Even as the world careens toward an unknown future shaped by anthropogenic climate change, with horrible blizzards and hurricanes on the US East Coast and spring in January on the West Coast, there are still things that give me hope and make me happy. For some reason, I was acutely aware of these things yesterday on my way home from the university.
I experienced a profound sense of relief when I finished my last class of the day, walked outside after five o’clock in the afternoon, and saw the sun still shining. Just a month ago at that time it would already have been pitch-black night. It was strangely reassuring to know that no matter how much we screw up the environment on earth, the larger universe will be unaffected, the earth will still rotate on its axis, the sun will still go through its usual seasonal variations, and everything will continue to hurtle through space in a pattern that humans cannot meddle with. Life elsewhere, whatever it is, will go on as before. I understood at that moment why many cultures have worshipped the sun, because it is one obvious predictable element in a in a world full of micro-scale unpredictability.
One neighborhood on my way home has an unusual number of flowering plants and trees. I was particularly moved by the sight of a huge star magnolia tree in full bloom, abundantly offering up its genetic material to the process of evolution. Even if the human race reproduces and consumes itself into extinction, whatever flora or fauna remain in tune with the prevailing conditions of the natural world will conquer and survive. Life will go on.
In that same neighborhood I noticed, for the first time, a set of steps leading up to the entrance of a house, each vertical surface decorated with a beautiful pattern of tile mosaic, mostly in gray, beige, and silver tones, incorporating many pieces with a mirror surface. Someone had taken the trouble to decorate the outside of their house with a unique art installation, probably crafted from broken bits of tiles and mirrors that would otherwise have been thrown away. It was all the more beautiful with the evening sun shining on it. Human creativity still exists in unexpected places.
On our property I see rafts of purple crocuses that have spread from an initial planting, purple, yellow, and white crocuses coming up in places where we never planted them, hellebores, cyclamens, primroses, and all kinds of tender succulents spreading in wild exuberance among the native plants, and fruit trees with buds ready to burst open any day now. The ornamental “fruit” trees are already blooming. It’s tempting to think that humans’ perverse attempts to grow plants outside their native habitats will eventually lead to fast evolution of vegetation throughout a changing world, even when natural dispersion and selection can no longer keep up with the rate of change.
That night, sitting at my desk and looking out the window, the sunset was spectacular. The entire sky glowed red as some benign clouds moved in from the west. There will always be beauty in nature and the universe, whatever form it takes. I’m optimistic enough to think that from time to time at least a few people will shift their attention away from the shadow world delivered to them through their electronic gargets for long enough to see all of the marvelous things that exist in the real world that surrounds them.
[Animals walking off into the sunset by M.K. Curlionis, 1909; sun graphic and star magnolia from Wikimedia; other photos are mine]