Sunday, November 27, 2011


What is "reality" for a kid growing up in this sped-up, dumbed-down, 140-character world? Is their idea of connection a matter of how many "likes," "follows," or "friends" they've accumulated through the social media?

Beyond what little exercise may be mandated by their school, how much time will they spend today doing something that elevates their breathing and heart rates? Do they know more about the pop culture preferences of their friends than they do about Nature in their own back yard? Do they show more reverence for the escapades of the Kardashians than for the wonders of Creation?

If something about your answers to those questions bothers you, you're not alone.

There's a vibrant, growing movement among educators, physicians, environmentalists, schools and, yes, parents, to help this generation of children rediscover Nature. To convert them back from watchers to doers, from consumers to creators. In other words, back to what—until just this current generation—children have always excelled at: awareness, curiosity, imagination, play and wonder.

What can you do? For information, inspiration and resources go to the Children & Nature Network. While you're there you can also donate to the excellent work C&NN is doing to help kids get back outdoors, playing, learning and growing in the fresh air.

C&NN Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Richard Louv (author of the best-sellers, Last Child In the Woods and The Nature Principle describes his vision in a recent fund-raising letter:

I’m writing to ask your help, first by imagining a newer world. A world in which all children grow up with a deep understanding of the life around them, where they know the animals and plants of their own back yards as well as the televised Amazon rainforest, or better.

A newer world where the point of education is wonder and awe, where every school has a natural play space or garden. Imagine a world in which pediatricians prescribe nature. A world in which families become closer, and join with other families to explore the natural world. Where children, in inner cities and far suburbs, experience the joy of being in nature before they learn of its loss, where they can lie in the grass on a hillside for hours and watch clouds become the faces of the future. Imagine a newer world where every child has a human right to a connection to the natural world, and shares the responsibility for caring for it. Where every child has the opportunity to help create that world.

Please help the Children & Nature Network build the movement to connect children, their families and their communities to nature – and to imagine a newer world.
Donate to C&NN

I could not say it better myself.

Monday, November 21, 2011

WONDERS GREAT AND SMALL – A Thanksgiving Blessing

As we celebrate Thanksgiving in the U.S. I'll have to send my best wishes to all of you long distance. I'm in Mexico, where they refer to it as el día de acción de gracias.
Here's a Thanksgiving blessing I'd like to share with you. I happen to pray to God, but if your reverence for the incredible is directed to a force of a different name, feel free to plug it in as you like.

 Oh God, you appear to all of us in different ways. Ways so vast and powerful that we cannot grasp them, so minute that we fail to notice them. Lord, hear our thoughts and prayers of thanksgiving and help each of us be more fully aware of your blessings large and small:

Thank you for the vast expanse, the limitless wonder, of your creation,
And for the cold, wet, honeycomb pattern of the skin on a dog’s nose.

Thank you for Nature’s great ebbs and flows—her awesome power;
her transcendent beauty; her inexorable rhythms,
And for our lover’s heartbeat.

Thank you for the fascinating family of man—in all its colors, shades and textures—and the values and aspirations we share.
Thank you too for our family—those sitting at this table and those present in our hearts.

Thank you for the good, the pure, the true that resides at the core
of every human being,
And the chance to share a smile and a kind word with a stranger.

Thank you for your infinite bounty—the abundance with which you
nourish us in body, mind and spirit.
And thank you for this glorious meal we’re about to share.

Thank you for your promise of eternity,
And for this moment—this one...precious...moment of life.


Friday, November 18, 2011

US VERSUS US – Tied Together by String Theory

This post is inspired by, of all things, physics—specifically quantum string theory. Now, before you start nodding off, bear with me for just a minute or two.

If I can presume to understand recent science journals and PBS’s Nova, string theory proposes that everything in the universe consists of incomprehensibly small, vibrating, string-like objects. The concept modifies the traditional notion of a space–time continuum by integrating Einstein’s relativity with more recent quantum mechanics. The result is a rather elegant explanation of absolutely everything—space, time, matter and all natural forces, including gravity.

Elegant, yes, but there’s one small problem. In order for all of this to work, there would have to exist not just the four space-time dimensions of which most of us are able to conceive, but as many as eleven dimensions, some of which can only be described as parallel realities. I don’t know about you, but I find this pretty mind-boggling!

By employing these and other "senses" of which we might not even have been aware, it challenges us to think, feel and express ourselves in new ways.

Why should we be interested in parallel realities? First, the concept invites us to compare science with art and religion, all of them fields of thought which help us in observing and appreciating Nature, and which, traditionally, have defied reconciliation.

Secondly—the part on which I want to focus for now—the idea of parallel realities has many implications for those of us who pride ourselves on our curiosity, our empathy or, as I call it, our ability to see generously. Among them, it encourages us to expand the palette of ideas from simply those of our hard, five-sense experience to include those softer ones born of instinct, intuition and spirit. By employing these and other "senses" of which we might not even have been aware, it challenges us to think, feel and express ourselves in new ways.

Understanding the incomprehensible requires a small leap of faith. Of course, no one pretends that we’ll soon be able to actually see quantum strings. But there are many things we know are real, even though we can’t see them, because we can see their effects on something else. For example, I’ll bet you can look out your closed window and tell me how windy it is today.

Because there’s always a part of “them” in “us” and vice versa, it’s always about us.

In politics, in international relations, in personal conflicts and even in war, it’s never really about what we think it’s about. It’s never really the simplistic “us versus them” paradigm we’ve invented to make sense of complexity and manage our emotions. Because there’s always a part of “them” in “us” and vice versa, it’s always about us. Period. The answer to any conflict is for both parties to find this common thread and start weaving.

So...what does it all mean to those of us who find our inspiration in discovery, creativity and wonder? It means that:
  • There’s always another way of looking at something, another way to experience and explore it.
  • We can learn something important both from what exists and what doesn’t exist. (For example, isn’t it true that what’s not said is often more eloquent than what is said?)
  • The same experience can represent different realities for different people.
 We're only just barely separated (if at all) from the ideal, the sacred, the timeless.
  • Some of our beliefs and goals will always overlap with those of others. If we're sensitive enough to recognize them, these commonalities can form the basis not just of new relationships, but of new ideas, new institutions, new realities.
  • Our next great idea for creating something new and inspiring, as daunting as the challenge may be, could already be within our reach.

  • If we’re waiting for a change in circumstances before allowing ourselves to be happy, we may be waiting a long time. Nothing that ever happened in the past or that will ever happen in the future exists in any way other than as we manifest it now.
  • Finally, and perhaps the most important implication of all, it means that there are no limits other than those we impose on ourselves. In fact, we’re only just barely separated (if at all) from the ideal, the sacred, the timeless.
Some would find these things frightening; I find them profoundly energizing and hopeful.

 "There is a Collective Entanglement of the frequencies of all life's energy. It is this String that ties the past to the future, one’s unconsciousness to another’s consciousness, from one dimension to all the others, from here to the infinite." SIMON CROWNE

Monday, November 14, 2011


TIP #68
Study a soap bubble. - Used with permission

Behold the perfect gossamer globe; its oceans and continents shimmer and glow like fluid rainbows.

Let your eye search its swirling currents for your filmy reflection, a reminder of your own exquisite impermanence. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Spiraea shimmers with color in warm, waning autumn sun, the pointillist dabs of color not quite blending in the eye.

A closer look gives away the artist's stunning range of hues—
greens to golds to reds to plums—and the secret of their airy depth.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

CATCHING THE LIGHT – Nature's Strokes of Brilliance

We were just leaving a friend's home after a Christmas party.

It was one of those crackling-cold, minus-twenty nights we get here in Minnesota. The air was so dense that the airplane 20,000 feet above me sounded like it was on approach for landing. As I walked across the street to warm up the car, the snow squeaked like dry Styrofoam® underfoot.

Something odd caught my eye, and I looked up. Just through the bare branches of trees, the street light from the next block cast a distinct, golden beam of light 50 or 60 feet straight up into the sky. That's odd, I thought, the light must be broken…but how could it shine straight up like that? And since when do street lights cast such a distinct beam?

It was clear we were witnessing a wondrous, once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. 

PHOTO: Tristan Greszko -

By the time I picked up my wife in front of the house, we noticed pillars of light balancing atop other lights in the neighborhood too. On our way home, as we passed lighted signs and other cars, it was clear we were witnessing a wondrous, once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. (Most spectacular was a two-block-long colonnade of light fronting a well-lit used car lot.)

We later learned that what we'd seen were "light pillars." They're caused by a light source—typically the sun or moon, but occasionally artificial sources too—reflecting off of the horizontal surfaces of tiny ice crystals that fill the atmosphere in extreme cold weather.

This experience got me thinking about all the other amazing tricks light plays on us. Here are just a few of the other ones I've experienced or come across through a little research. Maybe you've witnessed some of them for yourself.

The result is...a nearly biblical effect...a multi-hued halo of light seeming to emanate from their head.

CRESCENT SUN DAPPLING – You know about the pinhole projection method of safely following the progress of a solar eclipse: you make a small hole in a piece of cardboard, hold it out and watch the tiny image of the partial sun projected on the sidewalk below.

But have you noticed that the same effect occurs naturally? Most days, the dappled sunlight that seeps through tree foliage actually comprises many overlapping, round pools of light. During an eclipse, though, each of those circles turns into a crescent as the moon takes a bigger and bigger bite out of the sun. 

Elliptical sun dappling during solar eclipse

GLORIES – You've probably seen a halo around the sun or the moon. But have you seen a glory? Again, it's a type of projection; in this case the "screen" is a mass of water droplets—like a cloud or the spray of a waterfall.

If the observer happens to be standing directly between the sun and those water particles, the result is a Brocken spectre, a nearly biblical effect of the person's shadow, with a multi-hued halo of light seeming to emanate from their head.

Glory, with Brocken Spectre

THE GREEN FLASH – Of all the beach sunsets I've experienced, I've never once witnessed the mythical green flash that's rumored to occur at the instant the sun disappears into the sea horizon. I thought it was one of those things where your odds of seeing it improved with the number of tequilas you'd consumed.

Turns out the green flash is a real phenomenon. Apparently the optical mechanism is similar to that of a prism. Since shorter wavelength light (the greens and blues) bends more than longer wavelength light (reds and oranges), the blue-green rays of the top edge of the setting sun stay visible slightly longer than the red-orange ones. I'll keep looking…and counting on the tequila to help.

The Green Flash

HEILIGENSCHEIN – Similar to the Brocken spectre, this "holy glow" occurs when a strong sun shadow is cast onto a surface coated in dew droplets. Each droplet acts as a lens to intensify the brightness and project it onto the surface it rests on.

Some of that light also bounces around in each droplet and is cast back toward the sun. (A commercial application of this effect is found in reflective materials like ScotchBright®, where a layer of tiny glass beads replaces the dewdrops.)


CLOUD IRIDESCENCE – This rare refraction phenomenon occurs when sunlight passes through thin, wispy clouds. That keeps most of the light rays from passing through more than a single water droplet, which refracts the light like a prism. (When the rays encounter thicker clouds, they encounter multiple droplets, and the prism effect gets scattered and diffuse.

Because this effect occurs mostly in an area of the sky near the sun, the sun's glare usually consumes it, so it helps if a building, tree or other object blocks one's direct view of the sun.

Cloud Iridescence

These are just a few of the wonders Nature can paint with light. Others I've enjoyed include sun dogs, northern lights, phosphorescence, alpenglow, mirages and many more. Have you witnessed any of these...or others? I'd love to hear comments!

Information in this post not derived from personal experience comes from Wikipedia, as do all photos except Tristan Greszko's wonderful shot of the light pillars.

Friday, November 4, 2011

LONGING TO BE SHORT? – A Man of Words in a 140-Character World

"Be sincere; be brief; be seated." ~ FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

Brevity's an immense challenge for a writer. Mastering this craft is about one-third actually putting words on paper and two-thirds deciding which words not to put there. And the closer you are to what you're writing, the harder that gets.

They say brevity's even more important on the Web than in print. That depends. Sure, as a generation of texting, tweeting, sound-biting, multi-tasking readers imagines it can process more and more information, attention spans shrink. If we don't get the point across in the first few lines, they say, they've already moved on to someone else's come-on.

I hope it will be a long time before we're snarfing down ten-page novels.

But we writers must be careful to understand our audience—and ourselves—before we allow this admonition to dilute the flavors and colors of our craft. Certainly there's a place for brevity, but I hope it will be a long time before we're snarfing down ten-page novels.

I love that language can be more than a vehicle for information; it can be the medium for painting a picture. Pictures are complex. If I'm to draw readers into the scene with me as I recount a story, I want them to experience the same vistas, the same sensations, the same awe I did when I was there in the first place.

FREDERIC CHURCH – Heart of the Andes (1859) Metropolitan Museum of Art

The reason I experienced those things the way I did, and why I try to articulate them, is my belief that wonder seeks you out only when you've made room for it. You have to set aside distraction, expectation and constraints of space, time and, yes, word count.

And that's all I ask of my readers, whether it's in your first-hand experience of wonder, or the vicarious one I offer here. Be patient; make time and space for wonder to find you; open your senses and let the smoldering spark of your spirit be kindled.

So, the question facing this wonder blogger is this: for whom am I writing? Is it the content shopper, who's skimming for information, advice or the quickest way to accomplish something? Is it the broker, looking for substance, but mainly to parcel it out to others?

Readers…are asked to give something it seems is quite valuable these days: patience.

Or is it the reader? Readers—at least those I seem to be connecting with—are looking to experience something. To be transported, not necessarily to places they've never been, but to new ways of seeing and appreciating those places.

Readers understand that experiencing wonder is, in many ways, an act of generosity. They know that, both in the original experience and in the vicarious experience of it through another's words, they are asked to give something it seems is quite valuable these days: patience.

Maybe I'm preaching to the choir, but if you're still with me, thank you for being a reader. Thank you for that patience, that generosity. To anyone just dropping in for the first time, I hope you'll appreciate my selective avoidance of brevity, and that you won't be in a hurry to leave.

Of course, there will still be folks telling me to keep my posts to a few spartan paragraphs, a few bullet points, perhaps. "Who's going to read all that?" they'll ask. "Readers," I'll reply, tempered in my resolve. 

"Any philosophy that can be put in a nutshell belongs there."


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

RECLAIM WONDER! – Take the Pledge!

In this increasingly sped-up, dumbed-down, 140-character world, are you starting to hear, as I am, that little voice of unease from somewhere deep in your soul?

Doesn't some part of you just want to say no to all that virtual "reality," all the quick, shallow relationships this digitized culture expects us to buy into? Don't you yearn to recapture that sense of wonder we all had naturally when we were kids?

Use the ideas as goals, resolutions, or just occasional affirmations of your intention to live      a more attentive, curious and grateful life.

That's what my Reclaiming Wonder Movement is all about. It's recognizing that yearning, and beginning to make our own choices as to the kind of depth and substance we want in our relationships with ourselves, each other and Nature.

The movement can start philosophically and lead to lifestyle changes, but it's inevitably a spiritual journey. Lots of people want to take part in this journey, but don't quite know where to start. That's why I've crafted the Reclaiming Wonder Pledge.

Think of it as a list of first steps and/or mileposts to guide you on your quest for more mindfulness. You can use the ideas as goals, resolutions, or just occasional affirmations of your intention to live a more attentive, curious and grateful life.  
You • can • do • this!!

Framing example only; frame not included in offer.
Use the peach-colored order form to the right and above. ->
Print it out, frame it, or make it the background of your computer desktop. Give a framed copy to someone you know who's also yearning to reclaim wonder in his/her life.
Thanks for taking the Reclaiming Wonder Pledge! Have a wonder-full day!