This morning snow fell on Puget Sound, a late winter storm in February. Mottled storm clouds raced low across the horizon. In the sulfurous light each limb of each barren tree was outlined with delicate precision as if the world were redrawn with a finer point, a sharper lead, and care taken to remove the smudges.
Now another squall eclipses the horizon and the evergreens bend beneath its weight. The few pedestrians trudge about their business with heads withdrawn into their shells. Their footprints evaporate like their clouded breath.
Hope remains in a world that can remake itself overnight.
Henry Miller wrote of the Big Sur coast south of San Francisco:
If the soul were to choose an arena in which to stage its agonies, this would be the place for it. One feels exposed—not only to the elements, but to the sight of God. Naked, vulnerable, set against an overwhelming backdrop of might and majesty, one’s problems become magnified because of the proscenium on which the conflict is staged.
The Sur coast is a landscape of immensity. The western horizon encompasses a vast expanse of empty ocean where humanity leaves no track, no sign of our passage, no imprint upon nature’s harsh indifference. The eastern horizon is bound by steep waves of stone—the coast range hills—mountains cleft by ravines where the sound of rock slides rumble and cliffs fall sheer to the sea. It is a landscape naked and exposed to the sight of God.
Big Sur coast at sunset. Photo attribution: Rick Pawl, flickr.com.
Where the nature of the Sur coast is immensity, the northern coast of Washington is one of intimacy. Clouds descend to the earth, fog rises to the sky, dampness drips from leaves like rain, and the horizon encloses you like a polished shell. It is an equally dramatic coast but a different drama. To paraphrase Henry Miller, “If the soul were to choose an arena in which to dream, this would be the place.
We have no mythology of place, no stories to explain our experience on the land.
The thing is, we have no mythology to explain either landscape. Unlike the aboriginal peoples who lived here first, we have no mythology of place, no stories to interpret our experience of the land. We have no technology of the psyche other than psychology which, like the rest of our technology, seems external, manipulative, coercive and utterly inadequate to explain our place in the world.
I think we have been driven mad by our lack of a compelling mythology. How else explain our unchecked rampage toward extinction? We have turned on the earth as if it were an enemy and made war against our gods.
Perhaps the medieval alchemists were right: As above, so below. Perhaps the vast reaches of the landscape reflect the vast space within ourselves, as if galaxies spin like Catherine wheels in the space between our cells.
We’ve lost our place in the world. We’ve come adrift and feel ourselves forsaken.
Maybe there’s a modern myth that appeals more to the vocabulary of our time—the holographic universe. Any piece of a hologram contains a complete image of the whole. Each shard of a shattered hologram contains all of the information of the original, a complete replica. We mirror the universe in ourselves. As above, so below.
Washington coast in fog. Photo attribution: Jody Miller, flickr.com
But we’ve lost our place in the world. We’ve come adrift and feel ourselves forsaken. In our anger we thought to slay the gods, the high gods and the local gods of place. Instead we turned sharp blades upon ourselves.
Tragedy looms for our species …if we can’t regain our balance, …if we can’t find again that sense of mystery that makes the world holy, …if we can’t believe that the universe resides within ourselves, …if we can’t acknowledge the sanctity of earth and sky, sea and shore.
If we are not here, the sun will still set on that nameless southern coast and polish the ocean like brass and the clouds will still entangle the coastal forests of the north like a landscape of dream. Over time, the earth will regain its balance. Nature will spin off new complexities like sparks from a Catherine wheel. But what we might have become will be lost and also lost what we might have contributed to the whole if our sense of responsibility had kept pace with our power and we had not descended into madness.
Another chain letter is weaving a Conga line among Facebook subscribers, this time drawing significance from an MP3 player set to randomly shuffle songs. The arbitrary songs are matched to a sequence of life events like a soundtrack of your life proceeding from opening credits to funeral song. The curious thing is the seeming significance in the random paring. In my case, the significance becomes more pronounced as I approach the end of my movie. For example, the birth of a child was haphazardly paired with Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy.” And others…
Final battle: “Spirits in the Material World,” by The Police. Death Scene: “Crawlin’ King Snake,” by John Lee Hooker. Funeral song: “Is there Anybody Out There,” by Pink Floyd.
Jung called it synchronicity. Giving it a name and describing it as “acausal but meaningful significance” may be reassuring doesn’t really explain the absurdity. For that you need to travel down the rabbit hole into the holographic universe. The defining characteristic of a hologram is that every piece contains all the information of the whole. If the whole were a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, then any part broken off would also contain the complete portrait of Abraham Lincoln. It’s hard to get your head around but that’s quantum mechanics for you.
If the universe is really holographic then every part contains the whole and every moment mirrors infinity. In such a world meaning can bridge the universe, time is like a snow globe, and coincidence is just a slightly different angle of view. In that world steaming entrails can once again auger the future and the crows can become portents.
…This I mean my mind to serve ‘Til service is but magic, moving through the world And mind itself is magic, coursing through the flesh And flesh itself is magic, dancing on a clock, And Time itself, the magic length of God! God is Alive, Magic Is Afoot Leonard Cohen