Mark Green's Atheopaganism Blog

Living an Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science

Beyond the Walls: Reflections

So it’s been a month now since the shelter-in-place orders and the dawning realization of just how serious this pandemic really is.

I feel grateful  that this disease hasn’t touched my life yet. But I recognize that it is only a matter  of time.

I’m starting to see signs of real cabin fever in friends’ communications. Especially in California where the weather is mostly mild, people just aren’t prepared for what it is like to have to stay inside for weeks/months on end.

But we must. We must continue to hunker down and protect one another from infection to as great a degree as possible, pursue our projects and hobbies and just…stay…put. It’s tough, I know, but that’s what we have to do.

Once upon a time, I planned a medieval costume party themed on the Black Death. I even put together an invitation website. I guess now I won’t be holding that party…like, ever. Not funny any more.

It’s Easter for Christians today:  a day many Pagans (and particularly those with young children) celebrate as a kind of “second spring equinox” with egg coloring and chocolate bunnies and jelly beans. I didn’t get around to coloring eggs this year but still might do a few this afternoon, just because.

Meanwhile, Easter happens to fall this year on a holiday I do celebrate: Yuri’s Night. Yes, folks: 59 years ago today, Yuri Gagarin left the gravity well and orbited the Earth, launching the era of space exploration. It is a pivotal moment in our history, and one worthy of celebration by all who embrace science and human aspiration.

“Circling the Earth in my orbital spaceship I marveled at the beauty of our planet. People of the world, let us safeguard and enhance this beauty — not destroy it!”
— Yuri Gagarin, first human in space.

With this impression, it is clear that Gagarin was the first human to experience the Overview Effect: the profound spiritual transformation that comes with seeing the Earth suspended in space, alone and beautiful and perfect. Many astronauts have reported this effect, and it has driven the work of a number of them subsequent to their experiences in space.

Out there, beyond the walls that currently confine us, beyond the tiny scrim of air surrounding us, beyond local gravity, we can see the Earth as it really is: so beautiful, and so delicate. So worthy of every kind and generous emotion of which we are capable.

The thing that really surprised me was that it [Earth] projected an air of fragility. And why, I don’t know. I don’t know to this day. I had a feeling it’s tiny, it’s shiny, it’s beautiful, it’s home, and it’s fragile.

—Michael Collins, Apollo 11

So if you’re of a mind, raise a glass to Yuri, this evening: the first human in space. More than 500 have followed in his footsteps since, including 12 who walked on the Moon. And though we have many problems here on  Earth that demand our attention and resources, still there is a place in the human spirit to aspire so, to rise even beyond our beautiful world to encounter the wonders of the Cosmos itself.

Out there, beyond those walls, the natural world is unfolding and cycling as it does, needing neither our help nor prompting. Here in Sonoma County, California, it is a green and lovely Spring with bright clear days and puffy clouds, blooming fruit trees and green mountainsides.

I am heartened by this: that Nature goes on, even as it contrives ways to threaten us. Life persistent, the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees

Is my destroyer.

And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose

My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

—Dylan Thomas



  1. This is a beautiful piece of writing. Thank you. It reminds me of the moment in the film THE MARTIAN where the hero comes back to Earth and sees a little green plant growing in the open air and is visibly moved. It really brings home that fragility.

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