Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Burning Like a Ceaseless Flame

Several years ago, on a Friday evening, an hour or so after sunset, my daughter Bekah and I drove out to Springbrook Farm in search of spring peepers. We parked the car off the road by a broad low-lying meadow on either side of the farm's namesake brook. In the spring, the brook floods from snow melt and rain. And so we walked down into that watery meadow. Wearing sneakers, Bekah was brought up short by the flood and retreated. But I waded out into the middle of the meadow, all the while with the water threatening to overtop my wellies.

Out in the midst of that meadow, under a sickle moon and a sky full of stars, I stood still listening. The whole place seemed to sing. Soon the high-pitched shrill of the peepers overwhelmed my ear's dynamic range. My whole body became a tuning fork struck by the reverberant voices of hundreds of tiny frogs.

In his book The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe, Chet Raymo, scientist and mystic, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at Stonehill College, writes of a water meadow near his home in North Easton, Massachusetts:

In spring...the water meadow teems with life...Red-winged blackbirds take up residence in the young alder and willow trees that are colonizing the meadow. Canada geese and mallards, in faithful pairs, swim among emerald shoots of new grass. Then comes the magic day in April when the entire surface of the water meadow begins to sing, the choiring of spring peepers, a hallelujah chorus in celebration of new life. 

Of course, it's not new life at all. Life was there all along buried in the frozen mud or in rock-hard seed cases on the branches of trees. Life doesn't come and go; life persists...

Often I have taken off my shoes and rolled up my pants, and waded out into the midst of all this animation. Every sense is stimulated by the brash exuberance of living things...

Behind the water meadow's rich diversity of life there is a molecular unity (evident in images displayed on the color computer screen) as beautiful as a cathedral's rose window or flying arch. Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis, one of the greatest of Gothic builders, hoped that his cathedral would reveal the divine harmony that reconciles all discord, and that it would inspire in those who beheld it a desire to establish that same harmony within the moral order. The molecules of life, revealed by science, achieve the same effect. They inspire a reverence for the invisible harmony--of form and function, of complexity and simplicity--that is the miracle of life. Here in the water meadow it burns like a ceaseless flame.

Check-out Chet's blog at Science Musings.

(Google Image Photo: West Rose Window, Chartres Cathedral, France)

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