Find out where joy resides, and give it a voice…
to miss joy is to miss all.
~ Robert Louis Stevenson ~
I didn’t come up with the title of this post until I had finished writing it. 2022 was, after all, a year of lurching geopolitical crises and brutal regressions. A year that often seemed like lunacy was triumphing. One calculated to produce nothing but the stress levels we all too often felt. But, when I finished describing my path through these months, I was struck by how joyful it also was. Even when I was responding to the anguish of two young men about the state of the world they are inheriting.
The Enchanted Boy arose from reading an incandescent book by a teenage Northern Irishman, Dara McAnulty. “Diary of a Young Naturalist” follows his challenging, ecstatic journey through the year he was 14. A boy on the edge of young adulthood, autistic in a loud, busy, cruel world, he nevertheless “lives in the altered states of a being who is illuminated by love. In his case, by a passion for the natural world.” That passion and his courage in the face of his challenges have led him to become one of his generation’s foremost activists.
My own passion for the natural world was my answer to my youngest nephew’s question, in light of the challenges we face, “What comforts you?” Nature, I said. In A Wild Love for the World I describe the solace of my deep love for the “growing, rustling, blooming, singing life around me.” Being with the green world “assures me that Earth is not only capable of healing herself, but determined to do so.” While this may mean she will ultimately shrug our clever but unwise species off her beautiful shoulders, “it also may mean that she will rise up in us as agents of healing and evolution. This is the most mysterious and wonderful vision — that we embody the very energies that create the cosmos minute by minute.”
For the past few years I have been exploring those creative energies. I turned to cosmologist Brian Swimme’s eleven powers of the universe to see what our oldest teacher tells us about creating a just and sustainable planet. This year I contemplated three of them, starting with one of the most challenging in Metamorphosis: The Power of Transformation. We are not only an accomplishment of the universe’s endless rounds of transformation, but we are living this energy every second. “The cosmic energies that slowly transformed the earliest particles into our brains and hearts are still transforming us. They are now operating through these magnificent organs they have gifted us. We are not in charge of the energy of transformation, but as we take on its mantle we more fully become the universe that created us.”
But it’s not comfortable! “We resist change even as we long for it.” In Staying Power: the Complexities of Homeostasis, I pondered an energy that is both challenging and comforting. The breakup of one homeostatic state, our atmosphere, is calling us to make changes in other stable states — economic, cultural, and emotional. Including some things we are convinced we can’t live without. “Even when we can clearly see that things aren’t working, we want the overall structure to stay the same, or at least close. We prize the stable, the familiar” even as we work to design a whole new approach to life on earth.
Writing Born to Relate: The Power of Synergy I turned to an unabashedly optimistic and exuberant power. Synergy is the birth of new realities from the collaboration of disparate ones at every point of creation. For 13.8 billion years, nothing has endured that isn’t in a mutually enhancing relationship with something else. “We are planetary beings, here because cell after cell learned to cooperatively share genetic information for 4 billion years. We were created and continue to thrive by cooperation.”
Speaking of synergy, the forest I spend a great deal of time in consists of one such relationship after another. Both above and, especially, below ground. In my Halloween post, Entangled in Webs, I explored the brilliant and utterly fascinating world of the fungal webs under our feet. Delicate, lively threads that can communicate, transport, and find their way from one goal to another along the most efficient route. That can overcome problems. negotiate with other beings, sort through options. That know what is happening at the farthest reaches of their vast network. The mushrooms in that post’s photos were appropriately dressed — one even perfectly named — for Halloween.
I took a couple of forays into history. The Drama of Deep Time explored the joys of standing at Joggins Fossil Cliffs in Nova Scotia, ankle-deep in fossils of plants 300 million years old. Tending the Wild celebrated the ways in which the practices of indigenous peoples shaped our environment and mourned the devastating loss of both those ways and those people.
I celebrated the way beauty unexpectedly bumps into our lives — and how important it is to aim for more — in Beauty: the Great Interrupter. “‘We need beauty,’ the poet Mary Oliver said, ‘because it makes us ache to be worthy of it.’ It sets up a longing that reaches beyond our self, our boundaries, bringing our mundane concerns into deeper meaning and a vaster harmony.” One man, in particular, is rescuing his community through beauty.
My yearly Season of Creation post was The Depth of Water, dedicated to this most crucial of elements, without which nothing would exist. “Our ancestors had it right: they worshipped water…The rest of us would do well to take their lead because water’s presence on this planet is what makes every breathing, beating, chirping, leaping, flying, growing manifestation of life possible.”
In every essay I write, I am following a trail blazed by the thinking of cultural historian Thomas Berry. One of my favorite of his ideas is that we look to Earth herself as our primary spiritual revelation. We are, as the title of my essay states, Standing on Holy Ground. What we learn there can “fuel the energies we have turned to sacred texts to find. Feelings of connection and wholeness. A sense that life has meaning. That we have a place, a purpose. Reasons to love. The desire to choose the right path for ourselves as individuals as well as cultures.” The way into transcendence, that “joy-filled lifting of spirit, a gift of Earth herself. She pulls us toward a state beyond the jangling of the world we have created, filling us with the urge to cherish all life.”
And, of course, I took photographs, some of which are included here. In addition to all these quiet joys dwelling within the heart of nature, for the first time in several years, I was able to travel and have wonderful times with much-loved people. I took a trip to the midwest for a family wedding and then on to the east coast where I saw friends I haven’t seen in five years. I went to the town where my partner, George, and I met and spent many years. There, on a very windy, gorgeous July day, I sent his ashes sailing into the waters he loved to sail.
A month later, these two beautiful-all-the-way-through people — my son, Luke and his bride-to-be Genevieve — got engaged, to the complete delight of everyone who knows them. Especially this mother! In October I went to Idaho to see their new home. And to eat and hike, our usual approach to visiting.
Here, to close this ultimately surprising year, is a thought from The Enchanted Boy:
“In his book, Dara McAnulty asked if there is “a peak, a maximum amount of joy that we’re allowed to feel?” I want to say — to him, to me, to all of us — no. Despite our fears, despite the ghastliness of war, and the devastation of the natural world. Despite the demons of greed and ignorance. Despite it all, there’s no limit to the joy that can come from being rooted on this glorious planet. That joy is the earth herself rising in us, healing our lives and hers.”
I wish you all joy in this new year.
Top photo: rare Marin dwarf flax (Hesperolinum congestum) Ring Mountain, Tiburon, California