Defying Gravity

Black Moss ( Bryoria fremontii) with water: an ancient syilx survival food.

At a point there are attractions greater than attraction to the core of the earth. Here the molecular bonds of water molecules maintain the plasma of the sun, on earth. In other words, this is the conversation between earth and sun:  this, and you and me.

Creation is Now

Water flows.waterSometimes this flowing takes 100,000 years. Here’s the bed of a glacier from 12,000 years ago, under the deepest part of the continental ice. This was the divide. 2 miles of ice reached up from here. The last of it formed this lake at the foot of the subglacial rivers this tree is growing upon. Look at the tree. It reaches up. It’s stiff, because it’s made of carbon.P1980188

But carbon, that is bound with water, bends, not like the water, and not like the straight arrow the fir aspires to above, but like that fir, and these sedges, half way between hydrogen and oxygen molecules and carbon itself, it bends, it flows, it sways, it springs back and it climbs the ladder of carbon chains, up and up and up.P1980005

Look at these spruce and pines, citizens of fire between the flowing of the sea through the air and the winter’s snow, molten and rippling with the energy of the turning earth.P1980379


The fire will come, and take its carbon, but for now, ah, now it is the time of water talking to light.



Last image: Bowron Lake.

Other images; Big Bar Lake.

All images © Harold Rhenisch 2015.

New Snow: When Zero Gets Real

I’ve been talking about zeroes lately, and suggested that a mathematics without zero would be a mathematics of unity. It wouldn’t lead to contemporary technical society or economics, or even the computer I am composing these words on, but it would lead somewhere — somewhere very physical. Like this, perhaps:

P1130480 Rowans in Early Snow

Consider this mathematics. Not a representation of mathematical principles but mathematics itself.

There is no zero present in the above image, because it has not been abstracted from the totality of presence which this rowan represents, back through its ancestors down to the creation of the solar system and through the hearts of other suns to the forces of the Big Bang. They are not present in this rowan, but evolved forms of them are. The zero, the point of reference and balance that unites them and that has, arguably, been present since before the Big Bang, is still present here, but not as zero. It is present as the totality of the moment. Here’s how a mathematician might put that (Easy now, this is math so simple that you don’t even have to slip a disc trying to slip it out of the oven and onto a rack to cool while you whip up some icing):


Three Representations of Everything

These are three ways of writing all the whole numbers in the world to come to the totality of the universe. Notice, though, that the first equation has zero, nothing, as the totality of everything, the second has a really big number reaching to infinity, and the third a really big number reaching to a different infinity. Here’s the source for this example.

So, if we are to accept the word of mathematicians, the world is not knowable, because there are three incompatible ways of talking about it. You can’t have them all. You have to make a choice and go with that. You just have to say

Either … This …. or … This

The point is that mathematics does not describe the world. It describes mathematics. Like so many intellectual and social pursuits in contemporary society, it has forgotten to look at the world and looks instead for intellectual patterns behind the appearances of the world. If it looks at this, for example…P1130478

… it does not see the Big Bang and everything that is, but something like this:

(1 + (-1)) + (2 + (-2)) + (3 + (-3)) +… = 0 + 0 + 0 + … = 0

Compare that with this:


Staghorn Sumacs in First Snow

Compared to those sumacs, the mathematical equation is only a modern variant of the medieval form of theological meditation in which monks held God to be unknowable. They were such practical men and worked at this idea for so long that they hit on the idea of defining God by what he was not, on the principle that if you could list all the things that were not God (and anything you could list would not be God), then what was left over was God. It was an elegant solution, but not the first choice of a truly technological civilization, and so it passed on into a technique used by creative writing teachers at universities. It’s still a clever trick to sidestep Western tradition’s insistence on physicality long enough for other possibilities to appear. Here’s how that appears in a Renaissance perspective:


Madonna with St. Elizabeth and St. Barbara, Lucas Cranach the Elder

Erfurt Cathedral

In the above image, the infinite is hidden behind a cloth. In keeping with that intellectual idea (that a veil can be lifted or removed over the infinite), the figures in the foreground can be read allegorically, rather than what they are: women, if you want to look at it like that, one with a child, or patterns of paint on canvas, if you want to look at it like that. That might seem absolutely normal, but actually it’s pretty extraordinary. In Eastern Christian traditions, this is not the case at all. In the Orthodox Church, for example, there are things like this:


Greek Orthodox Saint Barbara Ikon

In this tradition, there is no veil between the observer and the infinite, and the image is not an allegory. It is actually Saint Barbara, portrayed in a stylized fashion in order to insist that it is not Barbara herself or any representation of her in a physical sense. With Ikons, the presence of the infinite is right here, right now, and unmediated.

One consequence of that tradition is that every moment of every day is infinite, and the act of creation that underlies the creation of the universe can erupt at any moment, anywhere. In Christian terms, this means that Christ can rise in every weed growing between every paving stone and in every loaf of bread, but Christian terms aren’t the only way to look at it.  In comparison to the Western church, in which creation took place at some point in the past and is leading towards some point in the future, that’s pretty remarkable. I’m not suggesting a return to medieval religion or a switcheroo to the Orthodox faith, but I am suggesting that if there are two completely opposing world views coming out of one tradition, that a little sidestepping of normal ways of looking things can’t hurt a bit. So, so far we have the Western tradition of art, and the Eastern tradition of ikons. Here’s a third, neither art nor ikon, but which fits into that good company:

P1130475 In this one, energy has not been translated into a human story before it can be used to channel power through other human stories, or stories of the relationship of humane existence to existence itself. Which brings me back to my starting point: zero. If zero is a placeholder that unites all mathematical possibilities, in the language of mathematics, then cannot this image be zero?

P1130473 And is that zero not the Big Bang? And within the potentiality of that zero is not the entirety of the universe present, right now, seeing itself at this point for the first time?P1130471I think it is. The challenge is not to see and not to create a mathematics that represents this unity, but to do it in such a way that it is not a mathematics of numbers, with reference to itself, in long chains of logic. To put that another way, contemporary mathematics is a powerful tool that, nonetheless, creates results (such as computers or Pixar animations) that draw on a long tradition of ascetic contemplation and the contemplation of the world as an intellectual pattern in the mind of God. Whether one is secular or religious, that history can’t be shaken. What can be done, however, is to put the wholeness of the world into the language and to use the world as the zero point, the reference point, or the “I”. Let’s all look at that tomorrow. Until then:

P1130519Cottonwood Leaves in First Snow


Stopping to Watch the Big Bang

I’m used to walking up into the hills, and I usually see amazing things, because that’s the kind of world it is. Now that I have pneumonia and have the breath to manage three hundred yards, with rest breaks, I’m finding beauty in small things, like colour:P1360698 … and pattern …

P1360697 … and subtle gradations of light.



That’s the kind of world it is, too. How easy it is to forget to stop, to really stop, and to walk through doorways in the air. That, too, is breath. Look at the complexity of edges lying within this image:

P1360732Random? No, I don’t think so. I think it’s a mistake to look for the edge of the universe, the outer bubble of the Big Bang, so to speak, at some distant point in space. I think it’s bound in every object and every ray of light.



I think there’s not only a mathematics for this, but a physics, a biology, and a language. We are hunters, we humans. We track game. We also know how to stop and read the signs. I think the signs are there, and here:

P1360696Staghorn Sumac and Filbert (A North American Hazelnut) Leaves

After the first snow has come and gone.

Contemporary cultures are good at producing more of the same. I don’t think we need more of the same.



Mapping the Formation of the Solar System, Now

In honour of my 500th post in this exploration…

P1130885The Okanagan Okanagan Nuclear Reactor at 500!

With a nuclear engineer, even! Hurrah!

…I’d like to ask a question of the ideal university. It is a question about water and soil atmospheres. Before I do so, let me briefly sketch out the story of water here in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.

P1100448What the Okanagan Looks Like Without Bunchgrass

(But with tractors.)

This story starts with the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, which lie to the west of the valley. As it interrupts the flow of the atmosphere caused by the rotation of the earth, this volcanic arc acts like an aircraft wing. To the West, it forces wet Pacific Ocean air to shed moisture as it is depressurized in its climb over the mountains. To the East, such as in the image below …P1130811

Okanagan Landing, British Columbia

… it creates a depressurized zone, which loses water to the air as the atmospheric winds descend to greater and greater depths. The deeper the air falls, the more water it absorbs from the soil, without ever gaining in humidity. What it gains instead is heat.


Sagebrush, Queen of Heat

One clarification is necessary. Contrary to tourism brochures and brochures from water management branches of the government, It is not that the Okanagan Valley has no water, but that the water is pressurized within the air. For instance …


Water in Okanagan Landing

But most of it is in the air. Notice how it does not fall. Amazing! Don’t let the lake fool you, though. That’s 10,000 year old melted glacier, that is.

Here, maybe my early morning attempt at a graphic will help to illustrate the wing effect of the mountains, as they translate the energy of the wind into water balance.


A Simplified View of the Effect of Mountains on the Water Capacity of Atmospheric Winds in Western British Columbia

This whole process is powered by the formation of the solar system, during which the dust and gasses of exploded stars condensed under their own gravity, began to spin as their gravity bent their momentum, and just kept on spinning. The intriguing sense of balance, which gives a rainforest to the west of the Coast Mountains and a semi-desert to the east, is merely that original tension recreated in an atmospheric form. That brings me to the first question I would like to ask of the Ideal University:

1. Would a map of water in the grassland environments of Western North America viewed as an extension of the Big Bang help make more accurate water use plans?

OK. I have an answer to that one. Yes. Just what that would look like, though, is a task for the scientists and artist-scientists of the Ideal University. I am intrigued with the notion that this wing effect of the mountains, and the story of balance it tells, which extends deep into the earliest moments of the formation of the solar system, continues at finer and finer levels. For instance, above the soil of the Okanagan, available water decreases while heat increases. As a result, the air (and the heat of the sun, that represents its dryness) draws water up, out of the soil, while below the soil, gravity draws water down. The tension between upward and downward tending forces creates a continuous flat plane of water within the sloped hills, exactly like the lake in the valley bottom below.


Beneath the grass, this column of water is a cloud.

To the west of the mountains, where water is falling from the air abundantly, to form rain forests, this subsoil water is more like a river than any kind of a cloud.

Here, it’s kind of like this:

soil and air

There’s The Rotation of the Earth Again, in a Different Form

So, questions, right. Here goes:

1. Given that the grass that lies between the soil atmosphere and the air atmosphere embodies the same balanced tension as the wing of the Coast Mountains or the formation of the Solar System, what would a science that understood photosynthesis, and life itself, as an embodiment of the way the energy of water moves through these forces, look like?

2. Would that not mean that life takes on very specific earthly characteristics, because of the very particular nature of this planet and its very particular balancing of pressures?

3. Is not the structure of a plant leaf just another representation of these forces of balance? If so, what are the consequences of such an understanding?

Through rigorously working out such questions, art and science are united in the Ideal University. It’s not just the cloud of bunchgrasses that embody these processes. They work down to the molecular level. Here, here is a leaf:


Poplar Leaf, Gutted by a Leaf Miner

Note how there is a complex environment contained between the two surfaces of the leaf. In there, processes of pressure and energy exchange on a molecular level transform sunlight into solid form, which is the food for the plants, and for the leaf miners that eat them, and the birds that eat those, and so on.

And they work up to higher levels of organization, as you can see from these leaves:


Yellow Butterfly Drinking from the Mud Amongst the Young Yellow Dock

Well, not exactly from the leaves, but from the butterfly that takes a secondary characteristic of the leaves, their shape, and uses it to rise into the air, just as water does.

1. Are not humans, like you and I, not also part of this process of amplification?

2. Are we not also part of the Big Bang?

Ducks, too…

P1110028Big Bang Expressing Itself as Duck and Duckling, Pinaus Lake

Years ago, I had an insight that all views of landscape were ethical. At the time, I didn’t have a clue what that meant. It was almost purely a visual insight. I think I’m getting closer now, so, again, in celebration of (I can hardly believe it!) the 500th post into this deep ecological exploration, let me pose an ethical question.

1. In what way does the aversion of traditional technical science towards such explorations  constitute a denial of human rights for participation in the universe, free of the manipulations of social hierarchies?

2. Should not the human body be granted the dignity of belonging in the universe and being a part of it?

3. Does not the universe belong to us all, free of the distortions of individual human competition?

4. Does Darwinian selection only tell part of the story?

5. Is it not time to tell the rest?

Well, darn it, in the spirit of Okanagan Okanogan: Yes! I tell you (in case you haven’t guessed), I am excited about the contributions a combined artistic and technical science can make to the planet and its creatures. Thanks again for walking this path with me. I couldn’t have done it without your continued support.

Planet of Wonder

This is what comets look like when long elliptical orbits bring them close to the sun and they are captured by the gravity of large hunks of rock that are floating around there…


Still following gravity after all these years.

For the latest news on the development of the Big Bang, come for a walk with me at dusk in the wet season. There are complex mathematical equations …

Saskatoon, or …

… mathematics without the cerebral unghHHrgh.

There are complicated graphs of space-time …


Super String Theory

There is even something more …

Life, or…

…the art of holding time still.

These are all what the Big Bang looks like after 13,750,000,000 years. The telescopes that look into deep space see what it looked like when it was a wee mite, which is a beautiful thing, as all babies are, but now it’s a young adult and looks like this:

Choke Cherries

Hanging in for the count. Winter? Pshaw.

The universe is alive. It can be viewed through life, as well as through telescopes. The end goal is the same: life, beauty, and wonder.