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Let There Be Light - Musings and Meditations

Exceptional triple 'ice halo' near Füssen, southern Germany. This exceptional halo is the result of light diffraction in a rare 'ice-mist'. Photo and copyright: Bastian Werner, via the NASA photo app.

Tomorrow night is Christmas Eve, a fact that obviously cannot go unnoticed in this series of musings. There are endless ways to say something about that, but I certainly didn't feel like a heavy-handed message with references to all the pain, trauma and pressing problems in the world.

Rather, I wanted to share something of the wondrous miracles that constantly surround and permeate us, and the beauty of this world that can sometimes unexpectedly take on slightly surreal dimensions.

Like the moment above, which also came as a surprise to the photographer. While traversing a field of fresh snow near Füssen, southern Germany, earlier this month, the photographer noticed that he had entered an ice fog. For suspended water to freeze into an ice fog requires quite cold temperatures, and indeed the air temperature on this day was measured at well below zero. The ice fog reflected light from the Sun setting behind St. Coleman Church. The result was one of the greatest spectacles the photographer has ever seen. First, the spots in the featured picture are not background stars but suspended ice and snow. Next, two prominent ice halos are visible: the 22-degree halo and the 46-degree halo. Multiple arcs are also visible, including, from top to bottom, antisolar (subsun), circumzenithal, Parry, tangent, and parhelic (horizontal). Finally, the balloon shaped curve connecting the top arc to the Sun is the rarest of all: it is the heliac arc, created by reflection from the sides of hexagonally shaped ice crystals suspended in a horizontal orientation.

I'm not so versed in the physics of ice halos that I deduce all this just from the image; this is what the NASA photo app, which treated me to this photo, tells me. For me, it does not detract from the amazement, quite the contrary.

The photo does seem a bit ‘over the top’, but I know from experience that reality, and especially nature, sometimes puts up a show that is way beyond what our imagination could conceive. For example, I have had the privilege of witnessing the Northern Lights, far North of the Arctic Circle, and I assure you: that phenomenon is way more unbelievable than this image. Any photographic image, by the way, remains an interpretation that never quite does justice to the subject, but nonetheless photography can help us begin to see, remember, feel, appreciate again.

So the phenomenon the photographer was able to capture here is extremely rare, and on top of that you also have to be in the right place at the right time relative to the spectacle to capture it in this way. It is a small miracle when all the circumstances come together like this, and to be just in the right place as a photographer when such an unpredictable phenomenon occurs is equally miraculous. In fact the chances of that happening are statistically speaking virtually non-existent. But more things happen that are statistically impossible. I myself have experienced a few such moments, and I suspect that most of us have some experience with small and large miracles. But we easily reason those events away as being coincidental or insignificant, from the story we made up some two centuries ago that says everything in the world is purely mechanical and un-conscious.

If we want to save our world, we will have to go back to really seeing, noticing with proper attention, acknowledging, and joyfully celebrating how wonderful and miraculous that world really is every day and in every little detail, not just in moments like this when everything conspires to serve up a grand spectacle. Even a handful of earth is a miracle, with some six to ten billion single-celled organisms making that handful of earth fertile, and in just that handful of earth miles and miles of mycelium, the miraculous organism that connects just about everything on this planet anchored by roots in the earth, like an underground ‘world-wide-web’.

And life is still the greatest miracle of all, something we so easily forget in our day-to-day worries and small and big dramas.

Dear reader and follower of A Biosphere Project, whatever Christmas may mean to you personally, I wish you and your loved ones that this Christmas may be a reminder of the miracle of life, the light, and the energy that animates everything. And I wish you a wonderful time together with your loved ones, with much love and wonder and gratitude.

For those who have time and desire to read a bit more, below the following photo of the "Christmas Tree Cluster" I share a further brief musing on a memory of some Christmas celebrations with people who were dear to me, long ago.

The so-called ‘Christmas Tree Cluster’, a group of young stars in a cloud of gas that lights up green like a Christmas tree in this image. This cluster, part of our Milky Way galaxy, is about 2,500 light years from Earth. It is an image compiled with data from the visible light spectrum, the X-ray spectrum and the infrared spectrum. Photo credit: NASA/CXC/SAO

For those of you who are in the mood to read a bit more, I wanted to share something about a couple of Christmas celebrations that I still think back on many decades later with a great deal of gratitude. And also something about the Light, and about rediscovering our childlike playful joy and wonder, something that to me seems to have everything to do with Christmas (which is, after all, about the birth of a child).

And also about Katalin and Diet, the two people in the photo above, a photo that has hung in my painting studio for the past twenty years.

Of course, I have been fortunate to have experienced many wonderful Christmas evenings, over the years and in the three countries where I have been privileged to live. First and foremost, all those special moments with my partner Agnes and our two children.

But there are some Christmas memories that are dear to me that occurred long ago.

When my partner Agnes and I lived and studied in the U.S. in the early 1990s, we would sometimes visit our good friends Katalin and Diet, who lived in Connecticut on the East Coast. Katalin, a close friend of Agnes' mother, was a Hungarian descendant from a noble family, and was a very talented pianist and piano teacher. Diet was a German who had emigrated to the U.S. in the 1930s. He was a graphic designer who had spent his life working in the New York advertising world.

They won't mind that I am bringing them into the spotlight in this blog or that I am sharing this photo, because they both passed away a long time ago, and besides, they were very free-thinking, didn't care much (or anything) about what people thought about them, and were both a little crazy, which brings me to the reason I wanted to talk about our Christmas with them in Connecticut.

Katalin and Diet were very youthful in spirit despite their advanced age (they could have been our grandparents at the time). There was a kind of mischief in their energy, a delightful indifference to civil rules or expectations. They were also honest and very direct, and Diet in particular never hesitated to speak his mind, which could sometimes make him seem rather blunt. They were both extraordinarily intelligent and sensitive, and as artists had exceptional cultural baggage, but that didn't prevent them from being delightfully relaxed about everything, and humor was never far away.

The times we spent the Christmas season with them (it must have been two or three times) were, in my memory, delightful, in that nothing had to be done, nothing was expected, we were cared for with endless generosity, and, above all, there was much love and appreciation present. It really was like being spoiled by the ideal grandparents (I never knew my own grandparents well).

That playfulness and mischief were expressed, for example, when I took this picture. I suspect this was not at Christmas, but during one of our summer visits, because we are sitting here on the porch of their charming old house, and the attire does not seem to be in tune with winter in Connecticut. But no matter, because situations like this one were symptomatic of all our visits to this delightful house in Wilton.

When I took this picture, for some reason everyone was having a sleepless night, and one by one we ended up in the kitchen at night, as if it was agreed upon. Soon all four of us were sitting there, at two or three in the morning, and started drinking. Probably gin-tonic, because that was our favorite drink there. I don't remember how long we sat there, happily chatting until the early hours, but I remember that it was blissful. And I have that feeling at the memory of every Christmas we spent there. The feeling of love, appreciation and light was so nice, and it was also free of any non-genuine rituals. There was truly something childlike in the air, a warm, loving, slightly mischievous energy.

Christmas can have many different meanings (or no meaning at all) for different people and cultures.

For me, apart from the religious meaning handed down through the Christian tradition, the meaning of Christmas may reside in its focus on light and love, both of which are forms of Energy. Light and love I associate especially with freedom, with playfulness, with creativity, with childlike innocence and joy, with spontaneity. This is the Energy that I feel could be central to a universal interpretation of Christmas. In the religious tradition it is about the birth of a child and the impersonation of the sacred in a child, and in the nature of children we can always recognize and feel the sacred in addition to the playful.

It can be a moment when, at least for a time, we can all be a little more aware of the possibility of freedom and creativity, of playfulness and childlike curiosity, uninhibited by the weight of our concepts and ideas, our dogmas and ingrained patterns of thought, our fear of change and our need for something to hold on to. To me, all of that was alive in the kind of playful energy that always seemed to be present in the charming old house among the trees, in Wilton, Connecticut.

And those, I feel, are also the qualities that we are going to need in the transitions to come. We are going to have to gradually let go of our attachment to all things material (as we move into times of simplicity and much less of everything), and what better foundation to fall back on than love, connection, and childlike openness, wonder and creativity?

In the words of Jesus, not entirely irrelevant at Christmas:

"I assure you, if you do not change and become like children, you will not even enter the kingdom of heaven. So whoever makes himself small like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'

For those who have no interest in Jesus or religion, a similar message rephrased in the words of quantum physicist and environmental thinker avant-la-lettre David Bohm, "If we want to develop new concepts, we must be like children, forming concepts from scratch. We should not rely on the concepts that we have been taught."

For me, possibly all the moments in life that I consider to be the most valuable, and that I will probably remember until my last day, are those moments where all these forms of energy were central and illuminated everything from their source, a source that ultimately remains a great mystery.

Let that be my Christmas wish for all of you, dear readers and followers of A Biosphere Project: I wish you wonderful days full of childlike innocence and joy, playfulness and curiosity, love and connection, and Light and Energy. And of course a wonderful 2024 as well, but that's for next week.

Thanks for reading, until the next installment,

All the best to you,


Katalin and Diet, Wilton Connecticut, U.S., circa 1991, sometime around three A.M.


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