- Earth Autumn Winter -

When the universe was young, it was a comparatively simple and homogenous stew of hydrogen and a little helium. At first glance it might have seemed that very little interesting could happen.  But matter has a fortunate affinity for itself (like life, it seems), and so, over billions of years, great clouds of gas coalesced into the large-scale structures we see in the evening skies: stars and galactic clusters of stars.  All that proximity makes things a little warm, and the resulting heat cooked up some very interesting things.  Actually, it was when the pot explosively boiled over that the stew miraculously fabricated a teeming multitude of new and astoundingly versatile ingredients: the elements.

The heavy elements of the cosmos are all the handiwork of dying stars.  When a star exhausts its supply of the hydrogen fuel that sustains the stellar furnace, it begins to collapse under its own colossal weight.  In the process, the doomed star crushes its component atomic parts into larger, heavier atoms: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and all the other naturally occurring elements.  (Actually, this stellar process of atomic fusion through gravitational contraction- as it is currently understood - stops at element 26, iron; the mysterious process which fashioned the other 66 naturally occurring elements, up to uranium, remains entirely unknown.)

And so, the earth beneath us, the mountains, rivers, forests, and you and I, are all made of the same celestial ash.  By what magic does this blast-site detritus reconfigure itself into such wondrous things?  What sorcery manipulates the electro-chemical bonding that results in near infinite diversity?  Whence came and where resides the instructions that allow carbon to perform its stupefyingly complex interactions?  Most of us can only look up at the sky and wonder.

The ancient Egyptians, who had an intuitive sense of the cosmological, imagined a creator god from whom came the earth and sky - the first parents from whom all the children of the cosmos descend.  The Egyptian vision of earth and sky is a rare and wonderful mythological motif - and rather different from the familiar western notion of Mother Nature (earth) and Father (in) Heaven.

In Egyptian mythology, the ethereal womb of cosmic creation up above is feminine: Nut, the Sky.  Down below, hard and violent and ever reaching up in arousal to the nurturing sky, is masculine Geb, the Earth.  Geb and Nut were briefly united before the air god, Shu, divided them forever.  One of the children of that divine union of Heaven and Earth was the goddess Isis - the Elemental Mother of all Life.  Even five thousand years ago, Egyptian wise men had the intuition that Life - the progeny of Earth and Sky (of material form and ethereal idea) - was the magic that happens when the tangible (body) and the intangible (mind) mysteriously come together.

In the modern era, we now understand that the earth revolves annually around the sun in an ellipse, that the earth rotates daily upon an axis, and that this axis is tilted relative to the orbital ecliptic at an angle of 23 degrees.  The changing attitude of this axial tilt relative to the sun, as the earth progresses in its orbit, affects the apparent trajectory of the sun across the sky each day, and thus the duration of light and darkness.  This annual cycle, of changing sun-position and amount of daylight, has four cardinal points: equinox 1 (“equal-night”, day and night are of equal duration), solstice 1 (“sun-stops” and reaches its highest point in the sky on the day of longest duration), equinox 2 (day and night are again of equal duration), and solstice 2 (sun reaches its lowest point in the sky on the night of longest duration).  Because the changing angle and intensity of sunlight changes the meteorological conditions on earth each quarter cycle, creating four distinct periods of weather (and life-cycle) within a year, we say that the sky is divided into four equal parts.  We call these four modes in which we experience the sky seasons.

In this painting I have chosen to represent only two seasons because that is as much of the sky as we can see at one time (the unseen two quarters of the sky lie on the far side of the sun).  Winter follows Autumn, as the sky benevolently caresses the earth on its lonely journey through space.  I have alluded to the presence of Spring, beyond the domain of Winter, by the use of dawn colors upon the distant clouds.  Summer exists in front of the extreme foreground, where the bull elk looks to approaching Autumn, for him the time of the annual ritual that perpetuates life on this planet.  And everywhere, the earth (the symbolic husband), and life (the symbolic child), reach up with an unquenchable need to embrace the maternal sky...