Air Earth Fire Water in the SLV

As the ancient civilizations contemplated what substances made up the universe, most cultures came up with the basic four of Air (gas), Earth (solid), Fire (plasma) and Water (liquid). These were considered both matter and energy that sustained life. People contemplated these elements scientifically, philosophically and spiritually. How should we view these four things in the San Luis Valley?

AIR - Why is there air? To breathe? Blow up balloons? Make sure the Great Sand Dunes continue to reshape themselves? Carry the clouds across the sky? No instruments were available to determine the composition of air for the ancient peoples. They knew nothing about the gases that make up the air - nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, argon, water vapor and a few other assorted elemental gases in minuscule amounts. How did air come to be? Tough question, only that we instinctively know that it has mass when the wind blows and can make waves on water, blow dust into our eyes, bend trees.

Ahh, the air in the San Luis in the summertime. Cool mountain air in the valleys in the morning or at higher altitudes, driven by a light breeze, is like a gentle soft kiss on the skin. Get out early in the mornings and enjoy when the air is relatively still, feel it, smell it when it is hopefully clean and pure, though this is an agricultural valley and the air can carry with it odors of everything from 'moo poo,' to more recently, the smoky wood smell of a distant forest...

FIRE! - Forest fires can be frightening events when humans and our structures are in the way. Fires are a necessary and healthy part of restoring the ecosystems in the American West. The present haze in the valley is from forest fires burning in other parts of Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Our surrounding mountains, from a distance, at any hour of the day, are either visible, not visible, or appear as ghostly figures in a brownish white muck carried by the winds. Not good for respiratory functions of humans and other creatures. On the upside, forest fires reduce dead vegetation which is helping to clear the nearly 95% kill of the lodge pole pines by beetles, will allow for new growth of trees and plants and help create wildlife habitat. Fire keeps forests in balance with the rest of the...

EARTH - As the Native American expression says, 'we belong to the Earth,' along with the forest and everything that makes up the solid matter that we see, feel, and encounter around us. Hike a trail in the valley, pick up a rock and guess what elements on the periodic table combine to make up that rock. What colors the rock? Or, what elements join together to make the bark of the trees? Stick your nose into the bark of a Ponderosa Pine tree and have a whiff. Do you get a combination of chocolates and vanillas? Why do fir trees have flat needles and spruce trees have square shaped needles when rolled in the fingers? What chemical elements make the colors in the Indian paintbrush and other flowers? These are all wonderful things the solid Earth provides, but, no streams or glacial lakes would exist without...

WATER - Water is the magical chameleon that 'holds' everything in balance. Winter holds much of its water in the form of snow and ice. Yet it also exists as an invisible gas floating around in the air and is up in the sky in the form of super cooled water droplets suspended in big blobs known as clouds. Glaciers during the last ice age shaped the many high mountain valleys, the one instance when water, in the form of massive moving ice sheets can absolutely crush and pulverize rocks. Giant scree fields (piles and piles of rocks) along trails is evidence of that action. Stand and stare at a scree field and try and imagine how all those rocks came to rest where they are now, and many have not moved for thousands of years. Snow covers these rock piles in winter and water may flow underneath in the summer, but it was water, in its ice form, that placed these gigantic piles of rocks where they are now.

Water is also a substance that can go from a solid directly to a gas with the right energy. A frozen molecule of snow can absorb enough energy from the sun and 'jump' into the air and become humidity. Perhaps it is water that fuels spiritual thinking in humans of how it relates to death. Spirits go from what can be seen and touched to the invisible, yet still there (wherever the heck that is) and simply change form like water does. Hmmm - this thought was generated when I was researching AIR, EARTH, FIRE & WATER on websites filled with fascinating tales of the Greeks, the Chinese, and other cultures as they explored these substances through philosophy, chemistry, physics, spirituality, alchemy...

Summer is upon us! Get out and about in the valley and give thought to everything in only these four substances. Think about how they all interact to make up our personal existence. And speaking of alchemy, I may go out to the river, get a nice smooth stone EARTH (solid) shaped by moving WATER (liquid), heat it with FIRE (plasma), utilizing AIR (gas) and turn it into a 5 pound gold nugget. Somehow it is a nice thought but probably not going to happen...