how to convey wonder and awe of natural phenomena
After writing my blog to commemorate World Oceans Day, I went outdoors. Walking and weeding and a shredding event got me thinking … about the world, and oceans, and how the world really has one big ocean we divide into portions and give names. The oceans deserve more than a day to commemorate and draw attention to the vessel that holds more than 95% of all the water on the planet.
Layers of Awareness
I was also reminded of layers of awareness represented in the movie “First Man” about Neil Armstrong’s path to stepping onto the moon. First the viewer sees as Neil sees. Later Neil talks about his dawning realization of how thin is the layer of atmosphere, shown earlier. Before pictures from space showed us our home, so small and isolated in space, his glimpse from the stratosphere profoundly impacted him. It dawned on me no matter how many images any of us ever sees of the thin blue line encircling the earth, or that blue marble in a black field, we will never be able to experience it the way the first astronauts did.
I have been wondering how best to convey the sense of profound wonder and awe of natural phenomena. Especially in this age of selfies and so-called “Reality TV” I know the difference between seeing a photo or even a movie, video or “virtual reality.” Nothing can approach experiencing the real thing.
Before I ever saw the Grand Canyon, I had seen hundreds if not thousands of pictures. After reading “Brighty of the Grand Canyon,” my parents subscribed to Arizona Highways magazine. Certainly more affordable than hauling four kids there in a VW minibus. Even movies of that gaping chasm in the earth’s crust did little to prepare me for the reality of stepping up to the rail at Desert View Watchtower. Since then I returned to the rim several times over a couple of days, at different times of day. Years later I fulfilled a dream of hiking to the depths of the canyon. Staying two nights at Phantom Ranch and hiking back out could only be experienced.
Essence of Presence
Each of those experiences deepened layers in my grasp of the canyon. Could I say I know it now? Maybe better than I did as a child, flipping through colorful pictures in a magazine. Better than one glimpse at one time of day in one season. And even so, only in shifting light of three sunrises and three sunsets, from above, in and below.
I still vividly recall the moment I took my first steps down the South Kaibab Trail. Canyon layers began to shift and turn as the walls rose up around me. Every turn in that trail brought something new into view. Something impossible to capture with the best “virtual reality” simulation. I was present, in and of the canyon. I could touch the rock, smell the early morning desert air as it evaporated. Moisture saturated into the dirt and plants, absorbing then dispersing their very essence. The canyon was in me as much as I was in the canyon.
This, to me is the essential element of travel and why it is so important. Seeing pictures, even those I took myself as mementos, reminders of experiences I have personally had, are nothing but a slip of paper lofted on wind currents swirling in the diaphanous scarf of our veil of atmosphere.
Only by turning off the television, putting down the book, getting outside and attending to the sights, sounds, smells, sensations, touch and even tastes of the world can we ever begin to start to know her.
This reminds me of what I have been telling friends and acquaintances who learn I am writing a memoir called Tortoise Moon. They ask, “What is it about?”
My first responses were, “It’s a book about learning from nature instead of books.” Ironic, yes, but if a book or a blog might do one thing, the best might be to encourage, inspire, or actually launch the reader out into that world of experience. What inspires you to get outside into nature and be present to wonder and awe about our amazing planet? How have you tried to capture or convey your experiences?