Nature one of life’s certainties

September 15, 2017

We are once again reassured that our world is turning on the same old axis.

Things are changing — and not just the season.

Cassini is falling into Saturn in a grand finale to the light of human reason, while here on Earth we are still tumbling into the trenches of fear and suspicion.

Cassini-Huygens may be an unmanned robotic probe, but it will be a strangely bittersweet moment when the spacecraft built with such care and launched 20 years ago disappears into the giant planet’s atmosphere in a fiery burst at 8.31pm tonight.

It has spent the past 13 years orbiting the majestic ringed planet and along the way it has brought us news of tiny moons, big moons and new moons with hot spots and jets of ice crystals and liquid water with the tantalising possibility of life.

Ironically, Cassini’s discovery that one of its moons — the frozen Enceladu — may contain extraterrestial life sealed its own fate.

To prevent contamination by any Earth-borne microbes that may be lurking on Cassini, scientists decided to kill their baby by plunging it into Saturn to burn up and disappear.

So we are still sending our best and brightest out to die on foreign beaches.

But that’s the thing about science, it’s ruled by reason not emotion.

As I walk around the bush at the back of my place, I think about these things — why people are such mixtures of reason and superstition.

I know that the little purple chocolate lilies and the bright sparkles of wattle and egg and bacon plants and the nodding Billy buttons mean the southern part of the Earth has again turned its face to the sun to begins its annual journey into spring and summer.

Mathematics can explain all this — but it can’t explain the comfort that arrives with the first ray of warm sunshine on the back of the neck in September or the return of the kingfisher and the cricket.

Conservatives will be reassured at this time of year that the status quo is still evident — things are unchanging.

The lark’s on the wing;

The snail’s on the thorn;

God’s in His heaven —

All’s right with the world!

So said Robert Browning and he was right — when it comes to spring, we are once again reassured that our world is turning on the same old axis.

But in the human world, nothing lasts forever.

Rituals, sacraments, beliefs, opinions, ceremonies — they are made and unmade.

They come and go like Apple iPhones.

When my daughter was young she showered me with questions — some of them quite curly.

One day when we were walking the dogs through the bush at the back of our house she suddenly asked me where I thought God lived.

I thought about it for a while, but not too long because the curiosity of children does not wait for the dithering doubt of adults.

In my memory it was spring and we overlooked the Goulburn as it reflected the yellow splashes of the first wattles.

So I looked around at the sandy banks and fallen trees and the fluttering birds chasing insects only visible to them, and I stared out into the greening bush and I said ‘‘I reckon God lives out here’’. It was a spontaneous reply to a question asked without guile or pretence — as only a child can.

She seemed happy with the reply because she didn’t probe any further.

And I still reckon it’s true — all the certainties of life exist outside us in nature.

And nothing man-made lasts forever — not even marriage sacraments or interplanetary space probes.

John Lewis is chief of staff at The News.

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