.
Insects have been swept forward by the wind through this particular stretch of terrain for as long as it has been a stretch of terrain. It is always morning; the Redwing blackbirds in the marsh are forever singing their shrill, lilting songs, and the stately phragmites salt marsh grass is always lifting its feathered stalks into the sunrise.
As intangible as we seem to each other, these insects and I, this landscape and I, we are a part of each other. Along with the trees, the marsh, the river, the gas of the atmosphere, we are all part of this one experience called Earth. Our unique consciousnesses perceive the world quite differently, and yet each perception is entirely true and entirely valid.
You see, there is magic.
The magic is not created by wizards. It does not ride on the backs of dragons.
The magical spell, the secret words that create the living universe, are written in the simple text of G-T-A-C: the four bases that form DNA. And of course, there are other, more fundamental magic spells written in the language of what we call elements.
Why we humans persist in creating ever more perverse worlds of fantasy to entertain ourselves when there is so much mystery and sheer magnificence in the natural world continues to baffle me. If we just open our eyes and look around us, we will see that we are in a landscape ever more alien than anything we could dream up if put to the test. We don't know anything about these organisms around us. We name them and forget about them. Or, conversely, we plot their demise, an activity they are utterly unable to comprehend in any way.
Developing a connection to ourselves means developing more of a sensitivity to this world we inhabit. To invest ourselves in the experience of our relationship to this planet, the fact that we are not at all separated from it. Not in a romantic way driven by narcissistic fantasies about saving the planet, but in a practical way, through the actual sensation of ourselves within this life, so that we become genuinely sensitive to the beauty of the environment we inhabit.
May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.