(Copyright © 2009)

 

A year or a hundred years from now, people will still breathe, eat, drink, excrete, have sex, sleep (not necessarily in that order). And still depend on damp soil and photosynthesis in a favorable climate as we do today. Earth will be even more depleted then, but we can’t escape to Mars—the cost would be prohibitive to shoot even two of us to that dreary world. We’re stuck where we are and have to make the best of it. Which means suiting our minds, beliefs, expectations, and actions to our home planet by becoming Earthlings in every thought and deed.

 

Which right now we are not. We distance ourselves from the natural world which provides for us by building an imaginary civilization distinct from the natural order. No other species plays golf, for instance, drugs itself to get through the day, or mistakes DVD films for the real world. We live in a mental space tailored to the habits and beliefs we are used to. Ritualized behaviors keeps us there—as surely as if we were caught in the jaws of a steel trap. Only, it’s not our legs that are caught but our minds.

 

If not Earthlings, what are we? A sort of creature that lives in the space it creates for itself in consciousness. We are creatures of dreams, desires, fears, fantasies, illusions, fairy tales, fiction, and other forms of unreality. We dwell on a planet of make-believe, pretense, as-if, . . . whatever. Sure, technology can solve every problem. Earth can feed and accommodate us, no matter how many we are. There’s no stopping economic progress. What I want right now I deserve. Our ritual behaviors tell us so. If we do the same thing often enough, it’s as good as true, no matter how foolish. Ritual is the repetitive re-enactment of belief. What we do repeatedly is what we become.

 

What we have become is disconnected from the planet that truly supports us in every way. We have slipped from our mooring. Adrift in a fog of our own making, we can’t find our way back. Our compass is broken. We are running out of power. Among treacherous ledges, we are dimly aware of waves crashing ahead.

 

The way back requires synchronizing our ritual behaviors with the rhythmic productivity of the Earth. That is, not insisting ecosystems meet our demands, but living within the natural flow of energy through the ecosystems making up the biosphere. For practical and sustainable purposes, that energy comes from the sun. Life on Earth is run by the solar-powered process of photosynthesis in the cells of algae and green plants. That process combines carbon in the air with water in the soil to produce sugar, the staff of life for plant-eaters, and those who feed on them—including us.

 

Sunlight falling on Earth varies with latitude, weather, and season. Overall, seasonal climate determines food production through the year. We used to know that, but have largely forgotten. Especially those who live in cities where light, heat, and food are plentiful 24/7/52. Shopping in shadowless, fluorescent supermarkets, we forget to set our needs in synchrony with the seasons. No matter when, we want blueberries now. Processed foods know no season, so we fill our carts with them as well. But that is changing.

 

Having to free ourselves from dependence on industrial farms consuming huge amounts of water, fuel, fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, we have no choice but to rediscover the seasons of the year. And to synch our activities with them as they govern the amount of sunlight and moisture available to plants, determining local food production.

 

Not long ago, most of us would have been agriculturalists, either growing our own food or gathering it locally. In response to over-population, climate change, excessive consumption of food and fuel, and an unworkable economy, many of us are heading that way again. To get there, we will need to develop rituals that will link our activities to the seasons.

 

temb-chart-722

The seasons told by water temperature in Taunton Bay, Maine. Fall is a time of rapid decline, winter of holding steady under saltwater ice, spring of gradual incline, summer of attaining and sustaining the peak of the year. Smoothing out the highs and lows for the sake of human comfort and convenience would change everything at exorbitant expense to functioning ecosystems and all who depend on them.

 

Our word “season” stems from the Latin verb serere meaning to plant. Everything has its season, its appropriate time of planting in accord with the relative positions of Earth and sun during their annual journeys. Planting occurs first in the mind, then in damp soil. That is where rituals begin. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is fit to mark the sun’s apparent turn at its lowest point at the winter solstice, and to welcome it at its height six months later. We can witness those turnings of the year with great accuracy, as we can the midway points when the sun rises and sets due east and west. Those quarter days—two solstices and two equinoxes—divide the annual round into four seasons, and the climate of our consciousness into four moods of anticipation.

 

We celebrate many of our festivals and games in sympathy with the waxing and waning of light, warmth, and plenty through the year. Winter is a time for looking ahead, spring for renewal, summer for fulfillment, fall for hard work. The seasons divide the cultural year into four distinct situations. Summer is for baseball, fall for football, winter for basketball (or skiing), spring for tennis (or golf, or soccer, or skateboarding). No activities are more rewarding in their time than planning a garden, ordering seeds, tilling, planting, tending, harvesting, storing and preserving, putting to bed, and sharing with others. Nothing is more satisfying than living in accord with the seasons of the year.

 

As Earthlings, we are born to celebrate the seasons and the conditions of our lives which resonate with them. Just as flowering and fruition are native to their seasons, so are dearth and deprivation to theirs. Distributed through the year, these situations flow into one another, achieving an overall balance in consciousness that echoes the ups and downs of sunlight, the ecological processes dependent on them, and the dynamics of life situations.

 

It is when we try to smooth out the hills and valleys of the seasons that we get into trouble. Wanting it all, all the time, we let our appetites (rather than sunlight) take control. Instead of being ruled by the seasons, we attempt to rule them. But they cannot keep pace with us any better than ecosystems can, or the flow of edible vegetation through the year. We engineer an ever-growing economy to meet our desires, but Earth cannot maintain it or us at so unnatural a rate, so dwindles and fails as we take second helpings. This is a matter of record. Fish in the sea, forests, topsoil and tillable land, species diversity, and quality of life—all are collapsing as we try to squeeze more from natural systems than they can provide.

 

Men congratulate themselves for emancipating their women, children, and slaves, but do not see that they persist in enslaving other nations and even Earth itself to meet their collective desires—which are truly insatiable. The global economy is based on the enslavement of living resources, both human and natural, to the appetites of powerful for-profit corporations which, though they claim the right of free speech for themselves, would silence all who oppose their stripping Earth of its natural wealth.

 

In defiance of the seasons and common sense, corporations are the perpetrators of the growth economy. The feet of their executives don’t touch the Earth any more than their hearts do. They live in penthouses far above the streets where common folk trade. They are not men for all seasons but for no seasons at all. Increasing wealth and plenty is their goal. To gain which they are killing the planet, its living systems, and the mere mortals among us.

 

I have a problem with that. Recent events bear me out. Congress has been bought by corporate lobbyists, as has the legislation it votes into law. No regulatory superhero has stood between corporations and their goal of showing extravagant profits every quarter of the year. But as the economic crisis demonstrates so clearly, a financial climate driven by insatiable greed is no substitute for the seasonal climate which governs the productivity of the biosphere. So much for corporate consciousness and any supposedly built-in safeguards. Focused solely on making excessive profits for themselves, corporations have no brain cells left to devote to the ecological economy of their host planet which, in the end, is the only thing that matters. If we don’t put the speed bumps back in our yearly consumption of global resources and expectations for profit, then truly Earthlings of every tribe are at risk.

 

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Copyright © 2008

 

The day stretches ahead of me. All that time. How fill the hours?

 

Had breakfast, washed dishes, did laundry, made a start at my solstice card list, and it’s snowing. What next? Winter solstice on the 21st, the true New Year’s Day. A group of us usually hike up Cadillac Mountain Road, weather permitting. That’s a ways off. First, John and Seth are coming from Boothbay to talk about eelgrass in the bay. I’ve made my eelgrass PowerPoint, but haven’t run through it. Got to do that. Carole’s coming tonight and I want to buy carrots and make rice. Oh, and transfer funds from savings to checking to cover my credit card payment. And blog about consciousness of time and space. And check NOAA weather.

 

For now, that’s today’s to-do list. In its own way, each item is important. What’s most important? I’ll go to the bank after the post office gets the mail up—usually by 10:30. That gives me an hour and a half. First, check the weather. Make blog notes. Shop when I go to the bank. Keep my solstice card list handy to work on between times. Do the PowerPoint later. Try to get to the blog.

 

O.K., have at it.

 

Not so fast. I check my blog and find a comment from Laura, which I respond to. Then I check my stats, and find two links to porn sites. Am I linked to them or are they to me? How do I get rid of links like that? I e-mail WordPress support to find out. Then I run out of printer ink. And so it goes (“it” being this given day in my life). Planning is one thing, doing another. Things just come up and need to be dealt with. With everything changing, I find it hard to know my own mind.

 

One thing about time, it always runs out. If I start over, it runs out again. What is this flow we call time? As if it were so many grains of sand in an hourglass. When we run out of it, we flip the timer. Until that last hour when we can’t. The metaphor of “the arrow of time” makes it sound like some sort of trajectory, but whether meant in a thermodynamic, cosmological, or other sense, it is a misnomer. It is not time that flows over us so much as change itself. Time is an Earth-bound measure of change. Earth-bound because found only in the human mind, and, as far as we know, humans are bound to their double-planet, Earth-moon system. Time, arrow and all, is in our heads.

 

I think time and space together are the essence of consciousness. We are conscious at this time, in this place. In our current situation. We may be recalling past events or anticipating future ones, but we are doing so at this current moment of consciousness, here and now, the one, ever-changing moment we are allowed.

 

Rather than being principles of consciousness, time and space are derivatives of consciousness. I’d say change is the founding principle on which consciousness rests. Either the world (my situation) is changing in awareness, I am changing, or both are changing at the same time. Time is the signature of myself the observer (the world is changing before me); space is the signature of myself the actor (I am changing the world). When I am both observer and actor (in the ongoing feedback loop in my brain that is consciousness itself), time and space inform me as a participant (in that loop).

 

(Note to self: look at locations in the brain where incoming sensory phenomena are given meaning (interpreted) as a basis for appropriate action—there would be the neural substrate of this consciousness that I am.)

 

Time and space flow from the interaction between sensory awareness and past experiences as made available by recall. Fitting the two together is the effort after meaning we know as human consciousness. Which enables us to act appropriately (or not) in our current situation.

 

In my little booklet Eartheart (Addison Gallery of American Art, 1973—long out of print), I included an image based on the text, “Time is an arbitrarily designated standard of change against which other changes can be compared or measured.” The apparent motion of the sun relative to our Earthly observing station has long served as the standard by which we gauge other changes. Obelisks and sundials translate solar motions into moving shadows, which can be cast on calibrated pathways—giving us the current time of day. Rotating hands on clocks and watches mimic solar movements in different degrees of fineness. Digital timepieces are programmed to step to the same beat.

 

But time is not contained in such instruments. Contrary to Einstein’s famous thought experiments, a mechanical clock in space without an observer is nothing more than an assemblage of springs and gears. The seat of time is in our heads. Where it serves as a standard for calibrating changes we apprehend in the world. Time gives meaning to such changes by referring them to the apparent motions of the sun, moon, and stars. That is, to Earth’s rotation on its axis once each day as divided into practical units found useful in scheduling and measuring human affairs. 

 

I can look in The Old farmer’s Almanac and find out when the sun is predicted to set in my locale. Then I can drive up Cadillac Mountain (when the road is open) to Blue Hill Overlook and watch the sunset from there at that time. A surprising number of visitors do just that when they come to Acadia National Park each summer. Then as soon as the sun drops below the horizon (or the horizon rises to cover the sun), people seem to think the event is over so they drive off to dinner. But the best part of the sunset experience is ahead as the clouds change in turn from gold to orange to red to deep crimson to blue to black.

 

That progression of colors reflects the essence of time in human consciousness. In them time is not just a series of numbers on a clock—which is merely one way of calibrating human awareness of changes in our environment—but it is the sequence of changing phenomena in our minds that is the point. We watch sunsets to have such experiences. Acquired through experience, time is a tool for enabling us to be in the right place at the right time.

 

Or by a different time scale, we can climb Cadillac Mountain on the winter solstice to see the sun, on its trek along the horizon, at its southernmost limit, which serves as the experiential turning point between the old year and the new. With the sun at its lowest arc in the sky (because Earth’s northern hemisphere is turned farthest away from it on this day), days are short and nights long. But exactly at that time, hope wells up in consciousness because from then till the beginning of summer there’s only one way to go and that’s up as sunrise inches its way northward along the horizon toward—first colder—then warmer days ahead.

 

Winter may be a time of hardship and scarcity, but it is the road we must take if we want to make it to spring and summer beyond. Much as to reach those promised tomorrows, we must give today our best shot. Which is why time is our greatest invention and most valuable asset. It is possibility itself. Possibility for careful attention. Possibility for discovering meaning, for effective and rewarding action, for reflecting on the outcome, and then for trying again.

 

The second most important question we can ask ourselves is: What’s happening in my world today? The most important question is: What am I going to do to help things along? Hour by hour, day by day, we mind our situations, then act out the stories of our lives.

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