Third Rock from the Sun

When I was growing up I formed my feelings about Earth in several ways: 1) childhood experiences in nature, 2) the cultural bias of my youth 3) somewhat scientific information available through various channels. Luckily nature won out.

Most of the places where my family lived were embedded in nature. There were ponds for frog chases and woods with adventures, mysteries and silences. Sunlight filtering through sassafras leaves, prattling brooks and stones which caught and held the attention. The ocean was never far away and an ice chest full of flounder was a day’s work, which was also fun. I walked to the bus stop through pastures with seagulls calling from above.

From the time I was five until I was fifteen my family went camping at Myles Standish forest — all summer long! That’s when camping meant tents and Coleman lanterns and canoes, not RVs with satellite dishes. There were always weeks of picking and eating blueberries: blueberry pancakes, blueberry muffins, blueberry pies. Even in the depths of winter Mom would break out the frozen blueberries and the summer’s adventures picking them would warm her kitchen. For many years half of our backyard was an ever-expanding garden where my Dad would cook the corn in his homemade steamer right there beside the garden. Now that’s fresh picked! My growing years were full of positive, nurturing adventures and mysterious experiences.

But those experiences were more and more shaped, influenced, selected and evaluated by the culture all around me. I got to vicariously experience Earth by reading and watching TV. The arrival of National Geographic started the month and a Jacque Cousteau special made the week! I could adventure across the Pacific on a raft with Thor Heyedahl, and dig ancient skeletons with the Leakeys in Tangyanika. It was possible to study the geology of Earth time-travelling back to when dinosaurs roared, volcanoes erupted and continents drifted.

Darwinian evolution was presented as undeniable in high school science class. I did learn Earth was ever changing and dynamic, but I didn’t realize she was alive until much later. I was taught that Earth was a collection of under 100 elements, each of which was made of atomic particles, all three of which were inanimate. I’m really dating myself here, eh? Science taught that Earth had life on it, at least most places, but that life was composed of inanimate matter. Science was as confusing as religion! Which told me Earth was handcrafted by a white-bearded patriarch who also judged that creation. The patriarch gave humanity, his favorite creation, dominion over all on Earth and we were to be fruitful and multiply.

When my childhood’s wonder at starry, starry nights, whippoorwills and the season’s first snowfall gave way to the contrasts of my adolescence, then confusion arose. Was Earth alive or just minerals, elements and swirling, billiard ball atoms randomly crashing into each other? Could Earth be both? Or neither?

Into the midst of this teenage confusion entered twin forces which tapped into and flowered out of earlier memories of bull frogs croaking in the night. Buddhism and (for want of a better term) Native spirituality both transcended my middle class, WASP, Judeo-Christian worldview. My Earth-view was now more dynamic and compassionate, even alive again!

It was now possible to think that maybe each of those atoms were worlds in themselves. The proposition that it was okay to exploit Earth became untenable. To exploit Earth was to do harm to another sentient being. To thankfully accept the nurturing of nature, to walk in balance with the planet could be the purpose of life.

In one of those omnipresent ironies of life, one of my most spiritual experiences of Earth was when I first saw the Apollo mission’s photograph of Earth rising over the moon’s horizon. Here was a very expensive picture achieved through historic scientific effort, a view of Earth from a quarter million miles away (quite removed). Yet there was all the beauty, fragility and vitality shining out from that big blue marble! After that we were all living in a global village.

A Few Suggestions:

• Be aware of Earth as alive on her many levels.

• Notice the weeds growing even through the concrete of the cities.

• Watch the clouds roll above.

• Do some gardening, a.k.a. horticultural therapy.

• The Tibetans have a very simple yet profound visualization in which you experience every person you know as having been your mother in previous lives. This can be extended to include every sentient being you come across including birds and bugs and your dog and that tree out there in the front yard. And that can be even further expanded to imaging Earth herself as your mother.

The late Ken Pratt, fondly remembered, was a freelance writer who passed in June, 2020.