Cadence of the Universe

This Universe in which we live, so full of measure and yet inexplicably vast, meters out a life pulse that seems to somehow encompass all. The cadence of our universe, measured with heart beats, the rising or setting of the sun on a distant horizon, the monthly cycle of the moon brightening the shroud of night, this planet’s seemingly never ending annual laps around the Sun, or even by the passage of our solar system through the Milky Way over and over again is all part of a seemingly linear rhythm that defines the passage of time if one happens to perceive that time is, in fact, linear if it even exists at all.

And although I ponder the passing of events at frequent and every increasing intervals it would by remiss of me to not recognize my own reflections on the tempo of life, especially considering the idea that I fully understand that all of our lives are brief and likely only important to those we are closest to.

It takes neither wisdom or humility to understand our own minimal individual importance. It seems to be simply a fact that as one of 7 billion people living today, and one of many billions of humans who have placed their feet on this green planet that although I may be unique my importance is infinitesimally small as compared to that of the entire human race. And I must say that I find solace in this observation. My footprint on this nearly perfect planet is relatively inconsequential. Yet, despite this, I find that I strive to understand any real importance my passage on this planet might have.

I am a relatively simple human. I have dedicated a large part of my life to doing my best at understanding the natural world. And fathoming the rhythms and harmonies that are found in nearly every item, both living and nonliving, on this Earth has always been my foundation. It is from this foundation that I derive strength, knowledge, and peace. One might say it is the kindling that started the flame; a flame that burns continuously for the time being but will one day be extinguished as part of the natural cycle.

With this in mind I am now looking into the heavens as a quarter moon sweeps ever so slowly through the dark sky. Bright stars dim as the moon’s light gets close to their part of the sky reminding me that it is contrast that makes things stand out. By all accounts most species prefer to remain stealth. Natural camouflage helps most to blend in to their environment. The color and pattern of a pickerel frog helps it to blend into the water lilies. Its nearly invisible form in just the right environs makes it an effective predator to those it would prey upon and an excellent escape artist to those who might see it as food. It is this ability to go unnoticed that helps many to survive.

Keeping track of the cycles of the moon is my way of observing my own personal universe. Not so much with reference to the passing of time but rather for monitoring events within a frame work. For me measuring the events of my life on a momentary, or even daily basis seems frivolous. I like to be looking at my life from a place where I can see both forward and backward in moderately measured increments. It is the length of one moon cycle, about a month in time, that I find useful in understanding where I’ve been, where I am, and perhaps where I am going. The distance traveled both emotionally and literally in one month seems somehow manageable. It is my own way of keeping track of my life’s comings and goings.

And so, since I was a young fellow, I have been rising and falling with the cycles of the moon. Like the tide I am the most energetic and reactive when the moon is the brightest and darkest during full and new moon cycles and much more serene and thoughtful in between these two moon periods.

There most certainly is a spiritual essence to the lunar cycle within my life. Keeping track of one’s life within a natural cycle is both meditative and peaceful. I’m reminded of the old adage of surviving life “one day at a time”. In my case I observe, digest, and try to comprehend life in a cycle of one month of a time. I just like to figure out life in larger chunks then some and much smaller fragments than those who review life once a year, perhaps on New Year’s Eve. I suspect that we all have a need for different patterns of time. Perhaps it is the combination of these different individual needs that gives life continuity for humans as a whole. That is something I will have to ponder at some point in the future.

As I stare into the night sky I think about what I am looking at. The light reflecting off of the moon sliver is giving me a glimpse of what the moon looked like about a second and a half ago. Light travels at about 186,000 miles per second and the moon is about 249,000 miles away. I am seeing a moment in the recent past not unlike witnessing a tree fall across a distant field edge and hearing the crash a second or two later.

But the stars I look at are a much different story. Alpha Centauri, the closest star to our solar system, is 4.2 light years or about 28.5 trillion miles from Earth. At the speed of light it would take its reflected image about four and a half years to reach us. That means that when we look at this star you are looking into the past. We are literally looking at the star as it existed almost a half a decade ago. In contrast, one of the farthest dim stars V762 Cas located in the galaxy Cassiopeia, is about 1500 light years away. When we are looking at this star we are seeing its reflected image from about 1610 years ago, or the year 404 AD. We are literally seeing an image from a time when the Roman empire was ending a long period of domination in Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia.

Think about this. We can see the past in the present. Now think about whether or not time is really a linear. I won’t go into the idea of whether time really exists at all, or whether it is simply a human invention to keep track of things based on a misunderstanding of physics and our universe, but there is a logic here that might stimulate some thought about this topic.

And while I am aware of these other possibilities I am happy to keep track of my own life by observing the lunar cycles. I enjoy the pulse of these monthly events. In fact, one might say that it is the natural cycles that keep many of us in tune with the world in which we live and the vast and capacious universe that cradles our Earth within her womb.

Written for in July 2014.

  • Ratty

    When I think of time and the universe I begin to feel very small and insignificant in comparison. But then I come back down to myself and I think of all the influence we humans have had on the things around us. We are the biggest small things I can think of.

  • Wild_Bill

    Interesting thought Ratty. I think water (two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen) is biggest small thing that I can think of. Without there would be no life at all.

  • Teresa Evangeline

    Beautiful pondering on the idea of time. Thank you for giving the age of the stars in historical terms, which makes it even more amazing. Looking at life in “monthly” increments make sense, and seems quite Native American.

    What is the lovely orange orchid style plant? Gorgeous … and a great photo of them.

  • Wild_Bill

    As someone who has significant Abenaki and Cherokee heritage keeping track of my life in lunar cycles seems to come naturally. The flower is jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) a very common flower found throughout all of N. America except desert and tundra climates.

  • Emily Brisse

    This is beautiful, Bill, and deeply felt. That first line drew me right in, and I felt myself pondering all the things you brought up, thinking about how small we all are, how maybe that makes life even more precious. Isn’t tonight a super moon, or something of that sort? In any case, I hope the skies are clear where you are, the better to gaze upon it and be grateful for the view. Best to you!

  • Teresa Evangeline

    My father always told us we were part Cherokee, but my sister recently did some investigating and found our great grandparents on the tribal rolls for Lakota Sioux, here in Minnesota. They lived a good part of their life just a few miles to the north of where I am now. I have had dream visions of her, although have never seen an image of her in “real” life … I Know it’s her. :)

    I don’t recall ever seeing jewelweed before. I will keep my eyes more open …

  • Wild_Bill

    I have met quite a few Lakota folks and have really enjoyed their company. Visions are better than photographs. Not only are they real but they follow people of Native American culture verifying your innate attachment to it. You will find jewelweed in wet and shaded places and areas with a deep organic soil as well.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thank you Emily. As you know the best writing pieces ramble about in your head for quite a while and then one day you sit down and they just fall out of your head through your fingertips and wind up on the screen in front of you. I really don’t know quite how that happens.

    The super moon was fabulous here. There was a huge halo around it! We had been fishing all day and seeing the moon passing through the sky was simply sensational.

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