Celebrating our sense of wonder

We are born with a sense of wonder. Taking delight in the warmth of the sun, the colours of the rainbow, the leaves dancing in the wind. Mesmerised by the beauty of fireflies and dragonflies. Amazement in the smallest of things.  It is a sense to celebrate and recapture if it has been buried under day to day distractions.

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Humans, the fifth planetary force

How Earth Made Us’ is a ground-breaking BBC series that tells ‘the incredible story of the natural forces that have shaped our history’. Now available on YouTube, it is well worth watching, offering fantastic imagery and though-provoking commentary. Presented by Professor Iain Stewart, the series examines the influence of four fundamental elements – Water, Deep Earth, Wind and Fire – on human history. The fifth and final episode, called the Human Planet, presents humans as a natural force in their own right.

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In awe of the Amazon: air, water and earth

When flying over the Amazon in a six seater plane, the clouds have right of way. Weaving a way between and around them takes an experienced pilot. Such a guide delivered us safely to Noel Kempff Mercado National Park on the border of Bolivia and Brazil, only accessible by plane or boat. One of the largest and most intact Parks in the Amazon Basin, it is worth the effort.

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Insights from the edge of the sea

Recently I spent a year immersed in the elemental land and seascapes of Cape Cod, on the Atlantic coast of the United States. In my mind’s eye at least. This is where Henry Beston’s book ‘The Outermost House’ transported me. I will let his captivating prose set the scene:

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Uniting the States, elemental style

Every so often I discover books that use the elements to frame their stories. Having just returned from a trip to the USA, I was drawn to a book titled ‘The Men Who United the States’. The author, Simon Winchester, uses wood, earth, water, fire and metal as the basis of the five ‘Parts’ in the book. This framework is loosely based on Wu Xing, the fivefold conceptual scheme that is found throughout traditional Chinese thought.

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The Russian Firebird – a symbol of inspiration and art

One of the delights of undertaking research on the intuitive elements are discoveries that open up new worlds. Recently I came across a miniature-lacquered plate in a second-hand shop. This most unusual object led me to Russia, magic and the exquisite imagery and symbolism of the Firebird.

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Seven elements, plus one

The Rivered Earth contains four libretti written by Vikram Seth, a celebrated Indian novelist and poet, designed to be set to music by Alec Roth. The final libretti is called ‘Seven Elements’. It is a song cycle that includes seven poems – Earth, Air, Wood, Fire, Metal, Water and Space.

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Travelling with John Muir, an astute observer of nature

Recently I flew across half of Australia – from the green, coastal fringe where most of us live to the vast, arid, sparsely populated centre. John Muir, the famous Scottish-American naturalist and astute observer of nature, was with me on the journey – his experiences captured in the book ‘A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf’.

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Paying a visit to elemental ecology

Nearly 50 years ago, Professor Bill Jackson published the paper ‘Fire, air, water, earth – An elemental ecology of Tasmania’. With a title like that, one could say he was ahead of his time.

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