FMM 10 22 2021 Rivers in the Sky

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” ~ Muriel Rukeyser.

The art of science is to be able to make it comprehensible to common man.  I remember learning ‘General Science’ in high school, and learning about the water cycle. To illustrate this concept, we had to draw a body of water, the sun shining on it, surface water turning into droplets of moisture which rose and came together in a cloud which rose higher until the moisture condensed and fell as rain.

Years later, my husband would draw the water cycle to teach his very young children not only the lesson of the water cycle, but the four and five syllable words ‘evaporation’ and ‘condensation’.  He was a strong believer in the scientific and rational explanation of life, of our existence here on this planet.  He had a hearty suspicion of the mystical and religious theories of the origin of life, compounded by a mistrust of those who would use religion to discourage independent thought.  Which made for some very interesting discussions in our neighborhood.

We have come a long way in being able to apply scientific principles, test theories, and find explanations for all manner of mysteries on our planet and beyond. Scientists have identified what areas of the brain light up during different activities and sensations, and mapped the human genome, but there are still many stories yet to be uncovered.

When I heard the phrase ‘rivers in the sky’ I was captivated by the imagery.  It turns out that scientists can track these moving, moisture laden streams from their origin over the rainforests (not the open body of water we drew in our diagrams), traveling across oceans to bless distant continents with rainfall.  The rainforest, it appears, provides a ‘biotic pump’, the trees are able to pull moisture up from deep in the earth and send it up into the air, the act of transpiration.  Long ago I heard the quote (not sure of the origin) that ‘horses sweat, men perspire, but ladies merely glow’, and now I can add that ‘trees transpire’!  In addition to using carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere, they are also generously producing rain. Which is why deforestation has such a disastrous effect on our climate.

The ability to capture the imagination with a clever phrase or a well-told story is priceless.  A simple parable is better able to illustrate a concept than a long and detailed diatribe full of scientific references.  In a world which has become so polarized, the question is asked, how can we come together when our opinions and beliefs seem to be so far apart?  We do not even seem to be able to debate our differences in a civil way. Across the country school boards are being attacked for their policies, some members are being stalked and their family’s safety threatened, because things have gotten so heated.

The arts have been used to expose and illustrate differences in our society for centuries. Whether it was the artists of old, or photojournalists of the present, visual representations can help us to understand and empathize with situations far different from our own.  It was the simple video of George Floyd’s life being snuffed out that sparked a global response.  Novels can tell a tale that promote empathy and understanding, can educate and introduce readers to a foreign experience.

Recently I discovered a poet and playwright who was born in Jamaica in 1905. Una Marson not only wrote plays which were produced in her homeland, she also worked for the BBC (first black female employee) producing a show for servicemen which eventually became ‘Caribbean Voices’.  But she gave voice to a variety of injustices through her poetry and plays. In a very entertaining way she was able to highlight the racism and snobbery endemic to Britain in the early 20th century, through a play called ‘London Calling’.  The protagonists (a group of young educated black Colonial citizens living in London) are invited to spend a weekend at the ancestral home of an ‘aristocratic’ family.  The group decide to play up to the expected stereotypes by dressing in African attire and speaking only in broken English, thus horrifying their hosts. I could well imagine the play being performed today.

Whether it is to help move people to action about climate change, or to right the injustices of our times, we need the community of artists to use their considerable talents to illustrate, motivate and educate.  We need poets to poetisize with their well-chosen words and rhymes; artists to illuminate; playwrights to expose and novelists to share worlds hidden from view.  We need Spike Lee to once more show us how to ‘do the right thing’.  We need Bob Marley to turn Marcus Garvey’s words into inspiring lyrics, and Stevie Wonder to remind us that ‘love is in need of love today’.  Where would we be without music and dance to gracefully elevate struggle into an artform?

This Friday morning I challenge you to explore a culture, a country that you know little about. Read a book written by an Afghani woman, or a Pueblo Indian. Challenge your assumptions and your beliefs! Share your own story with a stranger. Support your struggling artists! And most of all, plant a tree, it may transpire that we need them even more than we knew!

Have a wonderful weekend, Family!

One Love!


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