Tag Archive 'mysticism'

Dec 29 2023

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Mist, Mystery, Mystical

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Photograph by Judy Ashley

A dense fog has settled over the region during the past few days, accompanied by unseasonably warm temps and intermittent rain. “Gloomy” is how one weather forecaster describes it, and that’s how my wife Judy and many other people feel about it. Where is the snow that makes northern Vermont a winter wonderland this time of year? It hard to keep from thinking the worst.

I, on the other hand, look at it a different way. This thick mist matches my frame of mind these days. I gaze into the forest in my backyard and see familiar objects – namely trees – fade into the misty depths, becoming silhouettes then faded outlines of themselves, then nothing at all. What lies beyond what I can see? Only a blank gray wall.

This is exactly what happens whenever I contemplate Nature spelled with a capital “N.” I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. Nature is chockfull of mystery. The three greatest mysteries recognized by most scientists are: the origin of the universe, the origin of life in the universe, and consciousness. All three address, either directly or indirectly, what we human beings are.

The universe supposedly emerged via the Big Bang from an infinitely dense singularity prior to all spacetime, whatever that means. Life emerged later, most likely, from a primal soup on this planet billions of years ago, near some volcanic vent. The level of consciousness that we humans currently enjoy can be traced back to artifacts and cave art created 30,000 to 60,000 years ago. The roots of it probably go back in time much farther than that. As to the consciousness of other animals and the extent to which consciousness pervades the universe, well, that’s anyone’s guess. All this underscores the fundamental mystery that is Nature: why anything exists at all, and why there is the semblance of order in the universe instead of absolute chaos. If none of this makes your head explode, then you are not really thinking about it.

I for one have had moments in my life when I have gazed deep into the unknown, beyond all perceivable objects or the mere suggestions of them, and apprehended What-Is. No, I have not comprehended Nature in its entirely, but I have in these fleeting, mystical moments apprehended it, just as everyone apprehends a dense fog. I have stood awestruck before what some people call mysterium tremendum – the Great Mystery. Such moments are common to those of us who go to the edge of scientific discovery and look beyond it, into the abyss of the unknown. This is how we humans go about making sense of ourselves and the world. This is where reason begins and ends.

As a natural philosopher, I have my speculations about What-Is. Thanks to my senses and cold, hard scientific facts, I have a rough idea what is going on here and elsewhere in the universe. Yet the unknowable still looms large like the dense fog that is lingering over the landscape these days. And I remain awestruck by it.

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May 04 2014

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A Fiery Moment

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fiery treesLike most people here in the North Country, I plod along through a seemingly endless succession of grey, rainy days, waiting for that outburst of verdure called springtime. It is May, after all, and the brown month following winter is behind us.

Then it happens.

The sky breaks open and the dull landscape suddenly comes alive. I step outside for a better look at trees awash in fiery light. The sun has dropped below the rainclouds and is now hovering above the western horizon. Am I hallucinating?

A light rain dampens my skin but I don’t care.

And then, as if illumination wasn’t enough, a rainbow arcs across the sky. Despite any scientific explanation, it is truly a mystical phenomenon. The world we inhabit is too marvelous for words.

Wildness is everywhere.


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Dec 04 2012

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Shortly after Thanksgiving, I shoveled snow from my driveway for the first time this year. That was something of a surprise. But the snow that fell a couple days ago came with ample warning. I went out to Indian Brook Reservoir to greet it. Some things are best tackled head on.

In winter mode now, I wear hat, gloves and several layers of thermals and wools when I go into the woods. The days of t-shirt hiking are gone, along with all the fresh vegetation. That’s okay. I still have fresh air and the evergreens to sustain me.

With few exceptions, conifers keep their color during the winter. To eyes as hungry for green as mine are, that is no small matter. I find myself gravitating to them even though they block out much-needed daylight. I find myself drawn to their natural beauty, especially when they are highlighted by snow. Clearly I’m not alone in this sentiment. Even those who aren’t devout Christians are dragging evergreen trees into their homes. Their evergreen-ness consoles us.

Turning a corner at Indian Brook Reservoir, I caught a copse of conifers backlit by grey light as the snow fell. It took my breath away. There is the invigorating joy of the first lily in the spring, the lush happiness of full summer, and the burnt orange delight of autumn, but the snow-laced evergreens of early winter are something else. A walk through them and suddenly I am contemplating the mystical. The interplay of green and white – of shadow and light – excites my imagination, making me wonder how this world came to be. The earth tilted on its axis and circling the sun isn’t the whole story. Surely something else is at work here.


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