Early Morning in the Slick Hills, Southern Oklahoma
Sunlight slanting into the valley has warmed the air, and hawks ride the thermals. The first flush of bird calls has died down. Where the young man sits, he can see down the broad bowl shape for miles before details are lost in the lowering haze. The valley is unique to the area, broad and shallow, and studded with rounded hills. Silvery gray sagebrush covers the valley floor, giving way to scattered grass and ocher and dun hillsides. Directly across the valley, above paired stream terraces and on the flanks of the next hill over, there is a gleam of white and tan sandstone. The lighter rock gleams in the rising sun and shows itself to be formed in waves draped against the rise. This rock is distinct, and distinctly associated with a near-horizontal bench-cut that lies hundreds of feet above the valley floor.
The man leans back against the vertical wall of a similar terrace, and idly considers what he knows of the area. The stream-bed is Recent, true, and so must the bright-red sands and clays be that parallel either side of the now-dry gully. But the slowly rising ground to either side, the ground covered in sage and cactus and other dry-land vegetation is older, certainly much, much older. And as this slow-ground mantles and laps up against the sides of the distinctly round-topped hills, it must be younger than they – but not younger than the sandstone, for that lies directly upon the hillside, and laps across both hillside and slow-ground.
Leaning farther out over the ledge, and with the aid of binoculars, the observer sees similar features on the flanks of several other hills now picked out by the still-rising sun. Slow-ground rising to silvery-gray sandstone waves that in turn lie in bands below that same linear feature, benches cut into the sides of the round-tops, benches like the one on which the man sits.
Looking down now, and around, the young man sees that what he has previously taken for a man-made feature makes no sense in that context. The benches carved into the sides of the hills sweep right around every one hillock he can see, and below his feet and around the mound on which he has chosen to rest. They do not connect, not to one another and not to the roads below; they just are. And they slant, they all slant similarly to the east and down a bit until they disappear beneath the mantling slow-ground, several miles away.
It is as though the land were tilted and the wave-cut benches, for that is what they are, are only visible in this light, from this place and at this early time of day.
And leaning back once again the man feels a wave of awe rush through him as he realizes that he is looking millions of years into the past, seeing through the shallow seas that are no longer there, to the sea-floor and to the flanks of islands rising from the Cambrian, into the present.
Realizing the Connection
This moment of recognition, this feeling of standing at the edge of a vast abyss of time is not a professional observation; it is not relateable in dry and dusty scientific terms. It must be felt as much as imagined, but it IS real, and it had tremendous impact to our culture when finally understood by Western society, because for the first time there was time enough, time enough for vast changes over time, and time enough for those changes to be understood in a context other than in that presented by the Abrahamic religions. And as a result, for the first time we could connect science with a truly spiritual and non-dogmatic appreciation of how vast, in time and space, the natural world really is.
It is that sense of connection, I think, that brings home to me the defining characteristic of my pagan nature. No other philosophy, no constrained religious dogma can connect me to the world in just that way. Science, my philosophical mistress for so long, cannot do so by itself, either. It takes the informed questing modern mind, and the spiritual nature of our ancestors combined to reach the epiphany of the joining of mind and nature over time.
I am a scientist, but I am also a creature of nature, a spiritual questor in this new millennium, and I am not alone. Being just a scientist, or just a pagan isn’t good enough for those like me and others like me, not any more; not when we stand to lose so much as users and lovers of the land.
We pagans, we other people, we stand at a place in history in which we can bridge the historical Western dysfunction between two unique approaches to the divine. We can bridge the scientific with the spiritual, one informing the other, and meld both into a lifestyle that celebrates nature, encourages responsible use, and continues on the never-ending path to knowing. We stand to gain even more if we as a society learn to inherit the past, and to take care of the future, for those who follow.
I ask that you set aside all notions of the separation of science and spirituality and approach the use of the knowings that we have acquired simply as multiple paths to a common goal. I ask that by means of your comments and questions that we converse, that together we learn to forge new connections. Hopefully we can then also inform those who might otherwise never learn that all knowledge derives from a sense of wonder, and that all religions and philosophies are just differing dialects of the language of our approach to the divine.
I encourage you to listen to pagan podcasts that incorporate the sciences of the natural world into a pagan life. Following you will find links to several outstanding examples. And if you know of others, please do let me know so that I can share them here, where we explore the relationships between religion and science, nature and civilization from a diversity of modern Pagan perspectives.
I cannot leave here without noting the amazing synthesis of science, nature and music, the Symphony of Science presented by John Boswell. If you haven’t viewed these yet, you should.