2015 is the United Nations International Year of Soils. It is a year to highlight and celebrate the fundamental role that soil plays in sustaining life on our planet and providing our food, fibre, fuel and much more. The International Year of Soils also presents an opportunity to focus on long-term solutions to the many challenges that soils face. In its natural form, soil teems with billions of living organisms, most invisible to the naked eye. It is full of life. The benefits soil brings us are humbling yet often go unnoticed. That may help explain the poor treatment it often receives. As a potent expression of the Earth element, soil represents life, regeneration and reconciliation. There is a lot we can learn from it, if we take the time.
Energy. Transformation. Renewal. Awe and wonder. Power. Passion. Life. These are some words from within to describe the element of fire. Of all of the intuitive elements, it fascinates me the most. My first post was called ‘Women on Fire’ and described the genesis of the ‘Fire Up Water Down’ blog. My 60th post further explores my attraction to this enigmatic element. I present, as it were, the personal perspective of a ‘woman on fire’.
We are connected to waves of water, air and light in a myriad of ways. For many of us though it is the timeless and reassuring rhythm of the ocean that fires our imagination. Both friend and foe, ocean waves embody the energy imparted by wind and earth. Humans directly experience the power of waves through wave watching, surfing, swimming, storms and tsunamis. We capture, create and contemplate images and sounds of waves to forge connections in a different way. As a measure of human ingenuity, the power of waves is now also being used for renewable energy production. Using the form of a photo essay, this post explores ocean waves through their varied elemental expressions – water, wind, earth(quakes), fire (energy) and consciousness.
Goethe and I share the same birthday, albeit in different centuries. We also share an interest in science, art, literature, the natural world, communication and the elements. Best known as the author of Faust and other literary classics, Goethe also produced an extensive body of work on geology, botany, zoology, colour theory, physics and meteorology. The elements of earth, air, fire and water are woven through his efforts to read the book of nature and understand the human condition. Great thinkers and writers like Darwin, Alexander von Humboldt, Hermann von Helmholtz, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau, Carl Jung and Rudolf Steiner were influenced by Goethe’s work. There is still much to be learnt from him today.
Since 2005, the last Sunday in September has been designated World Rivers Day. In 2015 it falls on September 27th, an occasion worth celebrating. Water is an element that is essential to life and rivers have a special place in cultures around the world. Called the arteries of our planet, they inspire creativity in all sorts of mediums. People love to paint, draw, photograph, film and worship them. Stories and songs about rivers and waterways abound. They are the source of parables, metaphors and lessons in life. What a wonderful day to share some of the river related material, both practical and philosophical, that has captured my attention as part of the elemental world.
‘Elemental ecology’ was coined in 1968 by Professor Bill Jackson, a Tasmanian academic. It was captured for prosperity in his scientific publication ‘Fire, air, water and earth – An elemental ecology of Tasmania.’ This time last year I was preparing a spoken paper for the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) conference that would revisit Bill’s concept. My first post on elemental ecology was written before the presentation, this one provides an update 12 months on.
On August 30th, 2005 the focus of the world was on New Orleans in Louisiana, USA after a category 4-5 Hurricane called Katrina unleashed its elemental power. Combined with a levy system that could not cope with the intensity and aftermath of the hurricane, Katrina was the most destructive storm to strike the United States and the costliest in U.S. history, causing over $100 billion in property damage. The human cost of the storm, which is not something that you can put a dollar figure on, is still playing itself out. Lessons on how to plan for and respond to extreme elements can be learnt from the experience of cities like New Orleans and other parts of the planet.
Each of us has a special place, or places, that we have a strong connection to. This “sense of place” is developed through personal and cultural experiences and knowledge of a particular area. The “elemental” landscape is an important part of these experiences, one that expresses itself on many scales – from the sun on your face, to the changing of the seasons or the impact of earthquakes or storms on a region.
We are almost half way through the Oriental Year of the Sheep, or Year of the Goat, or Year of the Ram. The Chinese character yang (羊), which represents this year in the Zodiac cycle, can be translated as all of these animals. In Japan the yang character represents only one animal, the sheep. In Australia we also refer to 2015 as the Year of the Sheep. Not because we have studied the astrological intricacies of this year, in the main. It’s due to the long association of the post-colonial Australian psyche and economy with domestic sheep. Who would have thought the animal zodiac could be so culturally influenced? And what has it to do with the elements? It’s a fascinating story……
In 1959 the mathematics lecturer and musical humourist Tom Lehrer wrote a song titled ‘The Elements’. The song refers to the chemical elements, the ones that are classified in the periodic table. The opening lines are “There’s antimony, arsenic, aluminium, selenium; And hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and helium”. Sung to the tune of the Major-General’s Song from The Pirates of Penzance, ‘The Elements’ has popped up in all sorts of places since it was composed. There have been many other attempts to popularise the chemical elements since 1959 including giving them personalities, showing them in action and translating them into art works. These efforts are educational, entertaining and worth further examination.