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Or, the visible reminder.

In which John looks out at the horizon from the shore of Lake Michigan. This video is part of a weird series of horizon videos I have made over the last few years. The others are:

The Horizon Line:
Our Capacity for Wonder:
Civil Twilight:

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Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday. 

Greetings from the shores of Lake Michigan, one of the five great lakes of North America, which together are larger than Great Britain and contain around twenty percent of the world's fresh water.

People in the midwest sometimes refer to the great lakes as 'America's third coast' and it does feel that way to look out at the horizon. On a clear day, I can just make out the skyline of Chicago some sixty miles southwest of here. But look north west, and there is nothing but water to the horizon line and far far beyond. Its reported that in 1634, when Jean Nicolet became the first European to venture across Lake Michigan, he thought he'd made it to China.

Whenever I look at a vast body of water stretching all the way to the horizon, I become suddenly and newly aware that I am on a planet. Like, I am on a ball heated by a distant light in a way that allows for this water to be, all in all, quite temperate. And life is not just contingent upon that distant light, but in many ways a direct product of the light. We are powered by sunlight. Sunlight stored in the fossil fuels we burn, and in the plants we eat. Every tree and drop of liquid water, the teaming life of the microcosmos, every blade of grass and the song of every mockingbird, all of it runs one way or another on solar power. We don't just need the sun, we are, sort of, comprised of its energy.

No wonder then that Wikipedia's list of solar deities is so long, from the Egyptian Ra, to the Greek Helios, to the Aztec Nanauatzin who sacrificed himself by leaping into a vast bonfire so that he could become the shining sun. This makes sense because the sun is like a god in its fearsome and wondrous power. Also, like a god, the sun is difficult or even dangerous to look at directly. 

In the book of Exodus, God says "You cannot see my face, for Man shall not see me and live." and so it is with the blinding sun. in Pilgrim at Tinder Creek, Annie Dillard says: "We have really only that one light, one source for all power, and yet we must turn away from it by universal decree. Nobody here on the planet seems aware of this strange, powerful taboo, that we all walk about carefully averting our faces this way and that, lest our eyes be blasted forever." 

Days here on the third coast tend to close with gaudily beautiful sunsets, the kind that remind you of the T.S.Eliot line about how light is the visible reminder of the invisible light. It's easy to forget how breathtakingly beautiful the planet is. Not breathtakingly beautiful actually, but breath-givingly beautiful. Look at what the sun has made of its energy- trees and the wind that blows in them, warm water and the creatures that drink it. Beauty and those who marvel at it. 

But to me the weirdest thing the sun has made from its energy is consciousness. In us, the light has made a way of understanding itself. For me, a third coast sunset shows me how small I am. On the banks of this vast lake, which is itself small compared to the planet, which is small compared to the sun, which is just one star among the countless.

As I walked along the sandy beach after nightfall I thought of the mind-blowing fact that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on Earth. I am so inconsequential, a footnote to a footnote to a footnote. But how wondrous to be here in the first place. To bear witness to the setting sun. To know that you are not just in the universe, but also of it. 

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.