Sunday, November 24, 2013

In Living Color

Color will catch most everyone's eye from time to time.  It can't be helped as our eyes are designed to perceive the spectral wonders of the natural world.  It is one of those phenomenon that is so common most of us hardly give it any thought --

-- unless, of course, you are an artist, gardener or chromatographer.

The sun emits an amazing  range of energy in the form of particles or waves (wave/particle duality will have to wait for an upcoming blog).  The colors we see in nature are a tiny part of that energy called visible light; science refers to the whole affair as the em (electromagnetic) spectrum.

One em wave can span galaxies or be so short that a million times a million waves could fit in a spoon. To us humans, color is a ridiculously tiny part of that range with wavelengths from 390 (violet) to 700 millionth of a meter (red).   That range just so happens to be the frequencies of light most emitted from our sun.  (Can you guess what color shines most from the sun?  Hint, think of photosynthesis and the amazing adaptive powers of nature.)

What would the world look like if our eyes could see beyond that limited range?  To have an idea check out false color images from satellites or put on a pair of infrared goggles.

We see colors because it serves us to do so.  We are hunters and gatherers by trade, been doing it for millions of years. The retinas in our eyes are filled with cone cells sensors, and adaption that has allowed us to thrive as a species.   Our physiology only partially explains the way we perceive colors, however.  We find a sunrise beautiful and, from an evolutionary perspective, its hard to explain why that is so.

Aside from picking the right color berries to survive in the wild and the aesthetic considerations of our artistic selves, colors extend into our lives in so many other ways.  They are a part of our consciousness and our very nature as we ourselves are nothing more than living color.  The notion that we are beings of light may sound like a New Age mantra, but it is substantiated by science (for more on that look for an upcoming post on  It is simply a matter of perspective.

In the meanwhile take the time to enjoy the wonders of color. See more images on my pinterest or look out your window.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Joe went for a walk...
a guide to mind/body awareness through landscapes of consciousness

Walking along the beach conjures in me an intangible and immeasurable sense of peace and contentment.  I feel the wind, take in the rich smells of the ocean, and hear the sound of the surf.... read on

The art of being mindful 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Water Falling in the White Mountains

Water falls by way of gravity, making its way back to the ocean and leaving behind scenes of beauty like this clear mountain river in Jackson, NH.

I walked another trail to Diana's Baths, a splendid series of waterfalls and elegantly carved stone. As I sat by the rush of water over hard fissures and rounded swirls of rock, I felt a sense of timelessness.

What does it take, I thought, to break such hardness into progressively smaller stones, to carry all of that material downward and cover valleys with nourishing soil?  In turn, even the valleys disappear as all of the land is taken.

What does it take to remove a mountain from the earth and cover the bottom of the ocean with its remains? Such a thing transcends me.

The water flows and carves, giving no heed to the scale of human notions.  The White Mountains, like the rest of the Appalachians, are hundreds of millions of years old.  Once as tall as the Rockies, perhaps taller, they have been eroded down to nobs of hard granite.  And like these images, these splendid, rounded mountains too are only a snapshot in the eye of unimaginable geologic time.

More Images

Friday, July 19, 2013

Calcium Carbonate by the Seashore

We humans have been collecting sea shells for a very long time.  They have been used for tools, art, adornment, musical instruments, currency, religious and spiritual practices, and mixed with dry fish they make tasty chicken feed. Sea shells, protective outer layers made by a host of sea creatures, are composed of calcium carbonate, found in our homes as wall board and antacid tablets.

The White Cliffs of Dover
Aside from feeding chickens and relieving gas pains, calcium carbonate is utilized by a great number of living creatures. The White Cliffs of Dover, for example, are not only lovely, they made a great barrier against European hordes.  The Brits are quite fond of them, but the Coccolithophores that made them hardly get any credit. The cliffs are the remains of planktonic algae, creatures of microscopic size that excrete and live within a hard matrix of calcium.

There is a great abundance of shells, from microscopic to hundreds of pounds, lining many parts of the ocean bottom.  The diversity, texture and patterns of shells is simply astonishing. There are many exotic examples one could choose to illustrate just how aesthetically pleasing they can be – true works of art. In my estimation, however, the simplest of shell is a wonder of nature.  If you don’t believe me just take a few minutes to really look at one.

...more images

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Looking at Clouds

courtesy of Joe Brown Digital Photography

Blending the elements of water and air into texture and form, clouds can seem as much a process of the imagination as they are one of nature.  When looking at the shifting shapes of cumulus clouds, I often wonder, am I seeing a reflection of my hopes or my fears?  Is this a heart I see heralding good things to come, or is it a horned face of a devil warning of future woes?  But such musings are as ephemeral as the clouds themselves, and my mind soon turns another kind of wonder, the workings of our atmosphere.

NASA Image
In meteorology, clouds are classified by form  -- wispy cirrus, blanketing stratus and billowy cumulus, and by height -- low, middle and high. Some clouds simply adorn the sky, while others portend precipitation.  The word nimbus is added to the rain-makers; cumulonimbus clouds, more commonly known as thunderheads, can rise to great heights and bring the most extreme weather.   In combination, there are dozens of sub types of clouds, and truly, to the eye, each formation seems as unique as the crystal lattices of snowflakes.

That clouds are composed of gaseous water vapor is a common misunderstanding.  They are actually made of tiny droplets of liquid water, falling ever-so-slowly back to earth.  The height of the clouds is the place where those droplets evaporate back into gas as they fall.  If that happens to be at the surface it is commonly called fog.  Clouds blossom when the atmospheric conditions are such that more droplets are created through the condensation of water vapor than are lost to evaporation.

NASA Image

This blossoming would not be possible without the wondrous property of water to absorb and give off large amounts of energy when it changes from one state of matter to another.  The energy is locked into the molecules of water themselves, and for that reason, it is referred to as latent 'hidden' heat.  This phenomenon is why sweating helps us shed heat -- when the perspiration on our skin evaporates it draws the heat from our skin, causing a cooling effect.  In contrast, when water vapor in the air condenses into tiny water droplets, that stored 'latent' energy is released and results in clouds and storms.

Next time you look up at the clouds, stop for a moment and wonder.  No matter how one looks at them, whether through the spark of imagination or scientific fascination, clouds are truly a phenomena worthy of our musings.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Feel of Early Spring

by Glen Tepke

Early spring is a sensual experience of the grandest scale. As the days grow longer, there is a feeling of change in the air. In northern climes, the sun begins to warm your skin despite the winter chill that remains.  Most everywhere, the beginning of spring is marked by the natural alterations of the ecology -- the budding of trees, the early flowers breaking through the ground, the sound of birds singing, even the changing smells of the land. Spring is simply one of the great wonders of nature, and it is made possible by the incredible interplay between the earth and sun.

Yachaks  in Ecuador

Spring is indeed an experience of the senses, intimately linked to our sense of self as well our communal spirit.  From Easter celebrations to druidic rituals, all cultures, in one way or another, have imbued the dynamic arc of the sun across the sky with purpose and meaning.

NASA Image Earth and Sun

It is a time when days turn longer than night -- a central moment in all solar calendars. The relationship between sun and earth governs the amount of solar energy any given place receives, and in turn, the sunshine waxes, nudging the patterns of clouds, wind and rain towards nourishment. Spring is a time of blossom, of planting crops, and of new life.

The vernal equinox inspires feelings of renewal and rebirth for the land -- it does for us as well. It is a time to reexamine our lives, to clean and purge ourselves of the old and make room for the new.  It is a time for spring cleaning.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Watch the Sun Erupts in a Rain of Fire

Witness the spectacular display of a solar eruption.
Allow yourself to imagine the scale of it.
Experience the power of nature
and know yourself in it.
A revelation.


NASA | Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Emergence of Birds in the Sky and Such

Image from Physics World

Have you ever watched a large flock of  birds create beautiful patterns in the sky and wondered how it all works? Curiously, there seems to be no time lag between the movements of each individual. How does each bird know when to turn and where to go?

People have wondered about this perplexing behavior for centuries.  Perhaps, as the ancient Romans thought, it is an expression of the will of the Gods.  Early scientists could not fathom the reason for such coordination, and some even suggested some kind of natural telepathy could explain this phenomenon.  Recent studies using high-speed cameras and computational models suggest that it is all due to the simple behaviors of individuals.  Yet, even these studies have raised questions that are difficult to answer.  See Explaining Bird Flocks in Audibon Magazine.

I believe we need to look to the inherent wholeness in nature to understand why birds flock the way they do.  An ecologist understands nature as a web of interdependent systems -- a holistic process that goes far beyond simple cause and effect explanations.  In fact, the more complex and diverse a system, the hardier and healthier it becomes.  When it comes to flocking birds, perhaps there is something to the way nature works that we are only beginning to understand.

Termite Mound by Razmataz
How do those wondrous, crystalline patterns form within a snowflake? How does a termite colony know how to build tall, palatial mound with no centralized control?  How do a meager 24,000 genes create the incredible human complexity made of trillions of interdependent cells and millions of interellated processes, including the ability for you to read and make sense of this blog?

The answer may be found in the principle of emergence -- how complex patterns arise from many simple interactions and seem to create something greater than the sum of it's constituent parts. This feels rather metaphysical, and so there has been resistance to this concept within science. But no reliance on magic is needed. To understand the world this way requires a radical change in thinking, a paradigm shift one might say.  Look for it, it's everywhere.

I think I will post these thoughts in a complex system with no central organization or governance that is fundamentally altering the nature of our global culture and economy, helping nations rise and fall, and shaping human socialization like never before.  Just a bunch of connected users and computers really.