Lyle Watson and Loving the World

Lyle Watson was a fascinating writer who held doctorates in anthropology and animal behavior while also earning degrees in geography, botany, chemistry, geology, biology and ecology. Additionally, he spoke nine languages. He used science to investigate crazy things.

He looked at premonitions (ranging from the abilities of some animals to predict earthquakes to the fact that everybody in a midwestern church choir once avoided a boiler explosion by each, separately, and somehow arriving to practice fifteen minutes late). He mentioned how the same math expression—which I cannot articulate—describes patterns in “gravity, light, sound, heat, magnetism, electrostatics, electric currents, electromagnetic radiation, waves at sea, the flight of airplanes, the vibration of elastic bodies, and the mechanics of the atom.” He investigated the notion that humanity’s missing link is likely an aquatic creature, the way prehistoric hippos returned to the water to give us whales and dolphins and ancient elephants gave us manatees. His books, in general, are full of a lucid wonder. And regardless of whether he eventually convinces you of anything, he will delight you with the numinous by merely pointing at what science has to say about what it can observe. 

Perhaps one of my favorite things he’s done is track a series of discoveries in Swaziland that, as far as I can discern, show that back while Europeans were still trying to figure out agriculture, Stone Age south Africans were mining for iron. Mining like this is apparently a technological feat. And if you think about the engineering involved in tunnel-making alone, some of that assertion begins to make sense. These miners did all their work by hand. And they used the gathered hematite—the red and the blood smell—for religious rites that ranged from painting the living and the dead, to firing the iron in clay vessels. That is, their excavation wasn’t for tool making, but for ritual.

And here’s the thing: After the miners dug all these tunnels and scooped up what they needed, they filled in every seam with rock. They plugged it all up. In doing so, you can imagine them asking the earth’s pardon. Watson later quoted a reasonably present-day Sioux medicine man, who lived across the world from Swaziland: “You cannot ask me to dig in the earth. Am I to take a knife and plunge it into the breast of my mother? Must I mutilate her flesh to get at her bones?” And I bring all this up because I still think of Standing Rock, and of the approach of Earth Day, and of all this damned fracking that our all-for-me administration uses to rape the ground. And I think that just as some creatures can sense the moods of the earth, and as some scientific expressions repeat in regards to what governs the earth, we can so easily resonate with the idea that robbing the earth is taboo. Taking without healing is instinctively wrong. That’s such a basic truth that sages have built horizontal cathedrals, filling in the ground. And these days I wonder if, as the seas now rise, they are coming to take us back, so that maybe, in their mercy, we can evolve again.

(Originally posted April 15, 2017)

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