Rekindle Your Wild Joy and Deep Belonging to the Earth

Early Spring Cleaning February 17, 2011

I think my instincts are turning toward, or pulling me back towards, Beauty.

I just made a very simple supper snack – pear with cheese, but it was clear that the BLUE plate would be so much more striking against the creamy colors than the yellow one with lemons printed on it – so I yielded to the impulse, and oh how true that is.  I found myself laying the pears out in a fan pattern around the perimeter, with the three cheese slices forming an echo along the bottom. Then it seemed to need something… pecans! In the middle!

Is it food or art?

Who cares?

When I eat it, I will become it. Its beauty will nourish me inside as it does now through my eyes. My whole life could become this delicious feast of moments.

I am so drawn to this idea.

I’ve been taking inventory.

Paring down.

Over the past two days, it looked like a tornado hit in here as I hauled the couch to the other side of the room and deconstructed my bookshelves.

Like they do in Bali, I took every one down off their shelves, and dusted the shelves. Then I chose each book deliberately to either go back to be used and loved by me for some specific purpose or just because I value it or want to read it; or to be given away to either a certain friend or to the bookstore, thrift shop, or laundromat to find their new lovers.  I honor them for the knowledge and insights they contain. And some, although I’m sooo drawn to them, I know I will not be reading soon – so out they go too. This appreciative yet unattached gratitude feels good.

And the funny thing is, even though I’ve collected over ten bags full to give away, every shelf is still completely packed. How did that happen? Where were all those books before?

I also had the wild hair idea to shelve them according to color, and damn the subjects… this is the yellow shelf.  But stopped myself, thinking someone might actually ask me for a book, which would be embarrassing when I couldn’t find it for the life of me  (unlike before, where I could unerringly point to every blasted one, however buried.)

Finally, I sharpened all my knives.

It’s like I’m preparing all my tools – but for what?

For the future journeys/adventure ahead, of course.

Leaf buds will open soon.


R.I.P. Mandelbrot October 21, 2010

Benoit Mandelbrot died last week, of pancreatic cancer at the age of 85. While you may not have heard of him, you surely have not only heard of, but have taken enjoyment and even awe, from the mathematical model he invented.

“What?!” you may be thinking, “Are you off your nut? I hate math! I barely made it through high school geometry class!” But Mandelbrot coined the term “fractal” geometry, the structures of which, according to the math department at Princeton University, cannot be represented by classical geometry. And this math is accessible in a way that we all can see.

A fractal is a geometric pattern with geometrical and topographical features that are repeated in miniature on finer and finer scales. Such repetition independent of size or refinement level is called “self-similarity.”

The principle describes phenomena that we can all witness in nature.

Notice, for example, the similar inner branchings of a tree, a river valley, &  a human lung (the latter image composed entirely of fractal algorithms). The branching repeats in very similar ways, albeit at smaller and smaller levels: trunk, to roots below and large branches above, to twigs…


Fractal patterns can also be seen to some degree in ferns, lightning, and more. Note how the fern coil repeats itself first in large size, then in each of the smaller coils. If we got closer, we’d see it repeating again in each of the tiny coils within the small coils, and the next and yet the next, down and down again.

While a research scientist at IBM, Benoit Mandelbrot began to look fluctuations in the contours of coastlines. He then branched out to look for instances of similar fluctuations in all sorts of phenomena, which to other minds might seem wholly unrelated and even tangential.

Through this interdisciplinary romp, he began to notice “self-similar” systems, and eventually came to the conclusion that such diverse occurrences as price trends of wheat in the stock market, the folds in mammalian brains as they grow, the clustering of galaxies, the structure of ferns, the shape of frost on your windows in winter, changes in barometric pressure over time, and (his original puzzle) the contours of coastlines and clouds, are related to one another.

Further, these patterns reveal an underlying force that pervade every aspect of life on earth.

It seems to me that Mandelbrot thought in terms of verbs rather than nouns; focusing on moving patterns rather than the solidified results of those patterns. Philosophically, fractals seem to echo the ancient Taoist principle of yin/yang.

Mandelbrot’s NYT obit implies that he had a rough time getting these ideas across at first: “In a seminal book, “The Fractal Geometry of Nature,” published in 1982, Dr. Mandelbrot defended mathematical objects that he said others had dismissed as “monstrous” and “pathological.”

‘Twas ever thus, eh? As Mahatma Gandhi observed, “First they ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you; then you win.”

Close-up of a cauliflower

The “Mandelbrot Set” can be used to mathematically explain all sorts of crooked phenomena like those listed above. Such complex things were once considered unmeasurable, but no more. He taught us a new way to think in patterns.

Do fractals reflect some universal designing set of nature?

What if the study of fractal patterns could offer not only an understanding of repeating rhythms but also the meaning of large natural phenomena?

Such a key has long been sought. In the Middle Ages, for example, the Doctrine of Signatures (a.k.a. Law of Similarities) posited that a natural object’s shape offered clues about its medicinal use.

Hepatica leaf (photo: Frogdawn)

“And so we see in Plants and all of Nature the Word of God.  Like any Scripture, Earth’s Matter is subject to our Doubt.  But to the one who listens closely to its Cadence, it reveals the sweet hidden Truth.” — Reginald Johnson, On the Shapes of Leaves, 1697. 

So the Hepatica plant, which has leaves shaped like the human liver, was thought to contain a healing agent for liver ailments. In fact, it was given its very name due to this.

Contemplating these mysteries, amateur meteorologist Bill Felker charted the changing patterns in barometric pressure at his home over the past 25 years. He claims to now be able to use the observed trends to predict the weather on any given day of the coming year with pretty good accuracy. Believing the structure of his data is fractal in nature, Felker conjectures,

“Some analysts believe that fractals could hold the secret key to the universe, explain the causes not only of our personal decisions but also of the outside forces that influence them.  Science writer Mark Ward even conjectures that fate itself might be fractal.”

The examples of fractals usually given are visual ones like the classic fern coil. These are solid objects that we can point to, but I have a hunch that Mandelbrot’s math holds a key to understanding big patterns in motion as well. I’ve personally long been fascinated by the amazing way enormous flocks of birds can suddenly veer off in the same direction. How do they communicate? Are they watching some lead bird? If so, how? Can they do instantaneous group telepathy? Are they responding to a change in wind currents?

Maybe if we learn how to apply Mandelbrot’s principles further, we will figure out how to understand grand mysteries like that and also how to heal without violent intervention, how to make the best decisions, and how to avoid that crazy way that traffic seems to suddenly come to a stop on the freeway for no reason.


Mandelbrot was a Lithuanian Jew whose family fled the Nazis in 1936. What a sobering reminder of how much could be lost if “ethnic cleansers” of any ilk get their way.

For those who did not suck up the toxic Barbie-doll story that attractive people must hate math, here’s how to DIY calculate a Mandelbrot set yourself.  Mandelbrot defined a fractal as “a set for which the Hausdorff Besicovitch dimension strictly exceeds the topological dimension.” Mitikoro describes how to draw one:

It’s a set of points. To draw the fractal, you must plot every point that is in the Mandelbrot set. The Mandelbrot set is defined using this formula :
z = z2 + c
|z| > 2

where z and c are complex numbers and c is the point you are testing, such as : c.real = x, c.imag = y.

If the condition is true, the point is in the set. If it isn’t true, you must iterate using the first formula. If, after a maximium number of iterations, the condition is still false, then the point isn’t in the set.

You can even model fractal patterns yourself through computers. In fact, according to the New York Times, Mandelbrot was one of the first mathematicians to use computer modeling to show mathematical principles. Witness the “Mandelbulb,” a 3-D representation based on algorithms by Daniel White and Paul Nylander.

Of course, especially for us ordinary mortals, the best way to experience these principles is to just go outside and pay attention. What Mandelbrot’s work really illustrates, in my mind, is the relationship between the large and the small; how patterns repeat at different levels and how these nested holonic relationships somehow form part of the vital matrix of life here.

Oh yes, and how, when we seek a glimpse of patterned perspective, we can see yet again how the inner workings of this planet and beyond are soul-upliftingly beautiful.


Art Car September 2, 2010

Filed under: Adventures,Arts,Do-It-Yourself — BrujaHa @ 1:29 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The Leafy Wonder! Owned by Tom Devlin. Head Car-tiste: Tina Fields.

How does an art car get born?

Like a lot of interesting things in this world, this one came about through a series of events which culminated in serendipitous beauty, but originated in what could reasonably be seen as small disasters.

Act I

Hanging out playing music in the back garden at a friend’s harvest party, several of us were suddenly disturbed by the sounds of a car screeching and crashing. At first the sentiment of most was that we shouldn’t go out there, since that might seem invasively gawking, even ghoulish. But since I have a bit of emergency medical training, I went out to the street to see if anyone was hurt – and discovered that one of the cars that had been destroyed was mine. An elderly gent had had some sort of stroke and lost control of his car. First he glanced off the side of one parked car on the side of the road, then embedded his Prius into a second car further down. The impact pushed that car (which turned out to be our fiddler’s) forward, where it whacked into a third car – mine. My mind later reveled in the oddness of this: a four-car wreck with only one driver involved. While safely parked in a suburban residential neighborhood, my beloved Jeep Wagoneer got “totalled.”

The word is in quotes because that Jeep was a 1987 model and thus made of steel, so even though the Prius that did the deed crumpled up like an old aluminum can, the only real damage to my Jeep was a tightly fitting front fender with a slight hunchback, a mushed-in back fender, a hatchback that would no longer stay shut, and broken left tail lights.


Jeep, “After” repair. (Note the foreshadowing here.)


However, due to its age and the little detail that it had around 276,000 miles on it, the insurance company reckoned it would cost more than the car is worth to restore it to pristine condition. But it was still in beautiful condition and ran well. So while I agreed that trying to bring back its flawless youth was silly, I still wanted to be able to drive it awhile longer without getting a ticket or asphyxiating.

So I bought my own car back from the offending driver’s insurance company (!) and with the money, purchased the needed replacement parts online from a dedicated Jeep junkyard. All I needed now was skilled mechanical help to put it back together.

Act II

My friend and former colleague Tom offered to do the repair work. Because our place of work had closed down and we were both pretty broke, he generously offered to do this labor for trade.

My trade would be to turn his VW bug into an art car.


Tom Devlin with his bug, before…


This car was one ugly beetle. Its exterior was half a sickly jaundiced yellow with some primer sections and some black spots and some old reddish patches that looked for all the world like old dried blood. And to top all this off, it had a smattering of enormous black rubber spiders glued to its hood. I wish I had a close-up – wait, no I don’t. Major creepy!



I figured I was doing a public service in catalyzing this vehicle’s transformation to beauty.

We talked about a leaf motif.

Tom had the idea of covering it with REAL foliage, like a moveable jungle planter! Imagine driving down the road on your daily commute. Getting hungry while stuck in traffic? Simply pluck a fruit from the vines growing on your fender! Ahh. While amused and somewhat enchanted by this idea, I was thinking that there is no practical way for such a thing to endure the windspeed of car travel.

But it turns out that others have dreamed the same dream.



In the end, however, we decided that painting was the way to go.


We did some research into materials and wound up buying regular semi-gloss outdoor house paints, albeit the most eco-friendly sort we could find. I chose the hues. In preparation, Tom sanded and primed the bug, taped the windows, and gave it a base coat of the light yellow. Meanwhile, I drew leaves in three sizes and shapes, one for each color, then cut out foam stamps of them for folks to easily use.

Then we held an art car painting party.

The invitation to Tom’s friends and family read:

Invitation to Join In on the Creation of an Art Car!!!

Tom Devlin’s Bug will transform into a Leafy Wonder under our hands

Sun Sept 14

11 am – done


All art materials provided.

Beverages & munchies welcome.

Wear paint-friendly clothing.

rsvp/questions beforehand to the head car-tiste Tina Fields, [phone #]

[Directions to site]



We were too busy to take many photos, but here’s one of the car in progress. It was a real community affair. Tom’s mom is stencilling on the hood. I’m placing the flow and hand-painting in leaf edging details on the driver’s side. Several other car-tistes also had a hand in it. When the day’s work was done, we all enjoyed a table laden with celebratory potluck goodies.

Tom later completed the fenders and worked his wizardry on other details as well, including juicing up the interior some.

Act IV

Here’s the final product on the streets!

The Leafy Wonder! Owned by Tom Devlin. Head Car-tiste: Tina Fields.


Tom’s renovated bug received many hearty resurrection welcomes, transformed as it is from the decaying insect underworld into the Leafy Wonder, a lovely Art Car. He gets comments about it everywhere he goes – and now, they’re exclamations of appreciation.  Plus as a bonus, he can always find his vehicle in the parking lot.


* Tom is all fired up about this and now wants to make more of these. If you want to have an Art Car Party too, write me and we’ll set something up!

* Postscripts to Act I:  Aside from a couple of bruises, the elderly gent did not seem hurt by the accident, which had taken place at a very slow speed. We found out his address – just a few doors down – and fetched his wife, who hadn’t known he was out with the car. The ambulance came shortly thereafter. His Prius, which took the blow for him, was *truly* totalled.

* My Jeep wound up lasting one more year, then I traded it off in the Cash for Clunkers program. The gummint gave me $4500 in trade for it. (Woo-hoo!) I was quite sorry to see it go to its death – it still looked beautiful, ran well, and might have still had another year left on its transmission; but then again, it might not. It would have been better, I think, to put those old cars to some limited use, perhaps with a special “clunker” license plate, rather than destroy them. But this Jeep was exactly what the program was intended to bring in. It had been a good car that served my family and others well for 22 years.

RIP, beloved 4-wheel drive and hello, new Honda Fit in the appropriately named hue of ‘Revolution Orange.’ This is my first new car, and also my last. By the time “Acorn Squash” is 22 years old like the Jeep was, I figure we’ll not be using cars any more.

But for the time being, along with walking and biking and train riding, etc., when we use our cars, we may as well enjoy them. It felt great to extend the life of a beloved old car like this VW bug, and through simple and inexpensive artistic means, to help others appreciate it too. It was also great to barter time and skills, thus enhancing both our lives without the need to involve money.

May the Leafy Wonder enjoy many more springs.


Beautiful Allergens June 21, 2010

Once I was camping on an offshore island in the Atlantic when we learned a big hurricane was due to hit. Being a westerner with experience in earthquakes but not in hurricanes, I felt great trepidation about this. We listened to emergency radio broadcasts so we could determine where our location was along its path, and decided to hunker down there rather than risk the ferry ride back over open sea to the mainland.

It turned out that the storm had begun to turn aside a few hundred miles below ours on its path out to sea, so we only got smacked by the tail end as it curled on by. But holy cow, even that was unbelievably windy and wet. I was sleeping outside in a zipped-up bivy sack, and at one point it felt like I was parked beneath a waterfall; like someone was standing directly over me and dumping buckets of water out right above my face. The hurricane’s power was awesome and the experience the fodder for some great complaining adventure tales. (As all travelers know, the most miserable experiences make the best stories – after they’re over.)

Later, back in a town, someone pulled up satellite images of the hurricane. The point I’m getting to is that when we got to see the storm from the perspective of above instead of in the middle of it, my attitude toward it changed. When seen as a whole entity, this hurricane was an enormous creamy white and blue moving spiral, like a galaxy made of water. I was awestruck. If I had to die young, I thought, a person could do worse than to be done in by such glorious beauty.

Yep, this is the one! Hurricane Dennis, 1999. (Image: Wikimedia commons)


As above, so below; in the small the great. Relatively few of us get smacked by hurricanes, but many of us suffer from allergies.

Now the magic of electron microscopy can show us the beauty in this as well.

Sailing the tiny seas, “Micronaut” Martin Oeggerli has found a way to capture these gorgeous photos of pollens, showing us a glimpse into one of the remotest ecosystems left to explore.


Forget-me-not pollen (Image:



Daisy pollen (Bellis perennis). (Image:


What is pollen exactly?

To put it in simple terms, pollen is a seed plant’s equivalent of pre-ejaculate and sperm. (If you’re shocked, go further and ponder Loren Eiseley’s mind-blowing notion that flowers invented sexual desire as we know it! But I digress.)

Pollen consists of powdery grains and a hard shell that holds them; you can imagine it as being sort of like a capsule vitamin. The pollen grains (microgametophytes) produce the male gametes or sperm cells, and the pollen shell protects the sperm cells while they’re being transported from flower to flower. The pollen grows on a flower’s stamen (the part in the flower’s center that sticks out like a penis, capped by the anther), and are taken by bugs, birds, winds & sniffing noses to another flower’s pistil or carpel, the the equivalent of a yoni with its ovary buried deep inside.



As nature loves to experiment, pollen grains show as much diversity in their sizes and shapes as mammalian penises. Some pollen grains are equivalents of whale or horse penises, large and smooth; others like cats’, small and barbed. Some pollens are shaped like balls; others like coffee beans, dragonfly heads, or doughnuts, all of which can be witnessed below:


Petunia pollen grain (Image:


Babiana (S. African plant) pollen grains on an anther. (Image:


Pine tree pollen


Pollen grain from an Akazia or Myrtle Wattle (Photo:


You might think that the prickery looking ones would cause the worst allergies, irritating the sinuses. But surprisingly, some of the smooth ones are terrifically allergenic to humans. Witness the Alder tree’s pollen:



Oeggerli’s photographs, more of which can be seen at his site,, offer this small consolation:

Pollens might make our noses miserable, but hey, at least they’re beautiful.


Birch pollen grain (Image:



“Green” January 11, 2010

“Green,” we say, meaning one or all of these hues, plus dozens more.

Our language is so inadequate for the deep sensory experiences!

Here’s to the delicious vast richness of green.