Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Where Does The Atmosphere End; Where Do Our Bodies Begin?

Last night, I walked out onto our porch to shake out a dusty rug and the wind blew a gust of warm spring air across my face.

It has been a while since we’ve felt warm breezes in this valley where snow is still piled in shady places and the first spring wildflowers are only now beginning to bloom, and the sensation kept me on the porch long enough to look up at the night sky.

This is what I talk about and write about every day, I realized, rug in hand. This warm air. Those moving clouds. This is the atmosphere I talk about with terms like 'parts per million’ and ‘gigatons per year’. Colorless, odorless, invisible, it envelops all of us, all of our lives. The atmosphere is what moved through the tree-tops the first night I slept outside by myself. It blew up river from the ocean as I walked to the University each day of all of those years in graduate school. It ruffled my baby’s hair the first time I carried her outside. Now at this moment, as I write these words, it enters my body as I breathe in. What was, moments ago, 'the atmosphere' is now alive in somebody’s daughter, somebody’s mother. And what was moments ago, the solid substance of my body is now, 'the atmosphere.'

This sounds like poetry and metaphor, and I suppose in a way it is. It is also simple biochemistry and physiology.

We should stop polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases because our survival depends upon it. And as we work to stop that pollution we might draw strength and inspiration from the realization that the atmosphere is also our deepest swiftest link with the rest of the planet, the flux that connects us to the oceans and forests and meadows of an entire world. We might stop and notice our breathing, and realize that between us and the atmosphere there is no boundary at all.

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