Nature Notes - October 2020
- Story by James Inabinet, PhD
O“Man is free and not free. He is not free to choose his destiny, but his consciousness makes him free to accept it as a task laid upon him by nature.” – Aniela Jaffe
While still a young man living in my father’s house I stood, bitterly cold, in a duck blind in the marsh near Lake Pontchartrain’s north shore as a huge storm approached from the west. Even though it’s been more than forty years now, I distinctly remember the eerie quiet – neither animal sound nor wind.
Attending to the tasks of duck hunting, I wasn’t really paying much attention to the storm; it seemed not to concern me somehow, or at least I didn’t feel threatened by it as I stood there, head bowed, as if I was waiting for something.
is sponsored by
I can still vividly recall the very moment I first swung around and really noticed the storm for what it actually was, all black and roiling, covering the entire southern sky from east to west. Where did this come from?!
Then I heard the low continual thunder from lightning strikes and felt a gale on my face. I counted six waterspouts, all within a couple of miles away, as I stood mesmerized by the numinous beauty, oblivious to the danger of the approaching storm, oblivious to the ducks flying around me, even landing in my decoys. The marsh seemed to glow, not an actual glowing but a sort of increased brightness or increase in contrast that made everything stand out.
I looked at the ducks in the pond, uncharacteristically swimming among the decoys, feeding, cackling, and flapping their wings – even as I stood there. I knew that I could not kill them. At that moment I woke up as huge drops pelted my face. In haste, I embarked for the dock, arriving twenty minutes later soaked through and nearly hypothermic, yet at the same time exhilarated and alive.
I never hunted ducks again.
That was a seminal moment for me – and still is – the excitement of it all, at twenty-two-ish, caught in a winter storm, blowing hair tickling my face, watching the swaying dance of marsh grasses animated by the wind as I stood stone-like, in awe.
At that pregnant moment, I realized that the cosmos before me – the grass, the lake, the wind, the ducks and clouds and sky and stars and moon – to be revelers in a mutual dance, a dance of being, a dance of becoming. Each being has their part in the dance. It’s not a scripted dance, but a jazz-like dance. Each being relies on cues from the other dancers to mark out their next move and so be in harmony with the others.
I realized too, immediately, not in retrospect, that I had a role in that dance, at once spontaneous, unbound, mysterious, but I had no way to choreograph its steps or perform its movements. Instantly I became part of something larger, something beautiful, something entirely Other and me at the same time. This vision fully sustained me for a decade or more, even as it poked at me, festering.
At least a decade later, unable to get on with life in any Western way, I finally sought a different way of being, one that seemed to be pressed upon me from behind, even as it seemed to lure me from afar. It was irrepressible. No longer able to turn my back, I turned towards it.
I began to seek the nature of this dance, the nature of nature, so to speak, seeking patterns, seeking beauty, seeking the deep intelligence underlying forms even as I began to feel it. As I progressed on my journey, my skin slowly became less a boundary and more of a locus of connection. I felt myself increasingly integral to the forest, even necessary, like an organ within an organism, ecosystem as organism, an intelligent one. The forest began speaking to me through me and I felt a sense of wholeness, a sense of boundless meaning. I felt like a human being.
Through the years, I have found the cosmos to be chaotic and constructive, supportive of structures that continuously emerge, have their moment, and then fade. Clouds and cities and forests and human beings are like this. They come and they go. While here, all are part of the chaotic order of things.
It’s a dance. Think of it like the dancing air, dust, and energy in a dust devil, a swirling chaos that creates the constancy of a whirlwind. From afar it appears to be a quiet, serene, even stable form, but get close it becomes the utterly wild chaos it actually is. In this very way, Earth order and chaos are united in an endless dance.
It is no accident that the ancient Greeks appointed order in the universe, giving it the name Kosmos, meaning order or ornament, a universe ornamented with order that was also beautiful – and it was good! The viability of this order, and the planet itself, depends on the human ability to regain a relative form of order, stability, and beauty amidst the chaos of our time.
Again, it’s a dance.
Have we lost the ability to perform the human dance? A dancer dancing alone seems to be in chaos, but a dancer performing with others can produce order and harmony, like a dust devil. Such a dance depends upon receiving cues from other dancers.
How will we perform our role in the collective Earth dance as we continue to bumble along in this new millennium? How might we lose ourselves in our uniquely human dance even while attending to the other dancers on this planet and make our dancing a harmony with other living creatures?
O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
– William Butler Yeats