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Michael Caduto: The glass Earth, perfect embodiment of our planet’s fragility

Feb 10, 2024

Commentaries are opinion pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters. Commentaries give voice to community members and do not represent VTDigger’s views. To submit a commentary, follow the instructions here.

This commentary is by Michael J. Caduto of Reading, author or co-author of more than 20 books, including the “Keepers of the Earth” series. He is executive director of Sustainable Woodstock and founder of Programs for Environmental Awareness & Cultural Exchange.

I recently made a brief excursion to points east in search of respite from working in Woodstock to mitigate the devastation caused by the extreme flood events of July 2023.

During my peregrinations, I happened into an antiques shop in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Among the multitude of disused and fascinating relics was a bowl containing hardball-sized globes of pure, clear crystal. Etched onto the surface of each sphere was a map of the continents.

Picking up one of those miniature orbs, I held irony in my hand. Were it not for the catastrophic floods that so recently upended our lives in Vermont, I would not have taken that trip and discovered, in the glass Earth, such a perfect embodiment of our planet’s fragility.

For most of the past 50-odd years, during which I have studied, observed and written about the natural world, I was struck by the remarkable resilience of ecosystems, as well as the adaptability of the plants and animals that inhabit them. But that perception has gradually been supplanted by a new paradigm revealing how the magnitude of human-induced climate change has so heavily impacted the global environment and transformed our weather, and so, our existence.

Each of us holds this glass Earth in our hands — a fragile and vulnerable sphere of breathtaking beauty and wonders of a magnitude that even now, some 300,000 years along the arc of human history, we have just begun to perceive and comprehend.

It is remarkable that people have impacted planet Earth on such a grand scale and in so miniscule a span of time relative to geologic reckoning. As seen through the perception of eons, Earth is a living, breathing mineralogical diaphragm whose motion occurs beyond the limitations of our temporal perceptions. It is the seemingly immutable rock by which we measure time and self.

In contrast to the clear glass of the orb I held in my hand, the real Earth, opaque and veiled, does not reveal its secrets so lightly. Yet they are there on the wind, in the waves that crash on our shores and in the magma that flows in the timeless dance of the continents.

The roots of the mountains that arose several hundred million years ago are the heart of this land. Their slopes are the force of life that moves the flowing cool waters across our horizon. Rivers are the arteries of the rocks and hills, of forest, marsh and plain. They are the long liquid eye that captures leaf and sky, carrying our imaginations and spirits to lands of mist and memory.

We are, each, a speck of humankind, and yet agents of a vast collective that cradles Earth in space and time. Light penetrates the surface of the glass Earth to reveal its fragility, even as the surface reflects the nature of the hand that holds it.

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