The sun is a metaphor for life. It's glare is how we know.
Figuring out how to capture a natural sun glare was the first thing I learned on my “fancy” camera (and might have been the last lol). It’s not the photograph I’m so intrigued by, though yeah it is usually pretty. It’s the perspective gained.
A sun dapple is an immense power stymied and diluted by distance, filtered through a nearly infinite number of elements on its way to your eye. Even at the very last moment before reaching you with its life sustaining rays, it hits a singular needle on one of a million pine trees on this particular range of mountains, dispersing it’s power one last time into something simply beautiful.
I’m not even sure what that says about life, about you or I, about the cosmos or the forest, about politics or the present, but I know it gives me joy to feel both small and incredibly important as the one eye that gets to see that one glare at that one moment. This moment.
Cross-posted at Medium/@jasonjourneyman
The world continues to increase its pollution output, July 2016 was the hottest month ever recorded, sea levels are rising at an exponential rate, and the arctic ice sheet is disappearing. This can't possibly all be a coincidence.
The earth is a living organism. If you take care of it, it will take care of you.
The earth is everything---our refuge, our sustenance, our joy, and our sadness. It's every relationship we've ever known, every historical moment, every invention, every peace treaty, every episode of "Friends," every status update and tweet, every smile, every frown, every like, every love. Every. Thing.
It seems so obvious to me that we should all do everything we possibly can to protect it, at every step and every decision. Always. But clearly not everyone is on the same page. It's election season here in the America and, as usual, the climate change battle lines have been drawn.
It's time for us to draw our own battle lines too. It's time to fight for this planet. It's time to give a damn.
I’m a little obsessed with environmentalism and have been for as long as I can remember. It was ingrained in me as a youngster, bundling newspapers to recycle at school and separating the cans and bottles, all way back in the 80’s before it was trendy. Thanks mom, for instilling those consequential values.
That foundation led me to continue on as an earth advocate, studying environmental policy in graduate school, and keeping climate change in mind during all those seemingly banal, but realistically complex, everyday life choices. These days, when I’m not writing or hiking or taking pictures, I work and volunteer for environmental advocacy organizations. Like I said, a little bit obsessed.
I’ve also always been a bit more of a sensitive soul. I tend to care and worry about, well, pretty much everything. It’s why I search for mindfulness to maybe (possibly, hopefully) stop being such a worrywart. But sometimes worry is warranted, like worrying about the dire threat of global warming.
Signs of pending doom are all around us.
I spend a lot of time in Griffith Park near my home in Los Angeles. It truly is a marvel of a park, cut through the middle of the urban jungle, a chunk of wilderness in the center of America's second largest city. It's my escape and my therapist. It's a gift of naturally mindful riches. As an Angeleno, I feel blessed to have such easy access to this and all the rest of our nearby mountain wilderness parks.
But if you’ve visited Griffith Park in the last few months like I have, you’ve bore whiteness to it’s depressing condition. It's impossible to count how many dead or dying trees you pass on a basic hike to the famed Hollywood Sign. Years of drought have ravaged this unique oasis.
Decades of unprecedented warming have ravaged much of the western United States as well. A series of hottest summers on record have weakened our forest’s natural defenses against the burgeoning bark beetle infestation, leaving trees in the Sierras and Rockies, to die by the millions.
The heat is fueling numerous, compounding, detrimental, worldwide consequences. The arctic ice sheet is melting annually at an alarming rate, global sea levels have risen almost 8 inches in the last century, and continues to rise exponentially every year. Storms have become more severe, drought more persistent, weather more unpredictable.
Recent news hasn't gotten any rosier. Los Angeles is currently facing its worst air quality in decades. An abnormally stagnant, hot, and elongated summer is trapping more pollution and wildfire smoke in the region than ever this summer. That heat isn't unique to LA either, as we've now learned that July 2016 was the hottest month ever recorded in the entire history of recorded temperatures.
At this point, if global warming doesn’t send chills down your spine, then it’s time to see a chiropractor... and maybe have a cardiologist look into why it hasn't thawed your cold dead heart.
Make no mistake, global warming is real.
Increasing global temperatures is just fact. The "man-made" part of global warming is itself a theory, but when 97% of climate scientists accept that theory as truth, I trust them. California has undoubtedly had droughts before, I've been through a few myself growing up here, but this current one is unprecedented by all measures---longer, hotter, drier.
It’s difficult for me to imagine that all the pollution we've pumped into our atmosphere over the last 150 years wouldn’t have some sort of connection to all warming we’ve seen over the same period. It’d all have to be so ridiculously coincidental otherwise.
Connect all the menacing dots. Isn't it obvious we need to do something about it?
Difficult decisions must be made if we're going to fix this.
Collectively we are sitting on a Titanic of our own creation. We all see the iceberg off the bow.
The maneuvers required to change course aren’t cute or simple. It will take courage, fortitude, and sacrifices. It requires a sharp turn in our thinking and actions in order to avoid disaster. My generation has had it easy, but our forebearers overcame difficult and complicated challenges in the past. From the Dark Ages to World War II, mankind has always been able to correct course. Surely we are strong enough as a society turn this ship around.
Most of us already care about protecting this home we call earth. We try to make better decisions when we use a plastic bottle or buy a new car. We don’t always succeed, we don't always try hard enough, but we try. That's worth at least a few turns of the ship's wheel.
Our individual efforts can extend to others. We can lead by example, walk the walk, and teach our friends the things we've learned. When we all pull the wheel together, the whole ship finally starts to turn.
But perhaps the most difficult maneuver of all is the battle against those who deny the problem even exists. People who accept science when it comes to the pills the doctor prescribes or the bridge the engineer designs, but ignores the vast scientific consensus on man-made global warming. People who are willing to forgo action that not only cleans the air we breath but also ensures our existence as a species in the long-term, all for the sake of protecting the bottom line of a business investment in the short.
People like Donald Trump, who called climate change a hoax, and nearly every single member of the Republican party, who with each absurd statement and vote actively steer the Titanic directly toward the iceberg. A wretched lot of selfish saps, frozen in ignorance, ready to take down the planet for pride rather than take the steps required to save it.
I have hope that we're going to do the right thing here.
I care about this earth. I care because it’s my home, it's our home, and I’d like to protect it for future generations. I care because of its beauty and wonderment and its inspiration of possibilities. I care because of the gorgeous groves of of trees, the captivating cascades of waterfalls, and the stunningly sculpted canyons. I care because every living thing on this earth is collectively interconnected and interdependent on one another. I care because when one species, when one plant, when one tree falls, a whole ecological web falls with it.
If we don’t do something about this, and like real soon, our web will fall as well. That’s why it’s so incumbent upon all of us to take action---to make better decisions more often, from cars and plastic bottles, to mass transit and recycling, to everything we consume and how much of it we waste.
And maybe most importantly, to make better decisions at the ballot box. Not just in this year's election, but in every single election in which we have the privilege of voting.
That means doing everything you possibly can to ensure Donald Trump is not elected president. It also means ousting all those Republican politicians who make it a hobby of blocking every Obama-endorsed environmental policy, no matter how pragmatic or compromised that proposal might be. We should all make an valiant effort to steer this ship clear of the iceberg, but we also have the power to chip away at the ice to make it less menacing.
If you give a damn about the environment, prove it and do something. Make changes in your life. Pick up trash, recycle, stop using plastic, drive less or drive a lower emission car, plant trees, join the Sierra Club. The list goes on. You already know what to do.
And then become a ballot box activist. Choose a candidate that has a set of policies directly aimed at fighting climate change. Hillary Clinton has a whole slew impressive climate change and broader environmental policy proposals. And at very basic level, go make sure your representative actually believes global warming exists in the first place. Simply believing in science should be a prerequisite for public holding office, in my non-humble opinion.
The only way we save this earth is by giving a damn. The time to start giving is now.
The way I see it, you have two options for your existence: live your life, or live your life in fear.
There’s a valid evolutionary reason we feel fear and anxiety. In our caveman days we developed these emotions as a form of protection. The fear of death, injury, or pain triggered our defenses, thus lowering the chance of death, injury, or pain.
But it’s easy for us to take that healthy reaction of caution to an extreme, especially in this age of digital information over-saturation, especially given the news media’s tendency to focus on calamity as a ratings booster, and most especially when we’re hit with a personal tragedy.
12 years ago today my younger brother, plagued with blood clots, laid down to catch his breath and never got back up again. 5 years before that my father, plagued with high cholesterol, went out for a run one afternoon and never ran home. In my years before all that, I was always a bit of a worry-wort, lying awake in my central California home fretting over the possibility of the "big one" casting us off into the Pacific, or of an inescapable house fire, or of an alien invasion (seriously).
All of this, especially the untimely death of two of my closest family members, could have lead me to a very fearful life, becoming increasingly risk averse so as to avoid all of the many real and imaginary dangers of the world. While I do carry a decent amount of this worry with me to this day---and believe a little fear-induced caution can lead to wiser choices---I make a concerted effort to let go.
Because really, what is the point of living if you spend your whole life holed up in a mental bunker of fear?
There are truly dangerous people and things out there. My community, LGBTQ folks, are often the target of violence. I go hiking a lot by myself and so every time my mother learns of a bear attack she sends me an email of concern. Even with that, my risk of danger is low compared to the many places in the world held hostage by terrorists or the underprivileged communities held hostage to an overreactive police force and straight up bigotry.
But in spite of all that, when the moment comes that I lie down and never get back up, I’d like to at least know I lived life to the fullest while I was standing. I want to know that I wrote down every word, that I helped every friend, that I loved, that I cried, that I followed my dreams, that I lived while I was alive.
On this anniversary of my little brother's death, the lesson is to live with passion, joy, and love, just as he did in his time on earth. On the occasion of a seemingly neverending parade of deaths around the world, the lesson is to live mindfully in the present, because who knows what might happen tomorrow. The lesson is that life is too short to waste it constantly worried about death.
The lesson of death... is life.
Today is the darkest day of the year, astronomically speaking.
Most people eschew the physical darkness, that's why we invented torches, lamps, and flashing strings of Christmas lights. Most people eschew emotional darkness too, that's why we invented self-help books, Zoloft, and maybe even this blog.
But I'm here to tell you that the darkest day isn't so bad. Whether it's physical or emotional, the darkness is the best way to make room for the light.
Darkness strikes fear in the hearts of most. The dark of night makes it difficult to see what lies on the road ahead, eliciting the dread of uncertainty. The dark of night is the hour of the nefarious, spurring the worry of danger. The darkness of emotions are some of our most depressing moments, reminding us of the worst that life has to offer. And according to science, the dark of the Winter Solstice creates a negative physical reaction in our body leading to SAD -- seasonal affective disorder -- which unironically makes you feel actual sadness.
But there’s always a glimmer of hope.
Despite the well documented problems associated with darkness, I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy. I think the best way to get out of any dark period is to look for the light of the silver lining -- and there’s almost always a silver lining.
As the adage goes, it’s "darkest before the dawn.” That’s true in both the real world of the sun and the metaphorical world of our heart. The impending dawn is the silver lining.
So if today is the darkest day, that means it can’t possibly get any darker. If today is the darkest day that means it will only get brighter from here on out [silver lining]. You could see your darkest moment as the saddest time of your life, or you could see it as the moment things changed for the better [silver lining]. It’s all about your perspective.
The darkness also teaches us a lesson in appreciation.
Imagine you live in a world that is bright and sunny all the time. In this world you have no concept of darkness because you never get to see or feel it. Imagine how difficult it would be to truly enjoy the cozy warmth of the sun when you’ve never felt a bone-chillingly cold night.
Darkness makes us grateful for the light. Sadness makes us grateful for joy. And once you realize this you start to appreciate any kind of darkness for the perspective it awards you [another silver lining].
Nothing, not our personal world or the big picture, exists in a vacuum. What each of us knows is made up of our experiences and our perception of the great big universe swirling around us -- the sun and the moon, engagements and breakups, friendship and fights, birthdays and funerals, ups and downs, light and darkness.
How you react to any part of life is up to you. You get to decide if you let the darkness get you down or use it to make the light that much more powerful.
Choose to bask in the light, even on the darkest day of the year... especially on the darkest day of the year.
There is a force greater than all others.
It's not an emotion that yanks your heartstrings leading to a rash decision.
It's not a movement of physics, scientifically and systematically pushing an object along a plane.
It's not a river slicing through a landscape or a glacier carving a canyon.
It's not mankind itself, razing and paving every hill in the name of progress.
The force of which I speak is not one of these individual things, because it is all of these things. The force of which I speak is the earth itself, from which all life springs and all hope is gained or lost. The force that graciously allows us to explore and alter her grounds.
The earth is timeless.
My perception of this planet is narrow. I am only able to know what has been preserved and passed down, or what I am able to see and learn through my own experience.
But the earth, she knows no bounds. I am but one speck of trillions on her surface, lingering long enough to create an inch of impact. Even all of the collective impacts of every person throughout human history is still but one minuscule piece in the billion-year puzzle of our universe.
The earth is formidable.
I can do a lot as one individual here on earth, at least within the sphere of influence I create. And as a society we've made grand attempts to tame the earth through invention and progress. On the surface we all look pretty darn tough.
But all that we’ve accomplished still pales in comparison to the preeminence of our world. We can cover the earth in cement, suck out every drop of oil, and burn every tree, and all we'll do is kill ourselves. This planet, severely altered or not, will live on despite our worst efforts.
The earth is awesome.
I know wonderful and caring people - artists and engineers, musicians and magicians, do-gooders and creators - all who help me and others to see life anew.
But to truly be awesome, one must actually create awe.
Never has anything awed me as much as the earth itself. No stately structure of glass and steel can ever match the natural nobility of the Yosemite Falls. No single loquacious character can speak with as much thunder as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. No feat of engineering or advancement can ever compete with the scientific wonder that is the indisputable interconnectedness of every living and stationary thing on this planet.
Mankind has its moments. We’ve produced stirring speeches, mesmerizing melodies, and multitudes of individually important moments that change us as a society and change us individually. But when you step into nature and step out of your comfort zone, I guarantee you will see everything you thought was so big begin to look ever so small.
None of us, myself included, spend enough time in the natural world, but it's critically important that we do - that we take time out of our lives to feel the power as often as possible. Not just for personal gratification, but to realize that personal gratification is entirely insignificant. To understand that our goals and aspirations and moments are but one small part of a much larger, much more important scheme. And by doing so, help us to appreciate our goals and aspirations and moments that much more.
You start with a small plant, one other living thing. Easy, patient, and innocent. A simple piece of the natural earth.
You begin to see animals, domestic and wild. The dogs and cats, our chosen companions. The critters that live off our societal leftovers. The beasts that roam our mountains and backcountry. All a part of the vast network of life.
You peer deeper and find trees, big trees, the live oak and hardwood and redwood that are hundreds if not thousands of years old. That hold the land together with their deep roots. That provide the shade for our refuge. That provide the oxygen for life. That organically regulate themselves through a natural order of death and regeneration. That make us feel young, and small, and insignificant by comparison.
You look up to see the mountains that bend our landscape at their will. Untameable by our machinery and concrete. Incorruptible except from the most dastardly of our mining, fracking, and damming inventions. That provide a refuge for all animals, wild and tame alike - tame animals like us.
And then, if you're lucky enough, you discover the gems that line the crown of our earth. Spaces not created through specific effort of man. Spaces that all living creatures call sacred. Sometimes we call them national parks, monuments, or forests.. .or sometimes we call them sanctuary, because their significance is refuge to our soul.
Sometimes we don’t take the time to notice them. Sometimes we believe we’re too busy. Sometimes we’re too numb to feel the power even when we do take the time. But when you pause in their presence and relinquish control, you realize you always knew them, they were always a part of you. When you open your mind to really see them, they inspire you to something bigger, greater, more.
In every level of of the natural, especially in those gems of earth, you feel the power. It's a power that's always all around us, but if it's the right moment and place, it becomes unavoidable. When you seek it out and visit its majesty, it's inescapably wonderful.
It’s the power that makes the world turn.
It's the power that cannot be stopped.
It's the power that gets us out of our heads.
It’s the power that inspires us to do great things.
It is the power.
There's a big bright beautiful world out there.
Why would you want to stand still?
There's billions of souls to connect to.
Why wouldn't you introduce yourself to the unfamiliar?
There's an endless number of cultures to sample.
Why would you always do the same basic thing?
There's mountains of photos to expose you to new sights.
Why wouldn't you try to see them with your own eyes?
There's an infinite amount of unshared ideas.
Why would you ever think you know it all?
There's hundreds of colors in the simplest of objects.
Why wouldn't you dare to imagine an entirely new spectrum?
Keep searching. Keep meeting. Keep seeing. Keep learning. Keep expanding.
We are so small.
Everything in our known world is based on whatever elements somehow arrived at this specific intergalactic point of the universe. That particular blend of elements came together like a recipe and then survived a specific set of disasters and challenges... each challenge guiding the earth down a particular path... that path leading to you, sitting here reading this, right now.
The set of circumstances on our particular planet was the instruction manual for your creation. This is true whether you believe it was guided by a higher power or not.
Just as our world came together in a particular way, other worlds came together in their own particular way. There are the ones we can see - the ones relatively nearby - and then there are the trillions of others.
What if a another world came together to allow for the development of their own being, just like the earth did for you and me? Their particular blend elements came together like a recipe and then survived their own specific set of disasters and challenges... each challenge guiding their planet down a particular path... that path leading to them, sitting somewhere in the universe, right now.
For decades, as we've communicated with one another on earth, we've inadvertently sent radio waves into space. They float past distant planets where other beings may or may not live. Just like you, they wonder if someone else is out there, but because of the particular confines of their own planet's circumstances, they are completely unaware that the evidence is swirling around them, all the time.
It goes in both directions - they may or may not inadvertently send out their own communication signals. But because of the the particular confines of our own planet's circumstances, you're completely unaware that the evidence is swirling around you, all the time.
The universe is huge. The possibilities that could result from any particular set of circumstances are endless. It's overwhelming to think about.
But then, in that vast and seemingly endless perspective, it all swirls back to you, sitting here reading this, right now.