There are visions sometimes in the middle of a summer’s day that can only happen in the woods.
I was on the banks of a pond off Mount Tremper, in the Catskill Mountains of New York, with my daughters Josie and Léa and Josie’s friend Ito, on a Sunday not long ago, a day of high wind and pouring sun in big blue sky.
The sunlight, the wind on the pond, the shifting breezes threw the surface of the water this way and that, so that the rippling liquid burst in traceries of fire, golden treasures, scintillations, waves of diamonds and crystals one after the other as if in rhythms of the sea.
I sat at the edge of the pond watching this astonishing performance, captive in a waking dream, world reduced to a simple matter of energy, playfulness, unending fire on water, and, dare I say, a sense of eternal life. Ito and Josie found the usual tadpoles. They waded and watched.
Added to the vision of the light was the play of the wind in the forest that thickly sat on the banks of the pond. The oaks, beeches, birches, maples, richly green with early summer leaves, bowed and swayed and whispered and seemed to be moving toward me in a body, as one, and then away, and then to be lifting arms and gazing skywards.
These dancing woodlands, and the fiery dancing lights on the surface of the pond, and my kids in the bright water cupping now gently the tadpoles who are future frogs – all enough pleasure and meaning for a lifetime.
Then the vision was gone, and I was returned again to wretched selfhood.
“Energy is eternal delight,” wrote William Blake. Consciousness of the energy in life forms is the basic need today to maintain sanity.
We are surrounded for the most part, however, with death forms: screen telecom devices (our rampant STDs); concrete-glass-and-metal habitat, the habitat of mass-produced industrial materials; automaton-like behaviors in relation to technology, e.g. staring at phones as if we ourselves are mass-produced simulacra, not humans but cardboard cut-outs of humans colored variously but always with handheld tyrant machine; death-consciousness represented in film and television wherein homicidal violence is widespread, involving orgiastic use of guns as dramatic acts of redemption; death-consciousness enacted in our streets, offices, schools in mass shootings perpetrated most often by young men who clearly are replicating the gun violence they see displayed on film and television.
Technological, automated, false-image-saturated death worship seems to be at the heart of our culture – a culture, it hardly needs reminding, headed for collective suicide as it breaches the biophysical limits of mother earth.
What alternative forms of worship are immediately at hand? The fire on the water that I observed on that pond, the higher consciousness that comes with immersion in the vision of light that subsumes the self, is the place to start looking. Worship based in a living environment and relatedness to the complexity of biotic communities and organismic multitudes. But alas…most people now packed in cities…divorced from environment…nature just a jumble words, or, worse, mere images on a screen, hardly a lived experience…and organismic multitudes? Fewer and fewer to be found in a world increasingly made of concrete-glass-metal and fast on its way to the sixth mass extinction.