I wonder while I wander

…musings about this wild and wonderful world


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The universe is in us all

‘The knowledge that the atoms that comprise life on earth – the atoms that make up the human body, are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy elements in their core under extreme temperatures and pressures. These stars- the high mass ones among them- went unstable in their later years- they collapsed and then exploded- scattering their enriched guts across the galaxy- guts made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and all the fundamental ingredients of life itself. These ingredients become part of gas clouds that condense, collapse, form the next generation of solar systems- stars with orbiting planets. And those planets now have the ingredients for life itself. So that when I look up at the night sky, and I know that yes we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up- many people feel small, cause their small and the universe is big. But I feel big because my atoms came from those stars.’    ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson ticks a lot of boxes for me.

First, he is clearly brilliant. No need to elaborate there.

Second, the way he describes space, matter, stars, physics, life and the potential for life in the universe… he makes it so accessible, even to people like me without much background knowledge in these topics. In fact, he makes me eager to learn so much more!

Third, his enthusiasm is absolutely infectious! I really didn’t enjoy any science classes when I was in school, but have become a fan of ‘popular science’ as an adult. Reading about biology, chemistry, evolution, genetics, and cosmology – it’s a challenge for me, but I also find it intensely rewarding because it forces me to look at the world and the universe in such a different way than I normally do. For one thing, it encourages me to see things from a non-anthropocentric perspective, and I enjoy the way it reminds me of my place in the universe.

It helps me to remember I am not the centre of everything. Not only that, but humans as a species aren’t the centre of everything. We share a kinship with all the creatures on our planet, with the plants, with bacteria, with stones and seas and the clouds in the sky… as Neil deGrasse Tyson points out, we even share a sort of kinship with the stars. Not in a sort of magical airy-fairy way, but in a real, chemical, atomical, physical way; we are all inter-connected. We are all a part of each other, and there is something beautiful and humbling about that reality.

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Man hunts antelope…

This video of a hunter of the San tribe in south Africa, using the ancient hunting technique David Attenborough refers to as the ‘persistence method’ – running prey down on foot until either hunter or animal give up and collapse from exhaustion – is truly stunning.

There is something so raw about this epic chase. Essentials only. A man – bone and muscle and sweat and blood – using his speed and endurance to catch his prey, simply running on his own two feet through the desert. There is the scorching sun overhead, the sand beneath his feet, the shimmering heat in the air. There is the speed and power, the gracefulness, of the wild antelope… and a life and death struggle to survive.

It is a primal experience. The human animal, striped of pomp and circumstance, with only a minimum of material objects at his disposal. The state of trance-like focus, the stark clarity of mind – there is no moment but the present, no task but the one crucial task at hand: continue, conquer, survive.

At the end of this epic chase there is both tragic defeat and heroic victory. The cost of human survival is the life of the antelope. Death, this savage struggle live in a harsh environment, to kill to live… it isn’t glamorous or romantic. But there is something earthy, grounding, unflinchingly real – even tender – as the man strikes the killing blow, pays homage to the nobility of the animal and sends its spirit back to the desert sands from which it came.

Witnessing such an experience brings me back to those Big Questions I never get tired of asking…

What does it mean to be a human on this earth? How to live, and die, well? How to co-exist with other creatures on this planet, how to live authentically and simply, how to get down to that essential, earthy, raw experience, to live with focus and clarity, to do what is necessary and remain free of unnecessary burdens? How to make the most of this one wild and precious life?