Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Peace Tree and The Massive Solar Flare

Overlooked Olive Tree

Clowncar, whose blog The Oort Cloud is about astronomy like my blog is about bicycling, only more, in a comment pointed out the glorious olive trees across the street from the scary steel plates I mentioned in the previous post. I am grateful to him for doing so, because in focusing in on the danger posed by the plates to cyclists, I had overlooked the counterbalancing living beauty in my own photographs.

When I discover a loss of perspective in myself like that, I like to pause and think it over, both to analyze what I did, and also to understand what I missed. Pausing on my bicycle commute home, then, I took some photos of the olive trees, which up close appear gnarled and ancient.

Gnarled and ancient

Olive trees, an olive branch in particular, symbolizes for some reason, peace. I like the suggestion that the symbolism arises from the length of time and amount of effort required to cultivate these trees over the years until they finally bear fruit, which cultivation requires a setting of relative stability. Where olives fruit, the fires are not burning, the bombs are not falling, the mobs are not marching, the dictators and despots are not ranting and killing. I've read of war zones where the ancient olive groves were salted with landmines the size and shape of toys. No fruit there.

I always try to pause to revisit my own incidents of loss of perspective because I view this trait as one of our worst failings: when our own insignificant bailiwicks assume the size and shape of all existence, when our awareness collapses to the size and extent of our tiny selves or smaller, to that of our tribes, when all that we see and feel is fear for what we think we belong to, or fear for what belongs to us, well, the animal takes over, we are at our smallest, and anger and violence are too often the result. We become so narrow-minded that violence thrusts its passion upon us. When that happens, too often we allow ourselves to join the ancient and modern alliance of fear, ignorance, hubris, hate, and blood-lust that gives a free hand to drive mobs and leaders to kill and destroy. This morning, that alliance is running amok in the world. 

This morning, in Libya, narrow-mindedness rules the day, and people are dying. 

In Tripoli today, the olive trees are going untended as people cower in their homes trembling in fear as experts in death and destruction await just outside their doors to gun them down if they go out for food, or to pray. At the moment, the ancient and modern alliance of fear, ignorance, hubris, hate, and blood-lust has a free hand there to do as it pleases, and it is doing it with wild abandon.

Perspective, awareness, vision has collapsed minds capable of so much more to a pinpoint which sees nothing but fear and death. This is what we humans do when we're at our worst. And it is contagious. The calls to fix violence with more violence must echo like war cries across the world's mindscape today. I suggest to you this is an error. I suggest to you that this is a failure of perspective. I urge everyone to pause to revisit this acute incident of loss of perspective to analyze it before it causes the rest of us to leap into the alliance of horror that this narrow-mindedness enables. Step back. Perhaps some astronomy will help, followed by a bicycle ride, and then talking over with your own tribe the ways in which narrow-mindedness and destruction are so closely tied. If you are at the moment fortunate enough to be living in a place where such acts are not in themselves a dangerous risk of life and limb. If, at the moment, the olive trees in your neighborhood are bearing fruit.

Astronomy for some perspective: on February 24, our sun, giver of energy, supporter of life, launched a massive flare of unimaginably hot plasma into space, as it has done and will do for billions of years. This time, though, a wondrous creation of human science and imagination, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, caught the "monster flare" on video with stunning detail. Can a giant plume of blistering hot plasma arcing into space remind us a bit of who we are and where we live? Can it bring some kind of balance or wideness to our often narrow-minded perspectives? I believe so. I hope so. Watch in full screen. Then head outside to think it over. Get up. Go ride.



  1. If you have to become as bad as the bad guys to win then what is the use of winning? I have been grappling with that question most of my life.
    My Olive trees are bearing fruit at the moment. It is a feeling of resignation and peace when I realize that Sol can reach out and eliminate all signs of us and even the ball of rock we live on in an instant.
    For now life continues and it is good.

  2. I've been thinking of Libya and Egypt and what it all means.
    It's hard to condone violence but in this case, I hope the good guys win.
    Solar flares!
    I remember the Apollo astronauts were on the Moon when a significant flare happened putting them in danger.
    No atmosphere for protection.
    I wonder what the space station folks are doing for protection.

  3. Stopping to reflect occasionally is good to do. So is getting up and going to ride. Best is some of both.

  4. Hear, hear!

    Another excellent and poignant post, John.

    If I may, though, I would add indifference to "the ancient and modern alliance of fear, ignorance, hubris, hate, and blood-lust", for indifference is referred to as the opposite of love and perhaps is the greatest antagonist of wisdom and peace - and all the olive tree/branch represents.

    And, perhaps, it is worth recalling that the olive branch is represented, together with arrows on the back of the dollar.

    Enjoyed reading your thoughts here. Excellent.

  5. hey, glad to help.

    I like "The Oort Cloud is about astronomy like my blog is about bicycling." true and well put.

    didja get any cool northern lights from the scary solar flare. I looked outside for 3 nights here - nada. hope you had better luck.

  6. clowncar, it would be truly noteworthy if I saw northern lights in Phoenix. On that day, it will be time to grab the emergency bag and head for the hills, for probably that would indicate a rapid relocation of magnetic north to somewhere around Flagstaff, which I can only think would have some short-term negative consequences.

    cloudhidden, thanks! Although I doubt it would be possible to be deeply engaged in every injustice perpetuated in this wide world, ignorance of this wide world is a kind of indifference I would love to see decreased.

    Steve, reflection is a cyclist's best friend.

    limom, I wonder if they have a special flare room up there, where everyone goes when the plasma flows.

    Oldfool keep on grappling, man. And while it is probably not productive to hope for an alien invasion of predatory bugs to unite our species, "Mars Attacks" and "Men in Black" are two of my favorite movies.

  7. and yet:

  8. whaaaaaat? Yes Virginia, there's no place like home during the next major solar flare that shoots stuff this way I am headed up to dark sky country with my camera and a sleeping bag. Thanks Mr. Clowncar!


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