Spring arrived in a blade of wheat this afternoon. The rebirth of the organic world is here. This is spring. Of all times of year, spring brings immortal thoughts. The cycling of life from death and then rebuilt as new life through birth is everywhere. We gaze upwards and feel the warmth of the sun. Our pale skin turns reddish and like pigments in plant cells. They are made different when sunlight enters them.
We walk out on the fields and find remnants of a season gone by. I find twigs and rodent holes and dead residue and rabbit manure and deer prints and much more. The fenceline sags. While still brown and gray, the trees have just a hint of green, a bud or two or hundreds of them on a single branch. In a few days these leaves will capture sunlight, disturb a pigment, excite an electron, oxidize water and in Rubisco ways build an organic molecule of sugar.
The wonder of this minute act sustains nearly every life form on earth. And in spring, the manifestation of rebirth is empirical. We see the field turn green before our very eyes. We are comforted by these color changes. Easter, a holiday of rebirth, can be metastasized into every blade of wheat. They are at my feet, and I find comfort in knowing that Earth is my home and so is this field of wheat.
I often state to my students and colleagues that nearly everything I needed to know I learned on the farm – a long time ago. Yet, I am fortunate. I can stand in one of these fields, either in some land far away, like Afghanistan, or out my back door in Michigan, and know my place in them.
What is “my place”? Where then do we belong in this springtime of green pigments denoting life and carbon fixation?
If the scientist answers this question, it is as part of the organic world. We are literally birthed out of star dust and the earth itself, driven by energy and the correct mixture of chemicals and enzymes, work against entropy.
If the artist answers this question, one will find thousands of explanations in every religion, every philosophy, every poet and every imaginary thought derived from our mind state. All are correct. And all deserve the accommodation of contemplation. We are reconciled into these thoughts. I find myself no longer needing someone telling me from the pulpit or lectern the answers to interpreting the art of organic life. The aesthetic answers are part of growing older. Sitting in a chair or pew does not endure me towards any resolution, nor does someone else’s interpretation make any sense until I have entered that room by myself and come to a working model. This is, for me, entering my place – the “field.”
Thus, it is that I am, given my background and academic training, a scientist. But the explainable world based on empirical evidence is shallow and quite limited. Yes, we can explain more every passing moment. I am surrounded by the books of science and references and journals. I speak science and do science and think science nearly all day long. But the deepest thoughts of my life are not in science but in art. I call this aesthetic art. Such art is personal and for me, a priori.
So standing in a wheat field this afternoon was participation in both worlds. I reckoned with the chemistry and physics of plants waking up out of dormancy. Their shrunken cells dehydrated for winter now begin swelling with liquid water, and the chlorophyll shifts an electron towards an excitable state. But I also reckoned with the aesthetic art of this field.
I was born out of the earth, too, for I am a consumer of plants and animals that were born out of the earth. I am participating in the birth of spring, and the word participate is meaningful. I am part of the process of oxidation and reduction, carbon cycling and nutrient exchange. Yet I cannot explain as fully as a poet would, or an essayist, or perhaps even the theologian who while standing here with me would see God in full control. Thus, a scientist defers to them for explanation, or the scientist becomes an artist.
Scientists are made better when they have discovered that the measurement of science is calculus, the building block of science is atomic particles in chemistry and the laws of thermodynamics that govern flux per unit time as density can take us only so far as empiricists. Beyond that, we need aesthetic art, and that is found in poetry, essays, philosophy and religion.
This is spring. The time of the year we long for after a cold, dark and long snowy winter. We welcome that gradual increase of sun arc in the sky, the warmth that is brought to us, these wheat blades of green and the knowledge that only by combining science and art can we be redeemed for having been so fortunate to participate in this life.
For that which we know, a multitude of that which is unknown beckons us not to explain, which we accept as art and in my case, the personal aesthetic art. Thus, we find ourselves every year entering once again … the field of rebirth. PD