Christmas Afternoon on the South Toe River

Christmas Afternoon on the South Toe River, a pastel by Stephanie Thomas Berry

I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes something alive. 

Granted there is a more specific definition amongst the scientists of the world, though even they seem to grapple with the precise definition of what makes something alive. But I am thinking of something else. 

It’s a curious experience I’ve had, on occasion, as an artist, when something I’ve created takes on a life of its own. It is an experience equally hard to define. 

When I finished Christmas Afternoon on the South Toe River I remarked that it felt more alive to me than any landscape scene I had done before. To me, I wrote, it is most curiously alive. As if the threads of the river and sky and tree and stone that wove themselves into me on that lovely afternoon turned around and wove themselves into this image. 

I don’t think I can begin to define what is happening, but I think it is a phenomenon that is experienced by much of humanity. A work of art speaks to you. A piece of music is so evocative that it transforms your state of being. A poem shifts something inside of you, so that your experience of the world blooms. 

There is this truth that everything we experience—the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the cars we drive on the roads we built, and also the pine trees and the cold rivers and the stones they sing over—all this arose from the body of the Earth. Not just these things, but also all the sounds, the conversations, the ideas that buzz about inside us. All arose from the body of the Earth. With that rare and miraculous exception of meteorites and stardust, which does not really preclude this truth, everything is Earth. 

When we begin to shift our thoughts of exactly what Earth is—from the cold science that Earth as a planetary object to Earth as a planetary consciousness, a Being beyond our capacity to fully understand or know—well then, there also arises a new awareness that everything in our lives arises from Her, either through our bodies, or not.

Thus everything bears Her indelible mark.

When we let an awareness of the livingness of the world settle into ourselves the objectification of all things falls apart. We become so woven with the consciousness of the Earth that even those machine-made things—like the pen I first wrote these words with, and the paper across which it scratches—these objects become endowed with a meaning I heretofore had not recognized. Or rather, their meaning, their voice, becomes apparent to me. I bend my awareness towards them. 

We cannot know the world, or the Earth, in the way that science has long compelled us as a possibility—in the clarity of objective, scientific truth. It is an impossibility. Always there are the limits of our perception, always there is the natural bias of being a human being. This is a truth that science itself has come to, the cliff of its own world, you might say. We are looking only at models of reality, not reality itself. 

But we can know the world in a far more intimate way, and it is the way that has a deep and resonant impact upon us. It’s the way of becoming one with the Earth, of acknowledging not just our interconnectedness, but our blissful unity with the whole of the world, moment to moment. 

This way of knowing the world is a felt experience. A nourishment of the body. In this crumbling age of the masculine-oriented, it is entirely feminine. So perhaps it is difficult to embrace. Like all manner of feminine knowledge, its veracity, worth, and realness have been fiercely doubted. 

But if we soften our skin, and quiet our minds, there is a deep awareness we can cultivate. It is an awareness of and communication with the vast consciousness of the Earth. It is alive, evolving, and responsive. So that, when we drink deeply of this nourishment, it weaves into us, and then in turn we weave it back into the world. 

Is this what is happening with my little pastel? When I first sketched the scene, I also described it in my journal:

I am sitting upon a dry bank of sand, overlooking the river, and already I am in the shadow of the mountain. Across the river the forest is illuminated with that rare light, a cold and golden glow, woven with shadows of gray, subdued rose, and dark maroon-brown. 

The river before me flows eastward, before it turns north, and Pine Ridge rises above it, basking in this last light. The alpenglow is reflected in the dappled surface of the river―a burnished gold, tangled with a throaty indigo, for the water runs thickest in the shadows before me, singing deep and singing blue. It’s so beautiful I almost wish I’d bought my paints, or at least my camera. But I’ve brought only my journal, and my pen. 

Everything touches everything else. And so this scene before me lives now, within me, this river, running thick and fast, the old small stones on the opposite shore, in sun-bleached shades of gray, sienna, and blue. The small clouds, tinged with pink. I am a thread in this world, I am bound to it, made by it.

What might it mean, if we were take the livingness of the world into ourselves? What might it mean if we recognized Her indelible mark in everything? Would we be able to begin to forgive ourselves for this blundering state of things?  Would we begin to feel the exquisite beauty that still and forever rises up from Her, singing life?  Would would fall away, and what would be born, if we walked through our days with our bodies tuned to Her song? 

Everything is Earth. Every thing belongs to Her.

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