Making Tea and Life at the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth
06.24.2018, 2:51 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“Peoples who are far closer to the land than most of us are adept at reading the natural signs that predicate seasonal change, and they count their calendar not just from the skies, but from the ever-shifting relationship  between plants and animals. This close affinity to nature has been lost by most of us in the developed world, although there are still a handful of those who can tell the species of a tree by the sound it makes as the wind blows through.” – Russell G. Foster and Leon Krietzman, Seasons of Life: The Biological Rhythms that Enable Living Things to Thrive and Survive, 2009

digital camera obscura of summer solstice tea ceremony, 6:07am EDT, June 21, 002018, all images this post FOP 002018

On June 21, 002018 smudge studio held a tea ceremony at Head of the Meadow beach in Truro, Massachusetts. The ceremony coincided with the moment of summer solstice at 6:07 a.m. EDT, 5:07 a.m. “sun time.” Ceremonial tea (matcha) was whisked.

Then the two artists who had seated themselves facing North stood up, turned to the south, and sat back down to drink a bowl of tea. Their southward turn acknowledged the fact that, in one and the same moment, the angled daylight that was spilling across the Earth’s globe had both reached its northernmost limit for the year and begun its migration southward as a result of the Earth’s continued orbit around the sun. By winter solstice, the sun would rise so much further to the south, it wouldn’t appear above the horizon until 7:05 a.m.

The tea bowl and tea whisk were augmented to rest the angle of 23.5 degrees, allowing them to make a literal and metaphorical bow to the angle at which the planet humans inhabit is tilted, an angle that is, literally, responsible for the planetary systems that support life on Earth and shape its evolution (seasons, day/night, and countless bodily/living systems that are highly attuned to their configurations). It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that humans exist in the bodies and consciousness we have because of the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth.

This ceremony also marked the end of our 31 day experiment (Turning into the Nightduring which we lived within only natural light from dawn to dusk.

After this month, our awareness of seasonality and the spin of the earth that literally transitions our lives from day into night, night into day, over and over,  has been heightened. It has become less abstract, more material and embodied.

With significantly less use of electric lights and devices, other rhythms surfaced for us. We took special notice of how plants, light, temperature, other creatures are deeply attuned to the day/night cycle. The effects and interconnections of their different attunements are deep, evolutionary, material realities. Yet, we realized we’ve been missing most of this. By staying up long after dark, and waking up long after daylight arrives, the lived experience of the transition into and out of night, and all that it commands, is truncated. It’s typical for most humans to wake into and go to sleep out of a world/reality filled to the brim with human-centered concerns, awarenesses, and thoughts. The sense that human existence is the biggest force/reality at play easily takes center stage.

And yet, by exposing our bodies and minds to the transition of day into night, and night into day, spin after spin, we quickly realized that this daily transformation is actually much vaster and enduring than us. Over billions of years, lifeforms that led to we humans literally evolved out of and in response to the continuously moving, angled “line” of day/night. Its rhythms and effects are deeply embedded within us and play out as “us.” Our bodies and brains, eyes, cells, blood, gut bacteria, are ruled by circadian rhythms that we must live by, or else live out the consequences of futile attempts to deny them (see Foster and Krietzman’s 2005, Rhythms of Life: The Biological Clocks that Control the Daily Lives of Every Living Thing for details on the human illnesses that result from attempts to override a human body’s biological “clock”).

We’ve done a lot of reading this past month. In one startling anecdote, we learned of a survey that was given to Harvard Graduates on commencement day, asking: Why is it hotter in the summer than winter? Three out of 25 graduates answered correctly. Without a basic awareness of the forces that truly afford our existence, it comes as no surprise that many of us don’t notice or feel alarmed as the Sixth Extinction gathers momentum (many of us didn’t notice/know most of these species anyway).

Our distractions from our embodied experiences of what makes it possible for us to actually survive on Earth as humans means that many of us “know,” only intellectually, that Earth goes around the sun or that day and night are a result of living on a spinning planet. For animals, “… adaptations to this regular change play a large part in determining their survival and reproductive success. The same goes for us humans. The difference is that we have developed and adapted in such as way that we survive seasonal change by modifying the environment in which we live… but in modifying the world, we have lost contact with nature and its timing…” (Foster and Krietzman’s Rhythms of Life).

As a result of Earth’s current climate change, the ability of plants and animals to enact “biological anticipation” — the capacity to read/sense seasonal cues that increase chances for survival by finding warmth, food, safety, and reproducing, is becoming increasingly difficult. Our human abilities to adapt to planetary changes in the short and long-term depends on our ability and willingness to pay attention to them not in abstract, intellectual ways, but through real, embodied experience.

We can glance at the date and that tells us which season we are in. But if we have no understanding, no empathy and no sense of awe for the natural world, then we will not understand what is happening to us,” say Foster and Krietzman. In Rhythms of Life, Foster and Krietzman refer to Elizabeth Kolbert’s, Sixth Extinction and her observation that many non-human species are already attempting to adapt to climate change. They then conclude: “Whether they can do it in time is a question that is more for us than for them.”

By turning off artificial lights and electronic devices at around 7 p.m. each day (and actually for most of the rest of the day as well), we gained, after 31 days, a minor sense of what we’ve been missing most of our lives. We traded in the “buzz” of human culture, especially at night, for extremely quiet, early mornings. It appealed to us. And it’s had a great affect on our lives. We can also now understand, in ways more embodied and material, how our daily actions had been furthering an illusory distance between ourselves and the planet. It’s been no small realization.

The question of how one wants to live and what one wants to experience might appear to be a philosophical one. But as artists who have been invested in addressing the complexities of the Anthropocene for more than a decade, it’s become increasingly hard to voice concern and create work about the effects of the Anthropocene on the “environment” without taking stock of the direct connection between the Anthropocene and our own daily habits, distractions, and choices. The material realities of how humans in 002018 communicate, travel, eat, sleep and think each and every day have deep impacts on Earth systems, even if we happen to be acting with the intention of making a difference through our work.

For this reason, despite having completed 31 days of Turning into the Night, the project will continue on in forms that we will invent and learn from along the way, especially in the coming months as the duration of daylight begins to shorten. We feel as though our engagement with the simple, but profound, reality of the 23.5 degree angle of the Earth has just begun. We look forward to seeing how we can translate our living with, in and through intentional awareness of this reality into aesthetic and embodied experiences that are shareable with others.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

How may others of our species will return to living in their bodies — in intimate relationship with the origins and dailiness of their beings at an angle of 23° — in time for the natural survival of, if not our own, then all other species’ survival, which our insistence on being the center of it all jeopardizes?

Your field research (i.e. qualitative) keeps me hopeful as well as my basic trust in the strength and “intelligence” of life itself. With respectful, and warm regards, Donna Fleischer

Comment by donnafleischer

Thanks so much for reading Donna, we appreciate your attention and the important questions you raise. Please keep in touch!

Comment by smudge studio

Hello. Your recent post within the autumn equinox brought me back here to find your exuberant response. Thank you. – Donna

Comment by donnafleischer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: