Tag Archives: nature

Reflections on the Sabbath, 1

Ostensibly, class discussion in my Religion & Ecology class today was to center upon our readings on Judaic attitudes towards nature, and any substantial differences in environmental viewpoints between Judaism and Christianity. I’ll readily admit that I didn’t do any of the week’s readings, as I’ve had papers due in the past three consecutive days, including today’s Religion & Ecology paper which I successfully completed in 1.5 hours the morning of class. Prof. Wallace acknowledged that many other students would likely sit in the same boat, so instead conversation steered towards concepts grounded in more practical questions raised by the reading.

I won’t go into the details of how this conversation arose, or the myriad responses, but one question regarded whether a ‘Sabbath of the mind’ could be possible at Swarthmore, or anywhere else. That is, whether one could get a day off just to rest the mind.

Though it doesn’t take a full day, I know what I like to do for a sabbath of the mind. When I go birdwatching, I’m not only having fun in a hobby of mine, but the long walks provide a time for thought and reflection, on how things are going, where things are going, and where things have been. Sometimes, these thoughts can get pretty inconsequential and silly, like trying to optimize my fantasy football squad’s starting roster. Which clearly requires more thought, looking at my disappointing 1-3 start despite relative statistical success. But at least for a few hours, I can take my mind off classes and focus on the peaceful, reflective strolls through the woods.

What do others do for a sabbath of the mind? A couple of people brought up partying, and that struck me as completely wrong. Not because I have anything against parties, but I don’t feel like that constitutes as a sabbath of the mind. When I think of what a Sabbath is, I imagine a restful, reflective mental engagement on life and current issues. Partying is more of an escape rather than a reflection, and it strikes me as being more fun rather than peaceful, and I don’t feel like that fits within the spirit of the Sabbath. I think of it more as a day of rest, not a day of fun. Obviously that’s just my personal view on the term, others could have completely different opinions on what a Sabbath is and how to treat it.

Do these differing views have to do with our feelings about the work we do? The need for fun on the weekends seems to imply that the work on the weekdays is justifiably un-fun, and so a treat and a pick-me-up are needed. I don’t know why that’s not the position I’ve adopted, it’s certainly not because I view work as being fun, haha. But I don’t really mind it either, truth be told. In fact, I don’t really tend to think about work a lot, I just sit down and get it done when necessary, then completely forget that it existed. I do have plenty of fun on the weekdays, not in the partying sense, but just in a social sense, or sometimes in a ‘spiritual’ sense though I’m not a spiritual person. I can’t think of another term to describe personal, internal joy that comes from reading a nice article, hearing good music, or anything else individually related. In general though, I don’t need to have special fun on the weekends, as I have plenty of fun during the week, and I don’t view work as being particularly un-fun. Those who want to have fun on the weekends are likely those who view work as a desperately exhausting chore, which certainly isn’t an unusual or despicable approach, but it’s just not the way I personally approach things.

The one thing I really don’t feel like I have a lot of time for during the week is reflection. There’s a lot of work to be done, both schoolwork and social work, and I don’t often get the chance to sit back and think about things. When I do get the urge to relax, take a break, and reflect on things, that’s when I head for the long trails, with my binoculars hanging from my left shoulder and a field guide in my pocket, after all, why not, if I’m heading outside.

I suppose I’m a solitary person by nature in that way; my most relaxing moments occur when I’m by myself completely, and I always look forward to returning to my room, as it acts as a recharger for my spirit. I don’t really feel like I relax when I’m with other people, I can certainly have fun, but for me fun is completely removed from relaxation. I’ve read that such a belief is a key difference between introverts and extroverts: introverts recharge by returning to their homes and doing things by themselves, while extroverts recharge by being with their friends. That certainly isn’t a black-and-white divide, it’s undoubtedly more of a continuum. But I definitely find myself acting as more of an introvert. I really like how that study used the concept of ‘recharging’, as I feel like that’s a really accurate description of what it’s like for me to return home.

When I first opened up this blog to non-bird-related posts, I was afraid of turning into one of those sensitive emo-bloggers who turn to their blogs as a diary where they could cry about their life’s dramas. That’s really the complete opposite of my persona, but this post is really dangerously toeing the line. I’m glad I stopped myself here. Then again, if I’m not an overly emotional person to begin with, I probably wouldn’t even have that sort of post in me.

Links, then:

  • Time-lapse video of a drive from Olympia to Seattle.
  • The capital of Iceland turned off all the lights one night so that people could see the stars. Find out when you can see the stars from your town.
  • Photo slideshow of ridiculous treehouses you can buy if you’re too lazy to build your own.
  • Go inside the Sultan of Brunei’s private jet.
  • Continuing on the extravagant theme, watch a video explaining the processes behind the most expensive carwash in the world.
  • And onto elegantly artistic but fully functional wooden computers to pass on to your kids and your grandkids.
  • Also wooden, but far less elegant or functional are these wooden cellphones. Wut.
  • This came up in our Sociology of Law course: a very good breakdown of the 2004 Presidential Election, concerning what specific demographic groups voted for whom. I would likely classify myself with the Upbeats.
  • The pride of Taiwan started Game 1 for the Yankees last night, go Chien-Ming Wang!
  • One guy has decided to drink a cup of coffee from every single Starbucks in the world.
  • If you get your caffeine from soda instead, here’s a nice online store of gourmet sodas.
  • A uniquely designed Periodic Table of Elements, taking into account the unusual properties of hydrogen.
  • More games to test your mouse skills.
  • I’ve recently become re-addicted to Sudoku because of Sudoku Slam, which has some really cool features, and overtakes Web Sudoku as the best Sudoku site on the web in my opinion. Try out Sumo Mode. I’m a huge fan of the Highlight Candidates feature. When I get a Smart Hint on the harder puzzles though, I don’t really understand what the colored squares are supposed to be mean. If somebody gets it, please explain to me, I would really appreciate it, thanks. Edit: I just noticed that they posted an explanation. Pretty powerful method, I’ll admit.
  • If you need to write an abstract for your report, or just need to make a paper a little shorter, let Microsoft Word highlight the important points for you. Actually works pretty well, it’s almost like Microsoft is competent!
  • Wallet 2.0 looks like a fairly nifty and organized wallet for all you hipsters. Be sure to check out the completely absurd companion comic. I don’t understand what’s going on here at all.
  • “…A human head remains in a state of consciousness for one and a half minutes after decapitation, and people speak at the rate of 160 words per minute in a ‘heightened state of emotion’. Simple math means that the heads in each of Butler’s 62 stories get exactly 240 words for their narratives — first-person, stream-of-consciousness glimpses of the lives they led.” This book looks unbelievably interesting. The beheaded folk, by the way, include many historical figures such as Marie Antoinette, John the Baptist, and even Medusa.
  • “Using specialist techniques, thousands of portraits of individual people have been compacted to provide a representative male and female “look” for the 160,000 residents of Sydney.”
  • An elevator without a floor?! Amazing.
  • Very good card trick, very well done.
  • Interesting article on why football teams should not punt on fourth down. A more qualitative approach can also be found here.
  • And I just had to save the best for last. For those of you who don’t know, Ryan Adams is a critically acclaimed alt-country singer-songwriter. I really like a few of his songs, in particular the opening two songs on his debut ‘Heartbreaker’. But he’s gone kind of insane recently, sending long rambling messages on critics’ voice mail machines, among other things. But nothing can top this. Ryan Adams just updated his official website, replete with the most unbelievably terrible/hilarious rap song I have ever heard. You have to listen to it all the way through, it’s quite amazing at the beginning, but takes a turn for the incredible close to the end. Lyrics can also be found here. This is simply comedy gold. I have not loled this hard in months.

I’m liking the random baby in there.

Tilling of the Earth

I’m currently taking a course on Religion and Ecology, specifically what roles religion can play in either encouraging environmental stewardship, or in encouraging the exploitation of nature. As part of the class, I’m required to write journal entries whenever the inspiration strikes. After our first class discussion, I already had some ideas that I wanted to float into my journal, which I’ve decided to stick on this blog for now. I mean, why not. These aren’t deeply personal or private thoughts, and if you’re not interested, I totally understand, and you can feel free to just skip to the links or past posts. Really, I’d just rather stick them here than on some lonely word document lost somewhere in my unorganized hard drive.

Much of our discussion today centered on an article by Lynn White, entitled The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis, published in a 1967 volume of the journal Science. In the article, White accuses Christianity of gradually encouraging the exploitation of the world’s resources, for several different reasons that I won’t go into here. In discussing changes in human mindsets, White brings up the technology of the plow, that farmers use to ready their soil for planting.

Early plows merely scratched the soil, and required only two oxen to pull. Thus, families usually owned single plots that were capable of only supporting themselves, with perhaps a small surplus to sell on the market. But at some point, peasants in northern Europe developed a deeper cutting plow that required the force of eight oxen to pull, but was much more efficient in preparing the soil for crops. But because no single family owned eight oxen, neighborhood families then pooled together their oxen and collaborated in plowing very large plots to support the entire community.

White sees this as an important transition in the human farmer’s attitudes towards nature. Initially with the scratch plow, humans were friendly with the environment and only took what they needed to subsist and survive. The advent of the deepcut plow encouraged larger plots and more exploitation of the land and more greed, which led human society to the unfortunate state that we now find ourselves in.

Several classmates raised the point that here, then, is evidence that technology, and not religion, is largely at fault for our destruction of nature. Specifically, technologies that increase our efficiency at harvesting resources encourage this harvesting further.

This was a valid point, but I started to think about why these technologies were developed to begin with. If humans began in an idyllic life in relative harmony with nature, why was there a need for the deepcut plow in the first place? I don’t believe that it was invented on pure accident, I believe that someone felt the need to exploit the earth further, and therefore developed this new plow, which means that technology alone was not at fault. There needed to be some sort of impetus to raise the need for new technology, and the question we must ask is whether religion is that impetus.

For example, a classmate mentioned that the Incas of South America did not exploit their territory’s resources, largely because they did not have the necessary technology. But I feel that there was no technology because there was no drive to invent the necessary devices to begin with, and that the Incas truly were in tune with their surroundings. You need a reason to invent, which the Incas did not have, while the Europeans across the sea did see a need for more efficiency, possibly because of differences in religion.

But then, isn’t the single scratch plow harming the environment somewhat as well? It requires a small plot of land to be cleared of vegetation, which would clearly require some changes to the natural habitat. So the scratch plow itself is an increase in efficiency from some earlier techniques, which makes me think that technology is a slippery slope. Once the very first agricultural tool was developed, means of making it more efficient commenced, leading to the inventions of increasingly destructive tools. So when did this all begin? The Neolithic Revolution, when man settled down from their hunter gatherer ways? Why did this occur? There’s a lot of disagreement about the causes of the Neolithic Revolution, but I would think that it has something to do with human nature iself, as I don’t see how any other factor could affect populations on such a global scale to such a large degree.

But if it’s human nature that’s to blame, why did some civilizations hold respect for nature, while others clearly did not? This brings us back to White’s original case for Christianity as an anti-environmentalist religion. He believes that pagan animist cultures who saw spirits and gods in every aspect of nature would use their religion as a reason to respect the environment, a belief system which Christianity would come to destroy. I’m starting to feel that this argument is about to get incredibly circular, and obviously there’s no clear-cut resolution to the problem, otherwise there would be no reason to hold the class at all. I just felt that I needed to clear up my ideas regarding the role of technology specifically in the rise of environmental destruction.

In other news, I have an 8:30 am class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and so last night I decided that since I’d be waking up early anyways, I should just wake up even earlier to see what fall migrants I could catch in the Crum. That thinking backfired somewhat when I found that the sun rises a lot later than I remembered, and that most of the Crum Woods hillsides aren’t struck by sunlight until even later, leading to a lot of stumbling around in the dark. But even in the darkness and relative silence, I was able to find some really great birds.

  • Northern Waterthrush – new bird for my Crum list! Having experience with Louisiana Waterthrushes, my favorite bird, I could immediately tell that this bird was slightly more streamlined, with a thinner bill, and most evidently, with dense streaks on its chest, and thinner streaks than the broad strokes on the Louisiana. Its tailwagging was also much quicker than the relatively languorous Louisiana. The lighting was too poor to see a difference in the overall color, and I didn’t get any definitive looks at the back of the supercilium. Found in one of the large puddles on the creekside trail below the ampitheater.
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler – two individuals upstream from the hemlock bluffs behind Danawell.
  • Black-and-white Warbler – one bird feeding at eye level in Upper Wister Draw.
  • Acadian Flycatcher – one bird calling at the same location as the Black-throated Blue.

Recent links:

  • This looks like a great road to drive.
  • An interesting invention for your car that lets you see the light change without having to scrunch or crane your neck, for relatively short or tall people.
  • Backpack with built-in basketball holder. Even though I don’t play basketball seriously anymore, I’d still like to carry one around like this, just because.
  • You’ve encountered those cheap sofa-beds in hotels, but how about this sofa that turns into a bunk bed.
  • It looks like there’s a MiG fighter parked in this normal parking lot, next to people’s cars.
  • Cedar Point has an insane new coaster under construction, featuring two launches, and some sick inversions. The press release is here, while the official website with a simulated ride video is here.
  • Help Google improve its Image Search by playing this surprisingly addictive game.

And finally, rest in peace Steve Irwin. You will be missed dearly by all of us.