Sunday, August 3, 2014

big skies, tiny life, the extravagance of creation & world stories

"The country made the city and all its anxieties seem small and silly, and yet when you had been too long in the city, you forgot how the sun moving through its path was a long slow drama, and the way the sky was always there, big and easy-going."
The quote, or rather: the thought of big summer sky,  it's the first thing that came to mind when I read the new photo friday theme "Big", which then made me go and look for the exact words in Kate Grenville's novel "The Idea of Perfection", and for a sky photo:

The sky photo is from June. It's one of my favourites of the year, with the moon in it, and with the different cloud shapes and colours - almost as if it was two or three photos (or skies) merged in one moment. The world and all the phenomenon it creates, every day anew - that's also a theme of one of the current Coursera courses. The title of it is "The Emergence of Life". 

The course started in July, and is fascinating, reaching back to the emergence of our solar system, and the earth itself - and the "perfect storm" that made the difference for the earth, this cosmic combination of factors that made it possible for life to develop. 

Here are some lines from the introduction: 
"How did life emerge on Earth? How have life and Earth co-evolved through geological time? Is life elsewhere in the universe? Take a look through the 4-billion-year history of life on Earth through the lens of the modern Tree of Life.
The pioneering work of Professor Carl Woese on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus has revolutionized our understanding of the fundamental structure and evolutionary relatedness of all living entities on Earth. This has resulted in a new "Tree of Life" and a first ever understanding of what life looked like before the base of the root of the Tree had evolved. This course will evaluate the entire history of life on Earth within the context of our cutting-edge understanding of the Tree of Life."
It's both obvious yet also good to remember that science and our knowledge of the world keeps developing and that the things we learned at school might be out of date already. And this course includes so many aspects of the world and the universe, shifting the focus from the now and here to the larger picture. Here is the course link again: Coursera: Emergence of Life 

Watching the lectures and thinking about the amazing complexity and connectedness of life made me pick up Annie Dillard's book "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek", her reflection on nature and its cycles and the seaons. A book that I ordered second hand a while ago, and expected to get a "used / good condition" copy. when it arrived, I thought: okay, this definitely is an older and used copy. Only that it wasn't used - and a first edition:

The stunning thing about Tinker Creek is how it moves from details and observations to larger takes, and back again. Here's a bit, on the extravagance of creation: 
"If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After the extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go."
It's refreshing to spend time with this larger themes, right now in summer, with nature in overdrive after the time of rain: new petals everywhere now. The roses and the bougainville are in second bloom now. i tried a macro photo, and the camera seemed to be focused on the larger themes, too: on the clouds above, instead of the petal right there in front of it. 

This world and the many layers it has: parallel to reading "Tinker Creek", i am reading the winning stories of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, which features a global range of authors - this year's winners are from Uganda, Singapore, UK, Guyana and Australia. There was no given theme noted, but all stories dealt with the large theme of the world: life - and death. I already put together a blog post for the prize in the blueprint lit blog: Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

And here are the direct links to the stories: 
The finaly story, the fifth, I read it today: "The Dog and The Sea" --- and its first lines end on the very image that started this blog post yesterday: big sky. 
"The beach pulled us from hundreds of miles away. The car slid across the desert seas, its windows open, and I sat with my mouth open, the wind blowing into it as if I was a sail and might be pushed along or even lifted right out of the window and up into that big sky... "

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