Patagonia is windy. Very windy, in places. So is Antarctica and the surrounding waters, at times. Both regions in the ‘extreme south’ bear the brunt of the westerly winds that travel around the globe, unheeded in these low latitudes by other land masses. So when you travel to these parts, as I did over the 2019/2020 summer season, you are well advised to take wind-proof clothing. Given that the winds are sometimes so strong that they can blow you over, these precautions only go so far! Visiting a part of the world where wind is so dominant has given me a better appreciation of this enigmatic and energetic element and the role that the wind plays in the history and climate of the globe.
For my 72nd blog, I bring to you an element of the elements that hadn’t crossed my mind before – the ins and outs of winter cycling on a bicycle. The book ‘Frostbike‘ starts with the question ‘is happy winter cycling possible?’ This means serious cycling in snow and freezing temperatures, not the relatively mild winters we have in coastal Australia and elsewhere. Even here the number of cyclists in winter declines markedly. So, thanks to Tom Babin, there is now information available on what bikes are suitable for winter cycling, how cities can be designed to accommodate it, and the importance of people’s attitudes towards winter and, with it, winter cycling. The book also provides a fine example of how our attitudes towards the elements can have an impact on our behaviour and wellbeing.
Seeing the earth from above gives a new perspective on the planet we call home. This is epitomised by the image of earth from the moon captured by the crew of Apollo 8 on Christmas eve, 1968. The evocative image made people realise what we had on earth and how small it was in the universal scheme of things. Hot air ballooning, a more accessible activity that is closer to home, also allows us to (re)discover earth from the air. It is a truly elemental exercise – fire heats air, wind directs the balloon, earth and water influences the wind patterns, as well as providing the backdrop for the flight. The experience generates awe and excitement. No wonder ballooning is such a popular elemental pastime.
Gongs and cymbals of all sizes and styles were a feature of MOFO (MONA FOMA)– an arts extravaganza I attended over the weekend in Hobart, Tasmania. As well as being a joy to listen to, these instruments gave me a new perspective on the elemental aspects of metal. So now music making joins Chinese philosophy, the chemical elements, alchemy, blacksmithing, sword-smithing, sculpting and jewelry-making in the fascinating story of metal.
Let me introduce you to Mariko Mori, Theo Johnson and Phil Price. Three remarkable artists that create kinetic sculptures, inspired by and incorporating the elements. Each artist brings a different perspective to our relationship with the natural world. To appreciate their work, videos are a must. They take us to worlds of new and ancient nature.
Dragons have us captivated. Mysterious, magical, embodiments of energy, they have been referred to throughout history in one form or another across diverse cultures. They still feature today in areas such as art, music, film, television, festivals, Magic, Feng Shui, Apps, national flags and astrology. October 24th 2015 marked the second World Dragon Day with events held around the globe. Dragons and the elements are closely connected – this post shares a selection of stories about this relationship with a focus on East Asia and Europe.
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.
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.
‘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.