Tag Archive 'fossils'

Mar 15 2015

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Big Questions

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gastropod1What’s the weather like? What’s for dinner? What’s on TV? These are the kind of questions that most people ask themselves nearly every day. As long as I keep to this program, I’m just a regular guy. But I have a tendency to stray. I have a tendency to ask big questions, very big questions – questions for which there are no simple answers.

Last year I completed a manuscript about my immersion into amateur astronomy a decade ago and the big questions that arose from it. At the same time, I read all sorts of theological works, sampling the world’s major religions. The result as been a long winter of intense metaphysical inquiry and difficult writing about things that no one really understands.

Last fall I visited Fisk Quarry and saw the fossilized remnants of creatures that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. Those swirls embedded in rock reminded me of spiral galaxies, hurricanes and other natural phenomena. All this suggests to my impressionable mind that there’s such a thing as natural order, that the patterns I see in the world around me are not just a figment of my imagination. That gets me thinking about why patterns exist.  And that, in turn, gets me thinking about the Absolute.

The great thaw has commenced here in the North Country. Soon I’ll be wandering around the woods looking for spring wildflowers, blathering like a fool about how wonderful and beautiful the world is. Then I won’t be so lost in my abstractions. Then again, everything in nature reminds me of divine order. I see spots on the back of a ladybug, a heavy mist clinging to a forested mountain, or the waxing moon rising after dark and sense the sublime. I’m a hopeless romantic.

 

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Oct 12 2014

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Natural Religion

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gastropod1On a balmy, partly cloudy day, while driving around the Champlain Islands admiring autumnal color with my wife Judy, I detoured to Isle La Motte to check out a rare geological phenomenon called Chazy Reef.  It’s the stony remnant of a coral reef that existed 480 million years ago, transported to Lake Champlain by the movements of Earth’s tectonic plates. Well aware of it for many years, I wanted to see it with my own eyes.

I parked the car at the entrance to Fisk Quarry, where more practical folk once cut and removed stones for buildings. It is now a preserve and national landmark – one of two in the area. Judy stayed in the car, more interested in the here/now than fossils. I understand. Like gazing at the stars, any venture into the depths of natural history is an exercise in imagination. What one sees is only a rough sketch of what once was.

At first I saw nothing as I walked around the preserve. After all, I have only a layman’s understanding of geology. Then I spotted a swirl embedded in solid rock. Then another, and another. The skeptic in me assumed that someone had carved them, but a closer look dismissed that notion. I knelt down and touched those ghostly apparitions, half expecting them to disappear when I did so. My fingers traced the fossils as if reading braille. Then I got it.  That is, I sensed an order to things in a world that so often appears to be utterly random and chaotic.

Truth is I have always been something of a pantheist. I don’t particularly like that label, but it comes closest to describing what I feel during those precious moments when I see the hand of God in nature, when the yawning chasm between mathematics and mysticism suddenly vanishes and I understand, on some level, how everything connects.

The swirls I saw in the rock, the vague outlines of marine creatures that lived hundreds of millions of years ago, remind me of the swirls of hurricanes and galaxies. There are forces at work in the universe that press our ability to reason to its limit. And when confronted by the Real, all I can do is genuflect. Nature, it seems, is wilder than our wildest imagination.

 

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