Saturday, July 26, 2008

Learning by contrast

Our understanding of light is very much shaped by our awareness of darkness, and vice versa. In a similar manner we learn about "smooth" by experiencing "rough" and so on. Life is full of contrasts and in these contrasts we experience the variety of creation and something of the divine creativity.

On one of my earlier flights from NOLA back to ABQ a fellow passenger commented on what one sees approaching Albuquerque: lots and lots of dirt.

He was right. It is a very earthy place and a large part of what stirs my emotions is soil.

I grew up a city boy. There is no way I can deny that and my more rural relatives would laugh me out of the room if I tried. But there is still something about growing up in the Central Valley of California that links one to the soil. For whatever primal, mythical, or simply delusional reasons, I feel a strong bond with the earth - and, specifically, with dirt. This does not mean you see me often out digging weeds, turning soil, etc. But there is something there.

I am also a Taurus. Fixed. Earth. Sign. Not water, air, or fire - earth.

So my heart sings when I see the vast expanses of "dirt" as the plane comes in over the eastern hills and prepares to land.

I probably would not have noticed or had that conversation with the young man coming to visit his fiancée in New Mexico were it not for the contrast.

When I first flew into New Orleans in late April I saw something very like the shots below, all taken when I flew in last Monday.

Now this one looks like most of the Central Valley of California - fields given over to agriculture, rectangles in a million shades of green and tan. I was not looking this soon on the first flight into New Orleans.

This is the sort of thing I noticed. Watery expanses.

Radical contrast with the desert West. Something exotic, different, new - and unsettling for a fixed earth sign type.
Lots of greenery, wet greenery, stretches of water covered with algae, trees growing out of water (how unnatural is that from a Western standpoint?). Green, green, and more green.

No wonder poor Mimi and her friends could not get over the reddish-brown, brown, and more brown of Santa Fe! Where was the green they were accustomed to?

I was also blown away six years ago when visiting Ohio and seeing the sort of pervasive greenery that simply does not exist very much until the very northern reaches of California.

The history of California centers on water wars in varying forms. The issue of obtaining, hanging on to, and utilizing water is critical to survival.

When I moved into my current house in Albquerque, the back yard was what I call "a big sandbox." The soil was a mixture of fine adobe clay particles (the ones that get caught up in the wind and fly everywhere!!!!) and sand. Not much in the way of organic matter to nourish growing things. I will be amending soil for years to come. The trees in our neighborhood are growing but it will be many years before we have any mature trees near us. I look forward to that day.

And I do love driving along tree-shaded streets in New Orleans, immense oaks forming a shady canopy overhead. Wonderful. Beautiful. Somehow restorative to the soul.

On that first flight into New Orleans, though, I looked out the airplane window and thought, "OMG, they've shipped me off to the swamps and I shall surely perish there." Well, I haven't perished and I actually enjoy the city (when I have time and energy to do so).

May Godde bless all our homes in all their variety and teach us to appreciate the wondrous variety in this world, and among its peoples. May we experience the other and the different with less fear and more delight and all grow together in grace.

--the BB


Lindy said...

Beautiful post Paul. I've lived on the Calilfornia cost, along the Potomic River, and several places in Texas. Something of each of those places resonates with me. But, it's the expanse of the Texas desert that... I don't know. It's home.

Thank you for sharing this.

BooCat said...

There are all kinds of viewpoints on this. We had one friend from Colorado who got claustrophobic on the North Shore of Lake Ponchartrain because he said the trees were "too close together." He lived in a forest in Colorado, but it takes more land per tree there because there is less water in the water table; so, the trees were spaced further apart. He couldn't wait to get home.

A friend of my brother, however, who was from the Texas panhandle, used to say he didn't know what he was going to do when his parents died. After moving east and discovering the Appalachian foothills with all of their lush greenery, he said even the thought of visiting the panhandle gave him a panic attack and he was born, brought up there, and didn't leave the first time until he went away to college.

Paul said...

Exactly, Boocat. Just as the world is rich in diversity so we have an amazing array of reactions to this variety. I feel very claustophobic in urban environments and, though I do a pretty good job of tuning most of it out, am sensitive to noise pollution. Granted, I still like driving in air conditioning, but I love driving on the mesa with no structure in sight, or being where I can hear the faintest breeze rustle the grass or the sound of a single insect. The quiet I love can give rise to panic in others.