Friday, February 3, 2023

• Author’s Favorites •

This Wisdom in Leaves website contains over 200 articles inspired by a love of Nature and a love of reading, coupled with a sensitivity to spirituality.  Among the people appearing in the articles are poets, novelists, scientists, and humorists.  The animals making appearances range from the immense to the microscopic.  Plants also appear.  As also do the sky, the sun, the moon, land, water, and even minerals.

Each article is accessible at the click of a mouse.  You can click on the list of titles below of some of the author’s favorite articles over the past decade.  Or you can choose from over 80 subject links in the sidebar under the “Explore by Subject” heading.  (Wherever you are on this website, you can always click the “Home” link at the bottom of the webpage to return to this Home Page.)

             •  The Earnestness and Frivolity of Flowers

in article “I’m Not a Car”
             •  I’m Not a Car

             •  A Shawl Wrapped All Around

            •  Laughing Beneath the Meteors

            •  A Flow that Courses Beneath Our Lives

            •  Another Word for Love

           •  Winged Flashes of Light and Insight

            •  Big Skies

            •  Of Campfires and Stars

           •  Elephants on the Agenda

in article
“Desert - Spelled with One ‘s’”
           •  Rising Above a Narrow Vision

            •  Desert – Spelled with One “s”

            •  Comedy with Animals

            •  An Ill Wind and My Spirit

            •  Looking Up to Trees

           •  A Small, Sound Voice on Stillness

           •  An “Island” Larger than Land

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

What is Most Valuable?

"Thanksgiving."  It's a single word designating in the U.S. a single-day holiday in November.  But that word "Thanksgiving" can be broken apart into two words that point forward to another U.S. holiday roughly a month later:  "Thanks" is the theme of Thanksgiving Day, and "Giving" is the theme of the gift-giving day of Christmas.

How to decorate for Christmas?
Those two words might lead us to meditate upon intangible spiritual values, but unfortunately, in that one-month period between the two holidays, we are deluged with mail-order catalogs, advertisements, store displays, and news stories that emphasize spending money.  The news media judge the very day after Thanksgiving ("Black Friday") as being a success if enough money is spent, and they call the weeks before Christmas not "Advent" but "the holiday shopping season."  The innovation of Giving Tuesday puts only a slight dent in the steamroller of consumerism heading toward Xmas.

Inflation, especially when it is rapid, understandably makes people more conscious of prices.  But over a century ago, the perceptive Oscar Wilde cautioned people that knowing "the price of everything and the value of nothing" is a cynical way to live.  Several decades ago, a handful of renegade economists tried to remind people that how the news media report economic statistics can be misleading.  Take for example how the GNP (Gross National Product) is usually treated as an indicator of progress if it is growing.  However, that indicator even goes up when a people are in car accidents, because hospital supplies and car parts are produced.  In contrast, the GNP indicator is untouched when a person uses knitting material they already had stored to create a lovely gift for a family member or friend.  Those are examples of why Donella Meadows writes:

The GNP is obviously not a measure of progress....
It is indiscriminate.  It lumps together joys and sorrows, triumphs and disasters,
 profundities and trivializes, everything that costs money and nothing that doesn't.

Perhaps during the one-month period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, besides making a shopping list, we might pause to create a mental list of intangibles we are able to give.  One starting place might be to think back upon what things other than purchased products we have been blessed with having been able to give to others.  I would put on my list my having been able to be a teacher about topics related to religion, spirituality, Nature, and science.  (For a decade, this website has served as one avenue for that teaching.)

Where is something larger than ourselves?
The reverse side of giving is getting.  During the month near Christmas -- and the other winter festivities of Hannukah and Kwanzaa -- we might also reflect upon the intangibles we receive.  Of course, we are grateful for the love that binds our lives with others.  But are there things we have received that are more specific to our individual identities?  Here again (perhaps because I am now in my 70's) I look to the past.  And I think that one of the greatest gifts my parents and teachers gave me were those values that gave me a habit of looking beneath the surface of things -- an eye for the intangibles, the immeasurables, that are crucial to spirituality.  Those intangibles are there, whether or not we notice them.

In addition to such reflections upon our lives during the weeks near Christmas Day, might we perhaps shift our reading to include something different than our usual routine?  Something that would be enhancing?  And during those weeks, might we turn our attention to the changing aspects of Nature as the year moves into winter?

~ ~ ~ 

Is there something you are reading during the weeks near Christmas that you would like to tell others about?  Have you noticed something in Nature during this period that has invigorated you?

(The quotation by Oscar Wilde is from his 1892 Lady Windermere's Fan,
 as cited in Familiar Quotations, 16th edition, edited by John Bartlett, p. 566 #23.)
(The quotation by Donella H. Meadows is from her book The Global Citizen, © 1991, p. 232.)

Friday, October 7, 2022

Thoughts that Continue to Nourish

 On a recent news story on the radio, a man declard that "smelling pumpkin spice is like smelling fall."  While that may be true in the U.S. today, a more traditional indication of fall's arrival has been the first small burst of cooler weather.  And an even more reliable indication that we are into autumn has been the changing color of leaves.

It was leaves that became the namesake of this website "Wisdom in Leaves" -- because the  English word "leaves" can also refer to the pages of books, in which we sometimes hope to find wisdom. The initial article published on this website (a decade ago) still speaks to our desires to learn from both Nature and the thoughts in writing of other  human beings.

~ ~ ~

In June of 1877, a British family -- elderly grandfather, his wife, their grown son, baby grandson, and a nursemaid -- had all traveled on an outing to the ancient site of Stonehenge.  It was the sort of outing a Victorian family of the latter 1800's would do to enjoy being outdoors in the warmer Spring weather.

However, while this family was at the ancient site of Stonehenge, consisting of a ring of immense standing stones constructed maybe four thousand years ago, the elderly grandfather got permission from the guard to do something probably no tourist before had requested -- to dig into the ground around some of the stones.  As odd as that request was, the guard could hardly refuse it.  For, after all, that bearded grandfather was none other than Charles Darwin.

What Darwin was looking for in the ground was, of all things... earthworms!  Charles Darwin's interest in earthworms had begun forty years earlier, and it would continue to the very end of his life, becoming the subject of his very last book.

It was in fact Charles Darwin who made the first detailed discoveries about how earthworms are one of the major aerators and one of the primary fertilizers of soil.  Darwin wrote of earthworms:  "It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures."

When the story of Darwin's discovery about evolution is told, the animals most often mentioned are those giant tortoises and unearthly-looking iguanas of the Galapagos Islands.  And so I enjoy reading about how he devoted such interest and care to the small, unappreciated worms right beneath our feet.  I have a mental image of the bearded old man on his knees, gently browsing through the leaves in order to uncover the living creatures before they escaped into their burrows.  Also, browsing through the leaves in order to find insight.

This rarely-told story of Darwin and the worms symbolizes in a way what I would like to accomplish with my writing on this on-line periodical.  I would like to take time to browse through aspects of Nature.  I would like to pause to look at Nature thoughtfully as a way of gaining a humble perspective on the world we live in and what we humans are.

I would like to get at the nexus of Nature and spirituality, drawing also on the best thought of our religious traditions.  And so, I would also like to turn over other kinds of leaves -- the pages of books.  I want to leaf through my favorite books so that I might re-read those quotations that most nurture my spirit.  Nature and books, earth and human thoughts.  Weaving the two together in a variety of ways.


What experiences of Nature, or what words about Nature in a book, most touch your mind and heart?

Friday, September 2, 2022

No Escaping H2O

It was one of those literary works dubbed "classics" that high-school students in my day were required to read and study, even though we ourselves would never have chosen it for our reading entertainment.  It was the exotic, multi-page poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834).  Even today, literary critics recognize Coleridge as having been one of the most insightful minds of his time.

A burden too heavy to bear?
The dead albatross hangs from the mariner's neck.
We high-schoolers, knowing we could not escape from the Ancient-Mariner poem, set our minds to finding some intriguing elements in that famous literary work.  We latched onto the bizarre plot development of the sailor in the poem having a dead albatross hung around his neck as a punishment.  We tried to enjoy Coleridge's rhythm and alliteration in some of the stanzas we memorized. For example, here is the description of the plight of the thirsty sailors when their sailing-ship becomes stranded on a windless ocean of undrinkable saltwater, the boards of the ship's deck even shrinking under the hot sun:
              "Water, water everywhere,
           And all the boards did shrink;
               Water, water everywhere
                 Nor any drop to drink."

Those lines popped into my head when I was reflecting upon some of the disturbing news events during the summer of 2022.  In Kentucky, freak floods occurred day after day, killing many.  At the same time, in the southwest of the U.S., the level of the Colorado River -- which several states depended upon for water -- had reached a record low.  Affected by climate change, the news about water was either "too much" or "too little."

There thus has been no escape from being concerned about water.  Even astronomers were searching for signs of it on far-off planets as evidence of the possibility of life elsewhere than on Earth.  Along with biologists, astronomers know that the common denominator of all forms of life we know about is water -- that remarkable liquid formed when atoms of the gas hydrogen and the gas oxygen bond together.

The common interest in water during the summer of 2022 (from the people of Kentucky to those living in the Southwest to even astronomers) was a contrast to most of the sentiments expressed publicly during that year.  More common had been polarized views that suggested that half of the population of people in the U.S. had nothing at all in common with the other half.  But water -- in some way -- became a common concern

A rash move.
Mariner shoots
the  albatross
with his crossbow
Why had the mariner's ship become stymied on a windless ocean?  The answer goes back to why that albatross had been hung around the mariner's neck as a punishment.  He had, for no reason, recklessly shot that great white bird that had been accompanying the ship for several days "for food or play."  The mariner had disregarded the fact that the presence of an albatross had traditionally been considered by sailors to be a good omen.  The poem suggests that there are moral laws to the universe that set limits which humans cannot pass without ensuing consequences.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote at a time when poetry tended to moralize more than it does today.  Nevertheless, if he were writing his tale of the mariner today, I would hope he would still include in its final stanzas another set of lines we memorized in high school. 
They go like this:

"He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."

~ ~ ~

(Do any of the lines of Coleridge spark any thoughts or feelings in you?)

(All quotations are from Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
 taken from The Norton Anthology of English Literature, edited by M.H. Abrams, et al., ©1968.)
(Both pictures are in the public domain.)

Friday, August 5, 2022

Summer and the Seasons

"Too hot!"  That has long been a common complaint by many people on the hottest days of summer.  However, when the extreme becomes even more extreme (aggravated in part by climate change), it can be very hard to dreamily sing "Summertime, and the livin' is easy."  Perhaps the following article, first published five years ago, can help make us more appreciative of summer as part of the recurring cycle of the seasons.

~ ~ ~

It was a late summer.  There were more clouds than typical for a summer day, but that felt good because it gave relief from the hot summer sun.  What felt even better was a breeze that brushed across my face, bringing the promise of a respite from the summer heat we had endured for weeks.  "Maybe we'll get a cooling rain," I thought.  My slight elation at the change in weather was, however, kept in bounds by a larger awareness.  Namely, I knew that the pleasant shift in weather I was experiencing was the result of a distant hurricane that was coming ashore farther away, bringing destruction upon other people.

Natural forces more powerful than myself.
The soothing breeze that brushed my face thus raises the question of how I should think and feel about those things in Nature that bring both good and bad.  That tiny breeze raises spiritual and theological questions far beyond its small size.  To my way of thinking, the most distasteful responses to a hurricane during the past few years have been by people who claimed that God steered the hurricane away from them in response to their prayers.  Those people were thinking only of themselves, and seem to have had little concern about the other people who would be hurt by a re-directed hurricane.  Nor do such comments display an awareness of a long tradition of theological thought about the matter.

A less selfish response does not require more scientific understanding of storms.  It only requires a "compassionate heart," to use a Buddhist phrase.  A wiser and more  open-hearted response to tragedy was modeled by Jesus after a tower fell, killing people.  Even without a knowledge of Newtonian physics, Jesus knew that natural disasters do not injure just bad people, and that they do not spare just good people.  Challenging his listeners to join him in that enlightened response, he asked rhetorically,  "Those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them -- do you think that they were worse offenders...?  No, I tell you." (Luke 13:4-5, NRSV).  Jesus's reminder to us that "bad things can happen to good people," as we say today, echoes that same insight form the Jewish tradition's book of Job in the Bible. Job's suffering from natural forces was not a punishment.

Although in English we have separate words for "wind" and "spirit," in the Bible's original languages, the two are the same word.  We might think "wind-spirit." That equivalence can remind me when that light wind touches my face, to ask myself what my own spirit is like, especially when I know of the dangerous hurricane further away.
What winds are blowing through my own spirit?
There is another side of the coin to this matter of the uncertainties of the natural world -- the fact that natural forces can bring both damaging winds and needed rain.  I easily notice when bad luck befalls me.  In contrast, I easily overlook all the ways I have been helped by good things that were just as much beyond my control. The light wind that brushes my face can, therefore, widen my awareness even further.  The double meaning of wind-spirit can remind me to remember a larger spirit of unseen forces that support my life.  A native American Ojibwe song put it this way:
"Sometimes I go about pitying myself,
But all the while
I am being carried by great winds across the sky."


Is there a way you have come to think about the uncontrollable uncertainties of life?