I’ve been away from home for a while. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been to Death Valley, Alabama Hills, Mammoth, Mono Lake, and Lake Tahoe. It was a driving trip—a get away.
The landscapes we witnessed and wandered were all stunning, extreme, and different from each other. And all strongly defined by the elements. Earth, water, fire and air.
Death Valley, the largest National Park in the United States, is distinct, partly, because of its apparent lack of water. There’s a whole lot of rock and clay, baked by the fiery sun that burns at up to 130 degrees in the summer months. The air is dry, the sky expansive. The sun is intense. Water that seeps to the surface evaporates almost immediately. We watched the sun set over Zabriski Point and the sun rise from Harmony Borax Works, home of Twenty Mule Team Borax.
Mono Lake is the oddity that it is because of a loss of water. In 1941, the tributary streams were diverted to supply a growing need for fresh water in Los Angeles, resulting in the collapse of the once vital ecosystem. The water volume halved while the salinity doubled and the water level dropped 25 vertical feet, creating the bizarre stalagmite-like mounds of saline deposits in its wake. Now the only life that can thrive there are brine shrimp and alkali flies. It is evocative and thought-provoking in it’s strangeness—and you can’t help but notice that nature is out of balance here.
Lake Tahoe is a really big body of water. It’s the largest alpine lake in North America and the second deepest in the United States, rimmed by dramatic geology—mountains of rock down to round boulders of granite—warmed by fingers of sunlight intensified by the altitude’s thin air. You have to breathe deep, work a little harder to get enough oxygen to fill your lungs. And yet it is, I think, the most balanced of the landscapes we visited because of the harmony of the elements.
Here's the part where I admit I am one of those strange people who believe in the probable existence of elementals—the spiritual presence or beings that infuse the elements—the gnomes of the earth, the undines of the water, the sylphs of the air and the salamanders of fire. The nature spirits. (Now, before you get too freaked and call the men in white coats to come haul me away, understand that I’m not saying I believe there are little guys in green hats living underground, or little ladies in flowing gowns and glittery wings zipping invisibly through the air! I’m just saying that I believe each element has an energy that also contains a distinct spiritual aspect. And I’m not exactly sure what that looks like, so don't ask.)
All I know for certain is that the balanced presence of all four in a landscape feeds my mind, body and soul. It’s cleansing, strengthening, nurturing and healing.
Likewise, it has been said, and I strongly believe, that trying to use the four elements in our own creative ventures contributes to balance and harmony. Partly because it is appealing to the senses, but also because it makes the end product whole. All of life depends on the four elements, so it only makes sense to me that their presence can help bring a creative endeavor to life.
I'd love to hear your own thoughts on this. Does anyone else out there think about the four elements as you go about your day?
Take Good Care,