Saturday, February 28, 2015

BOUNDLESS WONDER – Extending Our Grasp of Beauty

The universe is immense beyond our comprehension. Yet this vastness is reflected literally at our fingertips. For there, in a single skin cell, exists another  “universe”—one of ever-smaller and smaller particles.

Human skin cells - PHOTO: CK-12 Foundation -

Even an atom, which itself is a ten millionth the size of the period at the end of this sentence, is made up of components that are proving every bit as hard to count as the number of bodies in the celestial universe.

Here, at Nature’s extremes, is where perspective begins to get a little weird. It’s fascinating to ponder how the infinitely big and the infinitesimally small are equally incomprehensible. The same goes for relative time, value and other less obvious qualities.

And, as physicists venture into the realms of quarks and quasars, we’re learning that the rules governing those concepts are going to have to change.

PHOTO: Sish Advexon -

Two things you might think would fall at opposite ends of a scale of time, size or space might, according to these new realities, actually lie right next to each other or even coincide. In these latitudes, large encompasses small; bad includes good; beauty has its ugly side. In everything lie the seeds of its opposite. And the astounding Intelligence that designed it all, at once everywhere and nowhere, looks on kindly as we endeavor to understand. 

       Wherever you may be in body or in 
       spirit, I hope you’ll choose to see beauty.

So the worlds I continue to explore around, within and beyond me are ultimately the same world. It’s all one, and it’s all good—the beginnings, the endings and everything in between.

What this means is that the extent of life’s wonders and mysteries is bounded neither by our skin-and-bones frailties nor even by time. No, the miracles we experience are limited only by our curiosity, our imagination and our faith. I hope you’ll choose to explore those boundaries. And, wherever you may be in body or in spirit, I hope you’ll choose to see beauty.

I’d consider it a great honor to join you for a leg of whatever boundary breaking you've undertaken, be it a walk in the woods, a quest for ideas or a journey of faith. Let me know the limits and barriers you've overcome. I have so much to learn.

Friday, February 20, 2015


Explore the place where sense & emotion overlap.

There’s a place where all the sense impressions that come into you churn and stew with stuff that’s looking for a way out.

Here is where true meaning and much of memory forms, and the essence, the aroma of it, exudes through your skin.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

THE DOG LISTENER – Getting Through to a Scared Pup

Sally called upstairs to me with an unusual note of urgency in her voice. Something about a dog. By the time I got downstairs, she’d already gone out the back door of our townhouse and into the central commons area we share with others in our complex.

A couple of our neighbors were out there too, and a dog. He was a spirited, young, mid-size golden-and-something mix. I could see at a glance that the animal was agitated—like he desperately wanted to find something or someone.

Sally quickly filled me in: the dog had been seen wandering around our complex for the past few days. He was obviously a stray. Everyone had been trying to get him to come to them so they could see if he had a name tag. But the poor thing was really spooked. Every time someone got close to him, he’d run away.

They’d called him; they’d offered him food; they’d even tried cornering him. Nothing worked. The day before, Sally said, someone had called Minneapolis Animal Control, but by the time the guy arrived, the wary pooch was nowhere to
be found.

   He lay down three feet behind me, let out a 
   big sigh and laid his head down on the grass.

Sally racked her brain for some way we could help the little guy. Eventually everyone else gave up and went back into their homes while she and I thought about what we could do.

As we watched the dog, now on the other side of the commons, I had a hunch. I asked Sally to stay where she was and to keep as still as possible. I walked very slowly about halfway to where the dog was pacing, eyeing us nervously. I didn’t know if I believed all I’d heard from PBS nature programs about avoiding eye contact with wild animals, but I figured it couldn’t hurt, so I kept my eyes on the ground, sat down on the curb, and just waited.

It didn’t take long. The dog started walking toward me, tentatively at first, but then more purposefully. He still slunk low, but his tail no longer tucked as tightly between his legs. He just kept coming all the way to where I sat, lay down three feet behind me, let out a big sigh and laid his head down on the grass.

Over the next few minutes, I was able to turn gradually and face the relieved animal, extend my hand and pet him. Eventually he let me attach a leash to his collar. 
       We are here not to dominate or exploit 
       Nature, but at her pleasure.

I was amazed by what had happened, but not surprised. The thing was, I knew it was going to happen. It was almost as if I’d been able to will it. And, though it’s surely presumptuous to think so, I believe there’s something to this. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but I know it has something to do with faith.

This experience reinforced my conviction—despite our culture of self-reliance and control—that we are not always masters of our environment. Indeed, we are here not to dominate or exploit Nature, but at her pleasure. And part of what faith does for us is to reassure us that that’s okay.

This faith has no label; it’s not Christian, nor Buddhist, nor Muslim. In this case, it’s just knowing that if we approach the natural world around us on its own terms, with eyes, heart and spirit open, nature never fails to reward us.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

BLUE-SKY BLIZZARD – Awash in Wintery Wonder

This morning in the forest every branch and twig seems more slender for the epaulet of fresh snow atop its shoulders. The fine lines of dark taupe and raw umber branch and spread, etched in a Maya blue sky. Crisp post-Alberta-clipper
air hovers, breathless, at around zero.


I swear I can hear tiny creaks and clanks, whispers of those the hot water pipes in old buildings make, as still-rising sun heats the branches. Though nothing will course through them for another month and a half, there is movement. Imperceptibly, the rough, warm bark swells. Dampened by the first drops of snow melt, it exhales tiny wisps of steam.

Those slight, rising air currents merge and grow, and soon stir the branches. To my right, a few falling flakes catch glints of sun; then more to my left.

      The five-year-old in me opens his mouth and 
      catches as much as he can on his tongue.

PHOTO: Lee Rentz

I stand among trunks in a pool of sunlight. An inkling lifts my gaze, and suddenly I’m awash in a fine, dazzling-diamond mist. The five-year-old in me opens his mouth and catches as much as he can on his tongue. Though too little to even wet it, the snowy spritz quenches my grateful soul. And then, but for a few straggling flakes, it is gone.

I look to position myself under another snow shower, but the game of wonder whac-a-mole frustrates me. I guess the one prize will have to do…for now.

Friday, January 30, 2015


 Once in a while, look up.

You'd think this would be a no-brainer, wouldn't you? But, if you're at all like me, it's like breathing. You take it for granted; you forget that, occasionally, it needs your attention. Haven't you ever concentrated so much on something—you know, that body-and-soul concentration where you shut out everything around you?—that you realized you'd been forgetting to breathe?

Well, it's the same thing with looking up. We get so focused on what's right in front of our noses, or what's going on inside our heads, we forget that, of the 360-degree reach of our vision, about half of it—with all its wonders of wisp and wing, billow and beam—lies above eye level.

"A find is a terrible thing to waste."

Monday, January 26, 2015

THE SPACES BETWEEN – Learning to See Both Everything and Nothing

In Nature, as in life, we can see more if we notice not just things, but the spaces between things; not just sounds, but the silences they frame.

Far from empty, these inhalations in the song of creation are what make each note so clear, so sweet.

From Under the Wild Ginger – A Simple Guide to the Wisdom of Wonder, by Jeffrey Willius

                                                            —//—         —//—          —//—

Once again, it’s Australian Open time. For me this winter tennis tournament is a welcome escape from the cabin fever that’s so often hanging, cold, damp and gray, around my shoulders this time of year.

Besides watching the greats—Djokovic, Williams, Nadal, The Screamer (Sharapova)—alternately pick and beat each other’s games apart with astounding skill and endurance, there’s another pleasure for me in the Australian Open.

       Most of the impression comes from what
       we read, as it were, between the lines.

For the past several years, one of the event’s main sponsors has been ANZ, a banking conglomerate serving Australia and New Zealand—thus the initials. Its logo appears somewhere in the background of about half the camera angles.

I’m a former marketing communications guy and brand designer, and I think ANZ’s logo is, at least design-wise, among the finest corporate marks I’ve ever seen.

The main reason I love this graphic so much is that it engages the eye in a most effective interplay between positive and negative space. The positive forms—essentially just two light blue circles, one cut in half; the other with a light-bulb-shaped bite taken out of it—are laid onto a dark blue background. The negative space is just that background area flowing between and into the circular elements.

And it’s so simple; that’s what makes it so elegant. With just those three basic forms the designer’s created both an interesting arrangement of the shapes, and, with the spaces between, a unmistakable human form.

More than that, in the way that little being’s arms and torso flare out around the blue circles, it becomes a dynamic, playful expression. It spreads, and reaches, and grows. It seems the arms are reaching out toward you, welcoming you, perhaps blessing you in some way. It’s friendly, exuberant, simultaneously humble and confident.

Just what you want in a bank, right? And most of the impression comes from what we read, as it were, between the lines.

     In western society…we’re taught to see 
     what’s there, and completely miss what’s not.

I’ve written occasionally about this interplay between positive and negative space. As I’ve tried to capture in that quote from my book, Under the Wild Ginger, it can have a profound effect on how we see the world and life.

It’s knowing the whale’s down there without even seeing it. It’s the void, the potential, in the human experience an entrepreneur or inventor sees and then fills. It’s the powerful meaning in someone’s hesitation when you ask them what they think of something you’re just nuts about.

Seeing and appreciating the spaces between is one of the great little secrets of being truly aware and in the moment. And it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. At least in western society, we’re often raised and educated quite literally. We’re taught to see what’s there, and completely miss what’s not.

            To twist an old axiom a bit, 
            you have to believe it to see it.

Allowing existence to something most people would say isn’t there takes a little practice. What’s perhaps most difficult for many folks is the irony that, the harder you try to do this, the less likely you are to succeed.

My best teacher has been Nature, with a dash of faith, instilled by my parents, thrown in. If you can simply BE in Nature—no agenda, no schedule, no expectation, just pure, simple presence—Nature will eventually show you both what is and what exists right next to that, behind it, even in the space it now occupies, but once didn’t.

Sounds a bit metaphysical, a little new-agey, right? That’s where the faith comes in. To twist an old axiom a bit, you have to believe it to see it. And how does one unaccustomed to it come by that faith? It helps if you want to—something which I’m not sure many milennials do, addicted, I fear, to all the pre-digested information and virtual experiences available to them at arm’s length.

The other key to hearing and believing in Nature’s counsel lies in what I like to call seeing generously. It’s the attitude, the belief, that truly seeing—even what may not seem at first to be there—is more like giving than receiving. Far from the competitive, materialistic fervor our culture seems to believe drives our economy and makes us all happy, it is not an act of acquisition. It’s an act of surrender.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

MY BRAIN ON DRUGS – A Little Fun With Pharmanyms

(In a previous life I was a copywriter, brand creator and sloganeer. So this post derives from that persona as much as that of the wondering wanderer I’ve assumed the past few years.)

IMAGE: Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc.

If you’re one of the few folks still watching original, seen-when-aired TV—as opposed to Tivoed or some on-demand stuff where you can skip the commercials— then you’ve seen these incessant commercials for drugs. You can’t watch for ten minutes without seeing one.

Advertisers of everything from hair growers to testosterone boosters to toenail fungus fighters try to convince you, despite the long, speed-read list of sometimes dire side effects, to demand their potion from your doctor.

For starters, the insidiously oblique tactic of getting you to ask for something your doc may not know much more about than what the culprits themselves have told her seems like it should be illegal.

And, even if you’re not as cynical as I am, you’ve got to agree there’s something else that's just patently ludicrous about many of these ads: the brand names.

    I challenge you to tell me which are real 
    brands and which are the impostors.

PHOTO: NY Zoological Society
Does anyone else think, as I do, that you could sit a chimp down in front of a two- or three-column list of random syllables, train it to pick one from each column, and come up with a better name for an arthritis drug than Xeljanz?* C’mon!

Now, lest you think I’m just ranting—perhaps resentful that some branding hot shots out there are making a small fortune dreaming up these absurd monikers—here’s a little test.

Below is a list of 20 drug brands. (I’ve left out ones so pervasive, like Cialis or Prednisone, that they’ve muscled their way into the vernacular, and I've spared those which at least try to suggest what they do—like Flonase. )

Ten of the names are real—the result, one would assume, of exhaustive research, brainstorming and focus group testing.

The other ten are pure gibberish; I created them in about five minutes using the chimp method—randomly combining nonsense syllables from two or three columns. I challenge you to tell me which are real brands and which are the impostors.

  1. Abradex
  2. Latuda
  3. Cynerol
  4. Osphena
  5. Curina
  6. Stekara
  7. Midaflex
  8. Myrbetriq
  9. Xufera
10. Treximet
11. Infuragel
12. Kaletra
13. Doloram
14. Ertaczo
15. Arterian
16. Fosrenol
17. Jyntala
18. Dacogen
19. Somn├ęz
20. Xarelto

Absolutely insane, right? But then what would you expect from folks who think you’re dumb enough to want something called Revatio?** How about Dumrite? Ufelferit?

 * Xeljanz is a JAK inhibitor, claimed to disrupt the nerve pathways that lead to the inflammation associated with RA.
** Revatio, from Pfizer, is the same drug as Viagra, but marketed to treat hypertension (high blood pressure).