Pssst! You... Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet... that's orbiting a golden star... 

Of course, what astronomers call an orbit is what the rest of us call a year. And right now, in mid-November, we are approaching a special spot in our yearly journey around the Sun. We are approaching the Makahiki--Hawaii's New Year. But why would you want to start a New Year in mid-November? 

When you see why, you'll also see what wise old space cadets our ancient Hawaiian ancestors were! 

The Makahiki is not about getting drunk the night before we start using a new calendar. It's about renewing ourselves by re-connecting ourselves with our cosmic origins. Speaking of cosmic origins... scientists have discovered that the iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones, the oxygen in our lungs (all of the elements in our bodies, except the hydrogen) were created in the cosmic furnaces that we call stars. Our Hawaiian ancestors had a slightly different take on our cosmic origins. They tell of their people coming to Planet Earth from a star cluster called the Pleiades. ("PLEE-uh-deez") They share this story with the Celts, and with many other cultures. 

If you'd like to see what this is all about, you'll want to pretend for just a moment that your people really did come here from the Pleiades. And... doesn't everybody want to go home for the holidays? But how do you go home to a place that's light years away? We can answer this question with a little picture: Visualize our Earth going around and around our Sun. Beyond our orbit are the orbits of Mars, Jupiter, and the other planets. And beyond that are stars in every possible direction... Of course, as we orbit, the star scenery changes. So, by watching the changing star scenery, we can tell where we are in our orbt--we can tell what time of year it is. 

In mid-November we orbit through the place where we are closer to the Pleiades than at any other point in our yearly journey around the Sun. This place (which is labeled on our calendars as November 17), offers us a straight shot home. From this place, we can re-connect with our origins, we can re-new ourselves, we can start all over again. At this place--and only at this place--the Sun is on one side of us and the Pleiades is on the opposite side of us. Thanks to this opposition, we see the Sun set in the west at the same time that the Pleiades rise in the east. So, this is the ONLY time in our year when the Pleiades is up all night long. Around May 17 (when we're on the other side of our orbit) the Pleiades is up all day long.) 

With the Pleiades visible all night long now, you'll want to find it. So look east in the evening for a star cluster so tiny you can cover it with your pinkie nail if your arm is fully outstretched. This cluster looks like a miniature dipper or a tiny tennis racket. 

Tonight, as I gaze at this cluster, 
I'll be wishing you a Hau'ole Makahiki Hou-- 
a Happy Hawaiian New Year! 

Psst! You... Yeah you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star... 

Our planet is tilted over as it travels around the sun, so... we have seasons. And now, we're in the season of the ho'o ilo--Hawaii's rainy time... In the Hawaiian language, there are 138 words for different kinds of rain. There's ua (rain in general). There's ua li'i li'i (drizzling rain). There's lele ua (windblown rain). And then... there are ho'o loku loku, ha'a loku loku and ku noku noku, which, as you can hear, are pounding, deafening downpours. 

You can survive without food for weeks, but if you have no water, you're a goner much sooner. "By water all things find life," says the native Hawaiian wisdom that we hear on the radio and see on our water bills. Yes, water washes away our dirt, it cleanses our wounds, and it also washes away our troubles. If you say the Hawaiian word for water ... twice ... you're saying wealth. Wai is water. Wai wai is wealth. If all of us on this planet defined wealth this way, then future generations of us might still be here. 

As special as water is, it's not unique to Earth. Saturn's rings are zillions of frozen water droplets sparkling in the sunlight. The Orion Nebula, which you can see in the constellation of Orion, is generating water at a rate fast enough to re-fill all of our Earth's oceans every 24 minutes. Since the Orion Nebula's light takes 1,400 years to reach us, you can imagine how long it would take us to tap into that water. 

Nobody knows how water arrived on our planet--or if it was spontaneously generated here--but we do know about the water in your mouth. Now, you might want to take a moment to feel the saliva on your tongue and to feel the saliva under your tongue that your salivary glands are secreting. Actually, if you think about your salivary glands, you will salivate. This water hasn't always been in your mouth. Nor will it stay there. Before you drank it, it was rain, it was cloud, it was mist, it was lake, ocean, river, stream. It was ice, it was snow, sleet, hail, glacier, or maybe even steam. This morphing and moving of H-two-0 is called our world-wide water cycle. 

In 2008 half of the food in my garden died from a horrible drought. When you lose food, you take notice. You rig up a way to catch rain from your downspout. Now my food isn't dying. And I'm much more conservative with what flows from my faucets. I'm so conservative that last week Maui County thought my water meter was broken--until they checked it out. As I save water in bottles, jugs, buckets and tubs, I listen to it. I hear it telling me about the places it's been and about the forms it's taken. Just the other day when I was listening to the water in my kitchen sink, it gave me the idea for this radio program. So, I'm not just conserving water. I'm in awe of it. 

And, I'm wondering if you know what drives
our world-wide water cycle? 
It's driven by the intense heat of the star that we're orbiting! 

Pssst! You. Yeah, you. Are a passenger on a planet. On a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. We have orbited the sun almost 400 times since that historic autumn day in Plymouth, Massachusetts when the Pilgrims and the Indians gathered to give thanks for their harvest. Of course, the sun that grew this food has been shining in the sky for five and a half billion years, making the entire history of the USA but the blink of a cosmic eyelash. 

The pumpkin soup that I'm taking to Larry and Eva's house for Thanksgiving is made from pumpkins that grew in my front yard. As I prepare the soup (with apple juice, miso, curry and cashews), I'll be thinking about the millions of people all over the USA who are taking a day off work to give thanks for our bounty. I'll also be remembering how the bounty came to be. 

Three billion years ago, a green miracle began happening on our little planet, but nobody (not even our scientists) knows how it started. What we do know is this: Plants reach down with their roots and pull up water and traces of minerals from the soil. They also reach toward the sun and capture its energy. By combining this solar energy with what they bring up from below and with the carbon dioxide that they snatch out of thin air, they manufacture their own bodies. Of course, their bodies become our food--directly through vegetables, fruits, and starches and indirectly by feeding any animals that we eat. Thanks to green plants, light becomes life. 

A miracle that's been happening all over our planet for three billion years is easy to take for granted. But, do I want to take it for granted on the one day of the year that's set aside for giving thanks? No way! But I'm weird. I grow my own food. Not all of it, mind you. Just the vegetables, fruits, herbs, sweet potatoes and taro. The pumpkins in the soup that I'm taking to Larry and Eva's are from a seed in a pumpkin that a stranger gave me in 1992. I was watching him work in the community garden in Maalaea and I admired his pumpkins. He gave me one, and I planted its seeds. Of course, pumpkin seeds make pumpkins. And pumpkins make seeds. The gift keeps on giving as naturally as our earth keeps on orbiting. 

I feel really grateful to be living on a planet where green plants make sunlight (and even lamplight) edible. On this planet, to eat is to ingest light. So, food is sacred. As in sacrament. To eat with gratitude is to be in holy communion with the blue-green planet that we live on and with the golden star that we're orbiting. So, I'm not surprised that people all over the world set aside a holy day each year when they give thanks for their harvest. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. And I'm hoping that your Thanksgiving-Day gratitude makes your food more tasty and more nourishing. 

Pssst! You. Yeah, you. Are a passenger on a planet. On a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. 

If you've been keeping your eye on the sky, you've noticed that we are spending much more time in our planet's shadow now than we do at other times of our year... If you're wondering what I'm talking about, switch on your imagination and pretend you're up in space, looking down on our Earth. You see one side of Earth lit up by the sun, while her other side casts a shadow. Her shadow is almost a million miles long and it's shaped like a cone. So, our Earth looks like a ball of ice cream in a cone of shadow -- a shadow that we call night. 

Our planet is tilted at a 23.5 degree angle to the path of her yearly journey around the sun. So, our hemisphere points away from the sun (into our planet's shadow) at the winter solstice. Our hemisphere points toward the sun (away from our planet's shadow) at the summer solstice. So we're spending more time in our shadow now than at any other point in our yearly journey around the sun. 

Our shadow is a black blanket that protects us from dangerous radiation coming from the sun. In fact, night is when our primary healing happens. Scientists think this is because our Earth's shadow blocks solar radiation that might zap or scramble the super-sensitive, highly complex processes of DNA repair. People who don't get enough darkness (because of bright lighting at home or because of working a night shift) don't sleep as deeply, so they don't heal as well. These people suffer from higher rates of certain cancers. People in big cities where glaring urban lighting drowns the darkness suffer from higher rates of certain cancers. We need the night if we want to heal. 

Our word, heal, means "to become whole again." Our words heal, whole, holy and hallowed all stem from the same root. Yes, night is healing, night is holy. Since night lasts longer now than any other time of our year, this is a holy time -- as in holiday. And the evening of a holy day (when we're just entering into the sacred safety of our planet's shadow) is when the celebration of the holiday begins. 

If you keep your eye on the night sky, you notice that the Great Bear constellation is at its lowest point in the sky during these winter evenings. (It's so low that here in the tropics it's below our horizon.) This sky bear, like earthly bears, hibernates in winter. He's sleeping and dreaming for months now, which is the source of his wisdom and power. 

Scientists have found that our deepest healing occurs during our deepest dreaming. But deep dreaming doesn't even begin until several hours after the lights go out. Our first scientists (our ancient, sky-watching ancestors) were called Magi. Magi were known as Wise Ones because they were experts at understanding dreams. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet. On a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And if you think the holidays are coming, you're still living on a flat, motionless Earth! The holidays APPEAR to be coming. What's ACTUALLY happening is that WE are approaching a special spot in our yearly orbit around the sun. To our ancient, sky-watching ancestors this spot was holy -- as in holidays. 

Several billion years ago our young, violent sun threw off a mess of debris that eventually clumped up into planets -- while huge chunks of it were colliding. Our planet got hit hard. So, we're tilted over at a 23.5 degree angle to our path around the sun. This means that our hemisphere is tilted away from the sun while we travel through the December part of our orbit, and is tilted toward the sun while we travel through the June part of our orbit. Of course, less of the sun's light means more night. 

Our ancient, sky-watching ancestors recognized that night is much more than the lack of light. And it's a scientific fact that we can see farther at night than we can in the daytime. During the day our eyes feel so threatened by the sun's blinding radiation that our pupils contract. With our pupils contracted, we can't receive the fainter light from the billions of suns that are farther away than the one we're orbiting. But our pupils can feel that it's safe to open up at night. 

So, the stars don't come out at night. They appear to come out at night. What's actually happening is that we're opening up to them. When we realize this, we can open up to them on many levels. We can see -- and we can feel -- that we are not alone in the cosmos. During the day we receive only the light of the one star that we're orbiting. At night we connect with the cosmos -- just like our ancient, sky-watching ancestors did. 

Our sun's light takes 8 minutes to reach us. (By the way, light travels so fast that if you were riding around our Earth on a ray of light, you would circle our Earth 7.5 times in one second.) Since our sun's light takes 8 minutes to get here, we're always seeing our sun as it was 8 minutes earlier. But at night our pupils open up and we receive light that's been traveling longer because it's coming from farther away. The light from our North Star takes 430 years to reach us. The farthest suns we can see with our naked eyes are in the Andromeda Galaxy. This light takes 2.5 million years to reach us. So, when we're looking at it, we're peering 2.5 million years into the past. When we have 2.5 million years worth of perspective, our problems look so tiny that we can recognize them as opportunities to grow. 

Our ancient ancestors who studied the night sky were called Magi. When you have the cosmic connectedness of the Magi and the perspective of the Magi during these longest nights of our year... you never know what you might see. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You. Yeah, you. Are a passenger on a planet. On a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And if you keep your eye on the sky now, you'll see why our ancient, sky-watching ancestors did so much celebrating at this time of year --- and why we're still celebrating today. 

In the book of Genesis, "God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven ... and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years." These heavenly lights that the Bible calls "signs" are road signs on the road of life. The road of life is our 600-million-mile orbit around the sun. The road of life is the cosmic journey that the average person just calls "a year." 

If we want to know where we are in our cosmic journey, we need to keep our eye on the sky. When we do this, we see that over the course of our yearly journey, our star scenery changes. The stars we see tonight are not the same ones that we'll see half a year from now because half a year from now we'll be on the opposite side of our orbit, looking at the opposite half of the heavens. The constellations we see tonight are the same ones we saw on this date every year in the past, and they're the same ones we will see on this date every year in the future. So, we can tell where we are in our cosmic journey by reading the star signs. And if we don't know where we are, we are lost. 

But... what if we don't know how to read these signs because nobody taught us this in school? What if we can't even see these signs because of light pollution? We can turn to our ancient ancestors because in ancient times there were Magi -- wise ones -- who knew how to read the sky. And not all of their knowledge is lost. Of course, the Magi lived before we had light pollution, back when everybody could see the stars. So the gift of guidance was available to everyone free of charge. Yet, not everyone knew how to read the sky map. Only the Magi did. 

The Magi appear in our holiday celebrations now, when we decorate trees, buildings and bushes with little artificial stars. Of course, the stars that actually guide us are visible only at night. And the longest nights in our year are now, at the winter solstice. So, the Magi re-appear each year at this time, reminding us that we don't have to be lost. We can look around and learn how to tell where we are in our cosmic journey. 

If the stars were not surrounding our orbit and serving us as orbital mile markers, we'd have no way of seeing that our Earthly existence is a heavenly journey. And when we do get our bearings from the heavens, we're prone to moments of ecstasy. (By the way, our word, ecstasy, comes from the Latin, ex stasis, meaning "to stand outside of yourself.") Since ecstasy expands when we share it, we gather together in celebration at this time of year! And my way of celebrating is to give you this gift of words. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... Are a passenger on a planet. On a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now the star that we're orbiting is missing from our sky for longer each day than at any other point in our yearly journey around it. Yes, our sun is rising later than ever now and is setting earlier than ever now. And this is telling us where we are in our 600-million-mile orbit. 

Our planet is tilted at a 23.5 degree angle to the path of our yearly orbit. When our hemisphere points away from the sun we're in winter. When our hemisphere points toward the sun we're in summer. Since we're in the northern hemisphere, sunrise and sunset are now as far south as ever at the winter solstice. This southernmost sunrise-and-sunset is telling us where we are in our orbit - IF we know how to read the sky. If we don't, we are lost. 

Fortunately, our ancient, sky-watching ancestors -- no matter where in the world they lived -- were determined not to get lost. They were also determined to leave us concrete evidence of how to avoid getting lost. For example, in Ireland there is a 5,000-year-old, acre-sized structure called Newgrange. It's built so that only at the winter-solstice sunrise does sunlight reach into and light up an underground chamber at the end of a 60-foot tunnel. Newgrange tells us where we are in our yearly orbit, so Newgrange is a calendar. It shows us where we are in our cyclical relationship with the light that is life. 

The lack of light at the winter solstice means that growth stops and the life-force is as weak as it gets. Nevertheless, our little blue-green planet is still spinning and orbiting. So, night always turns into day, and winter always melts into summer. And at the winter solstice the days start to grow longer: the light starts to return. But this turn-around is just beginning; you can barely see this infant of light. It's so tiny and so fragile in all the darkness that you nurture it with all the juice you can find. You sing to this newborn sun. You sing about this newborn sun. You dance, you feast, and you decorate your home with candles that inspire you to trust that this light will grow. You warm yourselves by the crackling fire, as your whole community nurtures and celebrates this infant of light. Yes, for centuries, our ancient Roman ancestors did this. They called their celebration Sol Invictus, meaning "sun that cannot be conquered." Then, as the Roman Empire was threatened by invaders, this holiday (celebrated on December 25) was given a new name. In 440 A.D. it was re-named Christmas. 

We celebrate at this time of year because of the darkness that's ending, because of the light that's returning, and because of the power of this pivotal time. To avoid change now is impossible. The only question is how smoothly we do it. So, I'm hoping, as my solstice gift to you, that a little more understanding of this change will make it smoother.

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we're at the point in our orbit where your shadow is as long as it ever gets at mid-day. This tells you why we're starting a new calendar and why we're making New Year's resolutions. But your shadow tells you this ONLY IF you know how to read shadows. 

Our ancient, sky-watching ancestors knew how read shadows. And because they did, we have clocks and calendars. Of course, our ancient ancestors were devoted observers of nature. They observed that anything blocking the sun's light casts a shadow - and the lower the sun is in the sky, the longer the shadows are on the ground. Our ancestors also noticed that at this time of year our nights are as long as ever. 

Of course, night is actually our planet's shadow. Your shadow is your little personal night. Once every 24 hours your shadow merges with your planet's shadow and you're enveloped in darkness for hours. Your shadow remains indistinguishable from your planet's shadow - until morning. 

Our Earth is tilted at a 23.5 degree angle to its yearly path around the sun, and right now our hemisphere is tilting away from the sun. We're spending more time in our planet's shadow than at any other time of year. Since we're in the northern hemisphere, the mid-day sun is as low in our southern sky now as it ever gets. And your mid-day shadow is as long as it ever gets. This is showing you that we're at the spot in our orbit where our north pole is pointing directly away from the sun. This spot is what we call the winter solstice. 

Meanwhile, our little blue-green planet just keeps on spinning and orbiting. As we orbit beyond our winter-solstice point, we spend less and less time in our planet's shadow. Our nights begin to shorten, and your mid-day shadow begins to shorten. So now, for the first time in 6 months (for the first time since we were on the opposite side of our orbit), our days are lengthening. 

Our ancestors celebrated the winter solstice because of what's ending, because of what's beginning, and because of the power of this transition. At a transition point, change is inevitable. If you want to change something in yourself, it's easier to do it when change is happening naturally anyway - when a new cycle is starting. When a cycle is in full swing, it's as hard to introduce change as it is to swim against the current. So now is when we start a new calendar and resolve to change for the better. 

Our word, celebrate, comes from a Latin word that means, "to set into motion." What am I setting into motion now? What's my New Year's resolution? I'm resolving to learn how to live by the light of the star that we're orbiting... because it's a renewable source of power. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. If our planet were not spinning, we wouldn't have days. If she were not orbiting, we wouldn't have years. If our moon were not orbiting us, we wouldn't have months - or "moonths" as the word was originally pronounced. And... you and I would not be inhabiting this planet if our ancient ancestors hadn't... hadn't... hadn't what? 

Eons before we learned reading, writing and 'rithmetic, we put a stick in the ground and we watched the shadow it cast. We observed the shadow changing during the day and during the year. We observed how the changes are orderly, predictable, linked with the seasons and linked with the life cycles of all plants and animals. We observed that the cycles of life-on-Earth are the rhythms of Earth-and-sky. And we asked ourselves, "Why?" 

Answering this takes us many centuries, but it shows us how to plan. And planning equals survival when our food grows - or migrates into our territory - only at a certain time of year. Planning equals survival when the materials for our clothing and shelter grow - or migrate into our territory - only at a certain time of year. With planning we know when to aim our arrows at migrating birds and animals, when put our fishing nets into the water, and when to plant our seeds. 

Our hunger to know why the rhythms of life-on-Earth are the cycles of Earth-and-sky rewards us with more than food. It develops our brains and it connects us with the cosmos. The more we connect with the cosmos, the more eager we are to understand the cosmic cycles by which nature satisfies our needs. So, we upgrade our sticks-in-the ground: we create sundials, obelisks, and eventually massive, sky-aligned structures like Stonehenge, Machu Picchu and Chaco Canyon. We also upgrade our observing skills by creating mathematics, astronomy, physics, geography and more. Eventually, we discover that the Earth beneath our feet is transporting us through the heavens. Yes, she's spinning us and orbiting us through space with a mathematical precision that we track with clocks and calendars. 

Our stick-in-the ground is our first clock, our first calendar and our first observatory. With our observatory we can tell the date. With our observatory we can observe holy days - holidays. In ancient Greece our stick-in-the-ground is called a gnomon ("KNOW-mun"), meaning "indicator" or "one who discerns." And our gnomon becomes the root of our words, knowing, knowledge, cognition, recognize, diagnose, gnosis, connoisseur and cognoscente. Yes, our gnomon is the root of our knowing. 

If all I know is how to pass tests - and I don't know how to provide for my needs without destroying the only planet in the solar system that offers me food, clothing, shelter and air to breathe... What do I really know? This is what I'm asking myself as I'm starting to use my new calendar. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are approaching the place in our yearly orbit where we were when Ben Franklin was born. This place is called January 17th. Our annual return to this place is an opportunity to remember Ben Franklin for helping to create our democracy, for being so inventive, and for his skill at riding the waves of natural time. 

Even though we have a democratically elected government, we are slaves to our clocks. But Ben Franklin was a free man; he needed no clock to tell him the time. He could see that noon is when the sun is as high in the sky as it ever gets on this day of the year. He could feel the excitement of sunrise - and he could feel slumber gathering him into her arms at sunset. When he thought about time, he thought about the swelling of the river in spring - and the freezing of the river in autumn. To him, time wasn't something to tell; it was something to smell. It was the sweet scent of fruit ripening in the spring - and the putrid stench of this same fruit rotting on the ground in the fall. He understood (and is famous for saying) that, "Fish and visitors stink after three days." 

Yes, Franklin knew that time is about cycles, rhythms, waves. He knew that the good life is about good timing - so he published a farmer's almanac. In it the cycles of sun, moon and sky are charted out in tables. Almanacs help us ride the waves of natural time. And when we're doing this, we get more done with less effort. This natural productivity is evident in the long list of Franklin's accomplishments - including the odometer, a cure for scurvy, and the fire department. Yes, he understood that the seeds of our ideas have much in common with the seeds of our peas and carrots: all seeds germinate and root more easily at certain periods than they do at others. 

Today we view Ben Franklin's almanac as a quaint antiquity because we are slaves to an image. According to this image, time is an arrow, a line - like a long, straight, factory-assembly line. If this view of time had any validity, then a day in January would be no different than a day in July. 

Last month, while leafing through my new Farmer's Almanac, I learned that January 17th is Ben Franklin's birthday. This month, as we actually return to this place in our orbit where Franklin was born, I'm helping him to blow out the 300-plus candles on his birthday cake, knowing that each candle represents another a journey around the sun. Since I'm helping to blow out the candles, I'm also making a wish. I wish that by remembering Franklin we are declaring our independence of an-image-of-time that is draining us of life. I wish that we learn from Ben Franklin how to ride the waves of natural time. Because living in sync with the spinning, orbiting blue-green planet that you live on really does make a world of difference. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And being a passenger on this planet is way more fun when you realize that you ARE a passenger. My journey around the sun is such an amazing ride that every day is a holy day, a holiday. Yes, every spin of our planet around her axis gives me something to celebrate. Today I'm celebrating a world-famous mother. 

"Necessity is the mother of invention," wrote Richard Frank in his book, Northern Memoirs, Calculated For The Meridian Of Scotland in 1658. Of course, Scottish winters are wicked. But when we see nature's inventive responses to winter, we appreciate the blue-green miracle that makes our planet so different from the rest of the rocks that orbit our sun. 

Have you ever wondered why our coldest weather is not until after the winter solstice - after the time when we are most deprived of warming radiation from our sun? This lag is because of Earth's rocks and waters. They hold onto heat that they soaked up in the summer. Rocks are so good at retaining heat that you can cook on them; they were our first ovens and frying pans. And if water weren't also good at holding onto heat, none of us would ever enjoy a hot cup of coffee, tea or soup. Of course, deep water - like oceans - retains heat much longer. So, our Mother Earth, with her heat-retaining rocks and oceans, is like a giant thermos bottle. 

When the blue part of our blue-green planet does freeze, the green part is threatened. Many green plants die from the cold, but some of them find inventive solutions. One of these is the tree that's honored on the flag of Canada and is the namesake of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. The maple produces a natural anti-freeze that keeps its sap flowing. This antifreeze is a sugar molecule that gives maple syrup its sweetness. And this sugar molecule is used by many creatures in order to survive the winter - including an Alaska beetle. 

Yes, necessity, the mother of invention, is busy in winter, especially in places with long winters. Bears in these places have evolved such inventive ways of surviving that medical researchers are down on their knees in awe. Even though bears hibernate all winter, they suffer no muscle atrophy, no bone loss, nor bedsores the way humans do when immobile. So, what do bears know that we don't? I'm clueless. I only know what happened while I was hiking in the Canadian Yukon several years ago: I came upon a huge bear. I had been dreading and anticipating this for days. But, to my astonishment, I was so in awe of its presence that I forgot to be afraid. 

This morning I celebrated Mother Necessity and her inventions by pouring maple-tree anti-freeze on my waffles. As I enjoyed my breakfast, I thanked the maple for her sweet solution to the challenge of winter - and I remembered the bear who filled me with so much awe that there was no room inside me for fear. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a point in our yearly orbit that's celebrated with groundhogs and shadows. But this holiday is a weird one unless you are a student of shadows. Our ancient ancestors - no matter where in the world they lived - studied shadows and learned how to read their daily and seasonal changes. Because they learned this, we have clocks and calendars. Our ancestors also observed that on February 2nd the beginning of spring is as far ahead of us as the beginning of winter is behind us. On February 2nd we arrive at the mid-point of winter. Of course, the winter sun is underneath us for more time each day than it is above us. And the groundhog, like the winter sun, lives underground. 

What's down in Europe is up in Australia. So winter in Europe is summer in Australia. But everywhere, the lack of sunlight in winter is a lack of food for plants - because plants eat light. Many plants die in winter, but some of them have solved the problem of winter's scarcity. They store food during summer, stashing it in the basement for use in winter. The most famous of these is the potato. Our first potato was a weed with a toxic underground tuber growing in the Andes Mountains of Peru. 10,000 - or maybe even 13,000 - years ago some observant people admired this weed for its ability to survive winter. They cultivated its admirable qualities, and today we have 5,000 varieties of potato worldwide. Of course, what we call a potato is what the potato plant calls "the contents of my storage unit." 

Our shadow-watching ancestors stuck a stick in the ground in order to generate straight, neat, easy-to-read shadows. This stick-in-the ground is our first clock, our first calendar and our first observatory. With our observatory we can tell the date. With our observatory we can observe holy days - holidays. So it's not surprising that our word observant and our word reverent sprouted from the same root. 

Our shadow-watching ancestors noticed that on February 2nd it's easy to see that the sun is spending more time above ground than it was at the beginning of winter. On February 2nd the groundhog comes up out of his hole and looks for his shadow. And since sunlight stimulates life, the increase in sunlight that we see at this mid-point of winter is worth celebrating. 

I'm celebrating Groundhog Day by making potato pancakes. With each tasty bite, I'm thanking those ancient, anonymous Andes Mountains people who spotted an innovative weed with toxic tubers and cultivated it into a food that's now the fourth largest food crop on our planet. I'm also imagining potato plants growing all over the world. I see their roots being pulled down by our planet's gravity and meeting at its core. This core is the one place - the only place - that is down for all of us, no matter where in the world we live. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. Now, I don't know how you feel about traveling through the part of our yearly orbit that we call February, but I love it - because of something that's happening in the ocean here around Maui. February is when we bask in the company of all the whales that migrate here from Alaska in winter. February is when I marvel over the magic of whale physics and when I marvel over the magic of whale radio. 

Several decades ago a biology professor with the really cool name of Frank Fish accidentally discovered that he - and the entire scientific community - were dead wrong about the bumps on the fins of humpback whales. "It just drove me insane," recalls Professor Fish, as he tells the story. Scientists had always regarded these bumps as anomalies... as unnecessary blemishes... as one more example in the long list of mother nature's wild and untamed ways. Fortunately, Professor Fish took upon himself the task of transporting to his lab in Pennsylvania hundreds of pounds of dead, smelly whale that had washed ashore in New Jersey - in the back of his Mercury Lynx Hatchback. He dissected the bumpy fins, constructed models of them and tested them. Thanks to this, whale bumps are now inspiring and making possible new technologies because the bumps allow whales to maneuver in ways that reduce drag and increase efficiency. 

Scientists are not yet able to understand the physics that makes this possible. Nevertheless, whale physics is now giving us bumpy ceiling fans that are so efficient they use 20 percent less electricity and are so simple that they are cheaper to manufacture. Whale physics is now giving us wind turbines that are quieter and more efficient than standard turbines. Whale physics can be used in all sorts of machinery, including compressors, pumps, and anything with blades or rotors - just about anything that cuts through air, water, steam or oil. 

You may know that whales sing and that all the whales in a community sing the same song. You may know that all the whales in the North Pacific (from Japan to Alaska to Hawaii) change their song simultaneously, despite thousands of miles between them. How they do this is a mystery. And this mystery - along with the mystery of whale physics - is what I marvel over when we're traveling through the part of our yearly orbit that we call February. I wonder how many bumpy or irregular things that we regarded as imperfections in ourselves are actually valuable? I wonder if all of those whales change their song simultaneously because they're all tuned to one big radio station - all tuned to a higher frequency - all participating in a shared mind? I wonder if they are conducting physics experiments with the sound waves they bounce off their environments? I wonder what else we humans will learn from the wisdom of whales. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are approaching the point in our yearly journey-around-the-sun that we call February 19th. February 19th is the birthday of a Polish man named Nicolau Copernick. If you don't know him by that name, it's probably because he was an educated man who lived during the 16th century, and back then educated people learned Latin and Latinized their names; Copernick became Copernicus. 

Copernicus was the man who proved that the universe does not revolve around us! Despite what our egos may think, Earth is not the center of the cosmos; we are just not that important! But this isn't what Copernicus set out to prove. He was just trying to solve a problem that had been bugging people for centuries. He was trying to figure out why planets appear to move backward from time to time. For example, planet Mars, whose orbit is the next one beyond ours, appears to go backward each time we pass by it on the inside. This is like what happens when our car passes another car, and that other car appears to be going backwards (or retrograde) from our perspective. This apparent backwards, or retrograde, motion of the planets is due to our own orbiting. But... back in the time of Copernicus, we still believed that we lived on an Earth that didn't move, at the center of all things. 

Fortunately, Copernicus was not only a brilliant man; he also had a wonderful imagination! He knew that the best way to tackle a problem is to view it from a different angle. So he imagined himself standing on the Sun, and then viewed the planets from there. From this imaginary place on the Sun, he reviewed and reconsidered centuries' worth of carefully documented observations of the motions of planets across our night sky. From the Sun he could see how our solar system really works; the Sun is at the center! "The Earth," wrote Copernicus, "conceives from the Sun." Now THAT changed everything! 

Now we know that one Earth orbit is actually a 600-million-mile journey around the Sun. Now we know that one day is actually one spin of our planet in space. And we have known this for centuries. So... I'm grappling with a problem. Why are our schools are still teaching us that a year is a unit of TIME when a year is actually a 600-million-mile journey through the SPACE around our Sun? Shouldn't we be learning that a year is a unit of space-time? And that a day is a unit of space-time? 

Thanks to Copernicus, we now know that our planet Earth is a ship moving through the heavens of space. As the passengers on this heavenly ship, we are heavenly beings. As we orbit through February 19th, let's remember Copernicus, the man who showed us this. 

Remembering that I'm a heavenly being is a holy experience. So for me February 19th is a holy day - a holiday, a day that reminds me to see more of the WHOLE of things. I hope it's holy for you too. And I hope that one day this day will be celebrated as holiday by the whole world! 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And, speaking personally, I'm fond of this part of our yearly orbit-around-the-sun that we call February. Every time we orbit through February, I remember ice skating under the stars on the duck pond in Ridgewood, New Jersey when I was a kid. While my Dad was teaching me how to skate, I was marveling at the magic of cold - a magic that has recently been verified by quantum physicists. While I skated, I wondered: What is this thing we call freezing? How does water that normally ripples and laps at the shore become as still and hard as glass? How does it become so slick that I can slide on it? I will never be able to forget the power of cold because the frostbite damage to my toes from so much ice skating reminds me of it any time the thermometer drops below 60. 

As we orbit through February, I also remember a bitter morning in Toronto when I felt pulled to drive half an hour through deep snow to Lake Ontario. When I got there I thought I was hallucinating. The night before, during a wicked windstorm, the temperature dropped so fast that gigantic, arching waves had frozen solid in mid-air. Enormous, twisted tubes of frozen water that had been churned up by the wind looked like playground slides. A bunch of people, including me, climbed up several of these tubes and then slid down and out them through their holes. 

Today, as I remember this, the magic of cold is being magnified for me by something I just read in a science magazine. Physicists are down on their knees in awe at a super-cold behavior called the Bose-Einstein Condensate. Satyendra Bose and Albert Einstein predicted this mysterious behavior in the 1920's, but not until recently were scientists able to create it. 

As you know, what we call heat is atoms in motion, randomly jostling around, bumping into each other and creating friction. When atoms lose heat, they slow down, come together and condense, just as the steam inside the lid of a hot pot cools down and condenses into water droplets. As the temperature falls, the randomness of heat is replaced by the orderliness of cold. At unimaginably cold temperatures, atoms actually unite into a single matter wave. The many behave as if they were one. Matter flows with zero friction, a behavior so astounding that scientists describe this as a new form of matter - the Bose-Einstein Condensate. This conddensate is like the coherent behavior of photons inside a laser, where all the atoms "march to the same drummer." 

Yes, as we orbit through February, I'm marveling at the magic and the mystery of cold. I'm also wondering: Who is the drummer that super-cold atoms are marching to? How is it that the many behave as one? Is there something we can learn from cold about coming together with zero friction and thinking with a single, coherent mind? 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. Now, I don't know how you feel about this, but ever since I realized that I'm a passenger on this spinning, orbiting, and traveling vehicle, I've had more fun than I did when I thought the Earth was "down here" and the sky was "up there." In fact, every cell in my body can feel that the sun has been under us for more time every day since autumn and will be this way until spring. So, winter is when we naturally go deep inside ourselves. In fact, by this latter half of winter, I'm so introspective that I feel I'm actually going down, down, down inside the very atoms that my body is made of. 

Let's you and I take a moment now to go down, down, down inside the atoms that our bodies are made of, where we find that deep, innermost level of reality: the sub-atomic realm. Here we meet up with the elfin beings that our human senses perceive as solid matter: the electrons, protons, neutrons, muons, gluons, quarks and other impish little sub-atomic particles that have been astounding - and humbling - our finest physicists for almost a century. 

How motion is perceived as matter is frustratingly difficult for our scientists to understand because this sub-atomic activity is going on under the radar of normal human awareness. (And the key word here is NORMAL human awareness.) 

If you think you can ignore this sub-atomic weirdness because it's so tiny, then you might want to remember this: electricity is the movement, or flow, of electrons. And one third of our nation's economy depends on technology that's based on sub-atomic activity. So... let's you and I take a moment to think like an electron: an electron absorbs energy from its surroundings and grows excited. When its excitement reaches a critical, threshold level, it disappears from one place and instantly re-appears at another place - without passing through the space in between! 

NO electron can be made to remain - or even temporarily exist - between orbits. Yes, folks, electrons are quantum-leapers who don't care a bit about in-between states! So, if you're an electron, you experience only instant transitions; continuity doesn't exist in your world. And... since you and I are made of electrons, continuity doesn't really exist in our world, either. 

If you're wondering how this could be, you'll have to linger longer in the sub-atomic realm. (Of course, by doing this you expose yourself to the possibility that you, too, will become a master of quantum-leaping!) 

And right now, in late-winter, when we're naturally thinking deeply, is the time for this. As you do this, I hope you enjoy the lack of continuity and all of the spontaneity that you find down there inside yourself. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. Now, I don't know how many times you have orbited the sun, but I've gone around it enough times to notice a pattern: Every year in late winter, I feel what generations of my European ancestors felt. They felt cold. They felt hungry. They felt grim. Winter in northern climates is so long and so hard that every creature goes into slow motion - or freezes to death. By this time of year food is so scarce that the only thing keeping you alive is your anticipation of spring. You make it through this hardship by revering and honoring anything that helps you stay alive. Fasting becomes sacred to you because it's better than starving. And fasting, if it's done properly, has health benefits. After all, toxins bond to fat molecules. So by fasting, you can purify. And in late winter, purification through fasting is a tradition the world over. 

Last week I began fasting. What I'm giving up wasn't food for my body, but was food for my ego. And I didn't have to decide what to give up. The decision was made for me; it arrived in my daily Science News email. 

Scientists are shocked to find that a brain is NOT necessary for intelligence. Evidence of this has been coming from many directions for years now. In the latest news, scientists experimented with slime mold. They placed oat flakes (a slime mold treat) in the same pattern as the pattern of cities around Tokyo. The slime mold explored the oat flakes, spreading itself evenly around them. Then, it refined and improved its access to the food. After about a day, it built a network of inter-connected, nutrient-ferrying tubes in a design almost identical to the rail system around Tokyo. It did this in far less time than it took engineers to design the rail system. And it did this WITHOUT A BRAIN! Now scientists are developing models based on slime mold behavior - models that may lead to the design of more efficient, adaptable networks for transportation, exploration, disaster-relief, and for understanding things like blood circulation. 

Yes, I'm fasting from a belief that made me feel superior to creatures whose brains are small - or non-existent. As I drop the notion that my intelligence resides in my brain, I'm noticing the intelligence distributed throughout my body: hands that know which keys to punch on a keypad when my brain can't remember this; a body that knows how to ride a bike, even though I couldn't tell you how it's done; antennae that read people's body language, listen to their tone of voice, and alert me to when they're lying. 

If all your intelligence were concentrated in one place, wouldn't you have a bottleneck, an overly centralized authority? Wouldn't de-centralized intelligence spread throughout your body be more capable of adapting to change? 

Yes, as I fast during this late-winter, I'm pondering the possibility that our natural intelligence is de-centralized. IT'S A NO-BRAINER! 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now our planet is transporting through the place in her yearly orbit where she was when Albert Einstein was born. This place is called March 14th, and each time we orbit through it, I remember Einstein, not just for what he discovered, but for how he discovered it - and for making his first discovery when he was sixteen. 

You may know that as a child Einstein didn't talk until long after most kids do. You may also know that his goal throughout life was to know how God thinks. Now, if you sincerely want to find out how God thinks, you will quickly discover the limitations of man-made research equipment. You will need research equipment that is a lot less clunky and is infinitely fluid. 

When Einstein was 16, he drifted from his schoolwork and began wondering: What would I see if I traveled at the speed of light? So, he imagined himself riding on a light ray - astride it, the way you'd ride a horse. This was easy to visualize because a light ray goes up and down, up and down, like a horse. As Einstein rode along at the speed of light, he observed. He saw that objects shrink up, time dilates, and there is no reflection in a mirror. 

Many years later, scientists conducted laboratory experiments to see what happens at the speed of light. They found what young Einstein had found. And he found it by using the same technology that he used for all of the discoveries he's famous for - the natural technology of imagination. 

"Logic," said Einstein, "will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." He also said, "Imagination... is the preview of life's coming attractions." 

Now, if you rode along on a light ray and observed the scenery from this perspective, how would you tell people about your experience? How would you get them to believe you? Or even listen to you? As you're pondering this dilemma, I hope you'll keep in mind that the 16-year-old Einstein lived in a world of starched collars, high-button shoes and horse-drawn carriages. Nobody ever moved any faster than a train. He succeeded in communicating his experience of riding on a light ray because he eventually learned to speak the language of math and physics. 

Now that our planet is transporting us through the place in her orbit where Einstein was born, I'm feeling an urge to honor him by declaring March 14th as the Day of World-Wide-Wondering. Of course, I can't make anybody else wonder. But... I can share what I'm wondering. I'm wondering: When Einstein said that imagination is the preview of life's coming attractions, was he telling us that imagination is the fuel of the future? I'm also wondering: How could imagination be so powerful? Is it because this thing that we call reality is somehow a product of our imagination? 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we're traveling through a passionate place in our yearly orbit. When you see why it's passionate, you'll also see how bunny rabbits and decorated eggs help us to celebrate this. And... you'll see what Easter and estrogen have in common. 

Here in the northern hemisphere we notice the weather warming, new greenery emerging, flowers opening, bees buzzing and birds laying eggs. This is because our days are longer than our nights now, for the first time in six months. Our ancient ancestors in Europe, where winter is brutal, were so intoxicated with spring fever that they just had to party. 

They celebrated at the full moon after the spring equinox. This is because they saw that a woman's menstrual cycle, a rabbit's gestational cycle and many other life cycles are synchronized with the moon's cycle. In fact, at the full moon after the spring equinox the resurrection of life is so rampant in northern Europe that it's almost riotous. Our Germanic ancestors called their spring festivity Eostara, in honor of Eostra, their lunar fertility goddess. Eostra is the root of our words estrogen, Easter and estrus. Of course, estrus is when a mammal is in heat - when she's hot to make more of her kind. Since rabbits are famous for making more of their kind, and since so many eggs are being laid in spring, the goddess Eostra's mascot was an egg-laying rabbit. And Easter, with its eggs and rabbits, is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. 

If you'd like to see what's behind this, just keep your eye on the sky. You'll notice sunrise is farther north now than it was in winter, when it was as far south as ever. So, we in the northern hemisphere are getting more light. This seasonal change is because our Earth is tilted to the plane of her yearly orbit. We tilt toward our sun during part of our year and we tilt away from it during the opposite part. Right now we're transitioning. So, the length of daylight changes ten times faster at the equinox than at the solstice. The point of sunrise travels along our horizon ten times faster at the equinox than at the solstice - so fast that it's racing. Yes, the sun at the spring equinox is far more passionate than it was at the solstice. 

People who see the sky as God's calendar notice this. Folks in Europe used to say that the sun dances at the spring equinox, and they gathered on hilltops and on open plains to watch the dance. They rang bells and shot off canons at daybreak. In England and Ireland they placed pans of water in their east-facing windows to observe the reflection of the dancing sun. Even today, people celebrate Easter by facing east and watching the sun rise - reminding us what our words east and Easter have in common. 

Whether we call her Mother Earth with her seasons or whether we call her Spaceship Earth with her tilted axis, her message now is about resurrection. And I hope you're enjoying it! 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 


Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we're traveling through a place in our yearly orbit where life is on the move because light is on the rise. Here in the northern hemisphere, the sun is above us for more time each day than it's underneath us. Yes, after the spring equinox and until the fall equinox, we have more daylight than darkness. And this light is fuel for life. So, creatures are shaking off their winter sluggishness, finding mates, building nests - and some creatures are migrating. Monarch butterflies, as you may know, migrate as much as thousands of miles from their winter homes in Mexico to their summer homes farther north. What you may not know is that monarch butterflies have technological skills that are bringing our scientists to their knees. 

If you've ever looked up close at the wings of these creatures, you've noticed that they interact with sunlight in beautiful and intriguing ways. They also interact with sunlight in ways that are more high-tech than anything ever invented by humans. These wings contain tiny scales that function as solar panels. Scientists researching butterfly solar panels discovered that they harvest sunlight more efficiently than solar panels made by humans. As a result, researchers are working to use what they've learned from monarch butterflies to develop solar panels that are simpler, lighter and faster to assemble. 

Now, I don't know how you feel about this development, but it's making me wonder... Could we reduce our dependence on gasoline by developing airplane wings inspired by monarch butterflies? 

Meanwhile, African swallowtail butterflies are boggling scientists' minds because they have been doing for 30 million years what scientists recently thought they invented. These butterflies signal to each other using light-emitting diodes in their wings. As you may know, light-emitting diodes (called LEDs) are in computer screens, traffic lights, car brake lights and a variety of gadgets that flash color without using a conventional light bulb. One scientist involved in this research has said, "butterflies are smarter than MIT students." 

If you've ever wondered how butterfly wings take sunlight and make it iridescent, you're in good company. British scientists are researching the iridescence in butterfly wings in order to develop new electromagnetic materials for improved wi-fi efficiency, radio-frequency identification, security and anti-counterfeit technology. 

I have a hunch that if some of our kids follow the lead of scientists who are humble enough to take lessons from butterflies, we might learn how to live pollution-free by the light of the star that we're orbiting. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we're traveling through a place in our yearly orbit (a placed called April 2nd) that's a big anniversary for me. You may know that our word, anniversary, comes from annus, the Latin for year. Annus gives us annual and it also gives us annillo, the Spanish word for a ring that circles your finger, just as our planet circles the sun. Each time we circle through April 2nd, I re-visit an event that changed my life the way an earthquake changes the course of a river. On April 2, 1972, about six weeks before my 29th birthday, I was jolted awake in the middle of the night by a dream. 20 years later this dream earned me two international science awards. How this can happen is beyond me. All I know is that this dream was a response to my burning desire to understand how you and I are connected with the cosmos. 

In the dream I looked through the eyes of our lost-to-history ancestors. These people were such devoted and respectful observers of nature that they saw the geometry nature is using. For 16 years after this dream, I searched science books for the word I needed in order to describe what I saw. Then, in 1988, I found it. The word is "fractal." This word had just recently been coined by a man who wondered, "What is the length of the coastline of Britain?" He looked up the answer in several encyclopedias and found several completely different lengths. Hmmm... Finally, he realized that the coastline's length depends on how you measure it. Do you measure around every boulder? Around every rock? Around every pebble? Around every grain of sand? 

This man, mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, proved that the length of the line you're measuring depends on where you stand - and you can always zoom in a little closer. So, the length of any line is infinite. The farther you go into it, the richer it gets... "Nature," says Mandelbrot, "has played a joke on the mathematicians." 

Of course, nature never went to school, so she doesn't use rulers. She uses dynamic patterns called fractals. Now, fractals include the lub-dub of your heartbeat, the branching of your bronchial tubes, the spiraling growth of a cauliflower, the meandering of a river, the zig-zag of lighting, the morphing of clouds, the eroding of mountains, and the patterns of wind on sand. Fractals are the shapes of nature's actions. And a fractal is like a coastline: the farther you go into it, the richer it gets. 

Yes, 16 years after I was jolted awake by that dream, I found the word - fractal - that I needed in order to describe what our ancient ancestors understood. Now, as we're orbiting through April 2nd, I'm re-visiting my dream. Enjoying it all over again. And I'm finding that the more times I re-visit April 2nd, the farther I go into the experience that I had at this point in our orbit in 1972 - and the richer it gets. All of my many orbitings make for infinitely rich anniversaries. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we're traveling through a place in our yearly orbit (a placed called April 9th) that I'd love to declare as National Eat-the-Sun Day. This is because on April 9, 2009 First Lady Michelle Obama dug into the White House lawn, with the assistance of a team of fifth graders, and planted a fruit and vegetable garden. Now, if you're wondering what this has to do with eating the sun, let me explain: 

The iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones, the oxygen in our lungs (all of the elements in our bodies except hydrogen) were created in the heavenly furnaces that we call stars. The forging of these elements exploded them into space and onto planets. Somehow, our planet grew green. Her greenery inhaled carbon dioxide and exhaled oxygen. In time the greenery grew so plentiful - and it exhaled so much oxygen that it was too much. All this oxygen had become pollution. Then, just in the nick of time, a new kind of creature appeared on our Earth - and breathed in the oxygen. Even today, we still breathe in oxygen and we still owe the breath of our life to our planet's greenery. 

These "green guys" reach down with their roots and pull up water and minerals from the soil. They also reach up toward our local star and capture its energy in their chlorophyll. Combining this solar fuel with what they bring up from the soil and capture from the air, they manufacture their bodies. Of course, their bodies become our food - directly through vegetables, fruits, and starches and indirectly by feeding any animals we eat. 

Plant chlorophyll holds onto solar energy longer than any other substance on Earth. If you or I tried to hold onto this radiation for this long, we'd burn. Yet the green guys hold onto solar energy with unflinching dedication - until they've stepped it down into vegetable matter. The nourishment they provide us makes us matter and keeps us mattering. Thanks to the green guys, light becomes life. 

Everything we eat is actually sunlight packaged into food for us by our green guys. This means that the only thing we ever really consume is the radiance of the star we're orbiting. When we combine this miracle-fact with the wisdom of our health-care professionals ("You are what you eat"), we nourish more than our bodies. Yes, every morsel of food we eat is a sacred communion with the living planet that we inhabit and the star she's orbiting. 

I'm grateful to First Lady Michelle Obama for what she did on April 9th, 2009. And I hope that every time we orbit through April 9th we remember that, thanks to plants, we are eating the light of the star we're orbiting. So, I'd love to see April 9th celebrated as National Eat-the-Sun Day. Just imagine the festivities and the recipes we could generate! 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we're traveling through a place in our yearly orbit where something is happening in the ocean around Maui - something that baffles scientists, even though it's been happening annually for millennia. We are orbiting through the place that we call April and May. Brain coral, however, call this "the time for sex." Eggs and sperms are released into the water, and so many are released that within an hour the water is cloudy with them. How billions of eggs and billions of sperms know to enter the ocean and have sex simultaneously is a mystery. But, we do know that brain coral sex happens at just the right point in our planet's relationship with the sun and with the moon. This guarantees minimal tides, so it increases the chance for sperms and eggs to meet. 

The date: four centuries before Christ. The place: Greece. The man, Euclid, invents a geometry that becomes the bedrock of Western science. No book sells more copies than Euclid's geometry text (except for the Bible) until the 20th century. 

The date: mid-1800's. The place: Europe, where mathematicians are still struggling, after more than 2,000 years, to prove one of Euclid's axioms. So... they take a fresh approach: they set out to prove that IF Euclid were wrong about this, then absurd and contradictory consequences would result. However... they are flabbergasted: even though the great Euclid is wrong, NO contradictions appear. Instead, what appears is a whole OTHER geometry with its own shapes, its own measurements, its own rules. It is completely consistent. No matter how hard mathematicians try to prove it wrong, they can't. So... they give it a name: hyperbolic geometry. Hyperbolic geometry is so radical it ends up forming the basis of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Hyperbolic geometry is so outrageous that it's impossible to represent it with equations. 

The date: 1954. The place: Latvia. A girl named Daina Taimina is born. She grows up knitting, sewing and crocheting. As an adult, teaching mathematics at Cornell University, she rocks the world of science. She proves that even though the shapes of hyperbolic geometry cannot be represented with equations, they can be represented with crochet. 

Now mathematicians are crocheting. And they're finding that Mother Nature has been using hyperbolic geometry all along. Its ruffled, convoluted shapes appear in parsley, lettuce, kale, kelp - and in brain coral. These shapes also appear YOUR BRAIN and mine. 

Now, as our planet is transporting us through the place in our orbit where the brain coral are having sex in the ocean around us, I'm wondering about OUR brains. Our brains are not shaped like boxes. Our brains have the convoluted, hyperbolic shapes that challenge almost 25 centuries of Western thinking. Does this mean that if I want to think outside the box, all I have to do is USE MY BRAIN? 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through the ONLY place in our yearly orbit where we honor the planet that we're riding on. Yes, we're celebrating Earth Day April 22nd. We're paying homage to a great lady who is so comfortable with her own contradictions that she is both our Spaceship Earth AND our Mother Earth. 

At her core she is one hot gal - almost 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. On her frigid surfaces she can go as low as 130 degrees below zero. Her body is rocky, dirty, muddy, slimey, sandy and dusty. Her surface is pitted with caves and ravines, raging with rivers, oceans and hurricanes. She erupts with volcanos, earthquakes and tsunamis. She's also teeming with life, crawling and buzzing with critters, including some critters that have no wings, only two legs, and are listening to this radio station. 

All the while, Earth is spinning and orbiting through the silence of space with a mathematical precision that has given us clocks and calendars. We keep track of her spins with clocks, and we keep track of her orbits with calendars - as she transports us through the cosmos with the predictable grace of a celestial being. Yes, our Mother Earth is also our Spaceship Earth. And this - along with a conspiracy that she's harboring - is what we calebrate on April 22nd. 

The date: 3 billion years ago. The place: third planet out from the sun. The characters: Sunlight, water and blue-green algae. Blue-green algae discovers how to manufacture food out of sunlight and water. This manufacturing process generates a waste product which the blue-green algae exhales. The waste is oxygen. The date: 2.2 billion years ago. The level of oxygen waste is so high now that it is pollution. But... some creative creature discovers how to render the oxygen harmless and actually use it as fuel. These waste-eating creatures become so prosperous that they have many descendants - including us. We breathe in what plants breathe out. Plants breathe in what we breathe out. 

Now, breathe in Latin is "spirare." And we can hear spirare in our words respiration, inspiration, spirit and con-spiracy. Con means "with," so conspiring is breathing with, breathing together. And life on Earth is a conspiracy! 

Now, as we're traveling through the place in our yearly orbit that we call April 22nd - Earth Day - I'm paying attention to my breathing. Each time I breathe in I re-enact an event 2.2 billion years ago when my ancestors transformed pollution into fuel. I'm also happy to be celebrating Earth Day in Hawaii. Here in Hawaii we honor the conspiracy of life on Earth each time we say, "Aloha." Because aloha means, "to share the breath of life." Alo means "to share" and ha... means "breath of life." Hahhhhhhhhhh....... 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a place in our yearly orbit (a place called May 1st) that's a sexy old holiday. It goes by different names in different countries, but for all of us who live in the northern hemisphere, this is the mid-point of spring. Spring is at the height of her power. And this is worth celebrating if you're like me; I delight in the love affair between Sun-light and Earth-green. I celebrate the baby pumpkins this love affair is birthing in my front yard. 

Here in Hawaii we call this holiday Lei Day, but it's also called May Day. And, for as long as anyone can remember, the May Day revelry has always started the evening before, on April 30th. 

The date: April 30th, 1897. The place: Cavendish Labs, Cambridge University. The event: Quantum physics is born, thanks to the accidental discovery of something that scientists decide to call an "electron." Now, you may know that the flow of electrons is electricity. It gives us all things electrified, electronic, and with an "e-" at the beginning, like e-mail. Yet... the electron... is a trickster; it defies all our efforts to pin it down to any one point - and to measure it. It was so beyond the grasp of the scientists who discovered it that they joked about its discovery with champagne and a toast: "To the electron, may it remain forever useless!" 

Ever since, scientists have been struggling with the strangeness of the world that electrons inhabit - the world that's down, down, down inside the atoms that you and I and everything is made of. This sub-atomic world is so bizarre that even the great Albert Einstein did everything in his power to prove that quantum physics is too spooky to be possible. But Einstein failed, and now one third of our U.S. economy is rooted in products like hard drives and iPods that owe their existence to the magic of quantum physics. 

The date: April 30th of this year. The place: northern hemisphere. Spring is in full-swing. And I'm celebrating this by bringing you a message from the frontiers of science: Researchers are flabbergasted to find that plants use quantum physics to manufacture their bodies out of sunlight. In fact, plants' knowledge of quantum physics is why they harvest sunlight far more efficiently than human-made solar panels do. 

Here's how it works: Sunlight penetrates the leaf. As the light moves through the leaf it is embraced by different parts of the leaf. But these embraces are not one after another, after another, along a receiving line. No, sunlight is embraced by many different leaf parts simultaneously. Somehow, the distances between the parts is magically transcended. Apparently... all these different leaf parts so love the sun's light that they are happy to share it. 

This orgy of efficiency and productivity is what we celebrate when we celebrate this magical mid-point of spring. And I hope that you're enjoying it. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a place in our yearly orbit that marks an event that happened in May of 1976 in Polynesia, where the natives were restless. A native Hawaiian artist named Herb Kane was tired of Western scientists, historians and educators claiming that open ocean could not be navigated without Western technology and that Hawaii was accidentally discovered by Polynesian fisherman who stumbled onto these islands when they drifted off course. Those making this claim for 200 years were the descendents of Europeans who had spread out all over the world, infecting native people with shame about their dancing, shame about their singing and shame about the naked bodies with which they were born into this world. 

Herb Kane was so tired of this claim that in 1973 he teamed up with Ben Finney and Tommy Holmes to form the Polynesian Voyaging Society to prove it wrong. Since then the Society has succeeded in constructing canoes in the old style and in reviving the lost science of navigating by non-Western, nature-based methods. The Society's inaugural voyage was May 1st, 1976, when the now-famous Hokulea canoe departed Hawaii for Tahiti. On June 4 of that year Hokulea arrived safe and sound at her destination. 

Years later, we now know that Polynesians navigate with input from stars, driftwood, clouds, seaweed, winds, birds, weather, the smell, taste and temperature of the ocean, ripple patterns on the sea surface, the sense of smell of an on-board pig - and the navigator's testicles. This is because of ocean swells. Swells are below the surface waves and they must be tracked in order to steer a proper course. Each swell has a distinctive vibratory pattern, which the navigator monitors with his testicles. To facilitate this, the canoe has a tiny canoe on the side of it that's like the side car on a motor cycle. This tiny canoe's floor is thinner, and this is where the navigator sits, cross-legged and without interference from clothing, feeling for the swells. 

Now, as we mark the anniversary of Hokulea's inaugural voyage, we celebrate native Polynesians who feel honor - not shame - about their bodies. Their bodies are like antennae that connect them with their environment in ways that are inconceivable to Westerners whose antennae are mangled by unnatural attitudes and beliefs. 

Our word, native, is similar to nativity, meaning birth. Native means, "to be born in kinship with." Thanks to natives who got restless and thanks to the Polynesian Voyaging Society, the kinship with life has triumphed over unnatural and limiting beliefs. 

These days, when just being alive means that we're navigating uncharted waters, I'm grateful that my body is the product of millions of years of evolutionary fine-tuning on this blue-green planet. My body is my kinship with life - and my radar antennae. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a place in our yearly orbit where I'm doing what I always do at this place we call May 12th. I'm sending myself a birthday message. Mind you, I really do appreciate the birthday greetings from my family and friends. But I have so much fun composing greetings to myself. They remind me that with each and every birthday I'm completing another journey around the Sun - and I'm starting a new journey. 

I began riding on this planet in 1943, so I have orbited through May 12th many times. This place is beginning to look like home. In fact, my birthday is my home port in the orbital journey that life is. Now that I have returned to home port so many times, I'm discovering the benefits of this homecoming. Each homecoming is a chance to see how I've changed since the last time I was here. Each homecoming is a chance to see how I need to change if I want to stay on this heavenly ride. 

The longer I ride, the more perspective I have on the journey. Perspective helps me to look at all the mistakes I've made - and extract wisdom from them. Wisdom helps me to forgive myself for having made the mistakes - and it helps me to forgive others for their mistakes. In fact, forgiveness lightens my load so much that my birthdays are actually rejuvenating. To celebrate this, I'm swearing to you now on a stack of Bibles that birthdays do not come and go; we orbit through them. We are not the victims of time; we are passengers on a planet. 

I have a lot less to look forward to now. So, I'm looking around more, and I'm discovering all the delightful sights that I missed when I was busy looking ahead. I'm discovering what an adventure it is just moving around inside a human Earth suit. Even though I donned this Earth suit in 1943, I didn't even begin to appreciate its capabilities until I had worn it for 32 years. At 32, I began practicing yoga. I began to appreciate the millions of years of evolutionary fine-tuning that produced the human Earth suit. In fact, thanks to yoga, I now have more strength, more flexibility and better balance than I did when I was 32. But I'm not pushing myself into difficult postures: I'm not forcing anything at all. I'm just learning how to direct awareness into different muscles, tendons, joints, etc. The more awareness is in there, the more freedom of movement I have. 

Yes, now that I have less to look forward to in life, I'm looking around more, so I'm wondering: What is this activity that we call awareness? I don't know the answer yet, but that's OK. Maybe when I finally unzip my Earth suit and fly free of it I will get to experience nothing but awareness. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And you've probably noticed that nobody gave you - or me - a map of this journey when we started it. So... we can go through life feeling lost, we can copy what someone else has already done - or we can experiment. And right now we are traveling through a point in our yearly orbit (a point called May 24th) when I love to experiment. Because, according to our Hawaiian ancestors, May 24th is a power point. 

Here in the Tropics - and only in the Tropics - the Sun can shine directly on the crown of your head. When it does, you are crowned with the life-force of our entire solar system. This force is the source of "mana." And mana, as you may know, is Hawaiian for spiritual power. But this spiritual power is not about blind faith or about bowing to a deity. 

If you'd like to get a feeling for this power, just imagine Planet Earth circling the Sun. You see that the Sun is not over the North Pole, shining on the Arctic Circle. You see that the Sun is not over The South Pole, shining on the Antarctic Circle. If it were shining on these places they wouldn't be cold. No, the Sun is shining on the equator, which is why it's hot there. But... the Sun doesn't always shine exactly on the equator because our planet is tilted at a 23.5 degree angle to the path of her orbit. So the Sun can shine directly overhead at 23.5 degrees north of the equator, at 23.5 degrees south of the equator, and in between. This sunny region is called the Tropics. 

The Tropics is the only place on Earth where the Sun shines directly onto the crown of your head. These direct rays of solar power were so vital to the pharaohs of Egypt that they made sure their southern boundary extended into the tropics so Pharoah could go there and download the solar power through the crown of his or her head. Doing this kept the crown on Pharoah's head. 

When this crowning moment happens depends on where we are in our yearly orbit. Thanks to our ancient Hawaiian ancestors, we can mark this moment with a heiau. Now, a heiau, as you may know, is an ancient Hawaiian stone temple. A heiau, like Stonehenge, Machu Picchu and Chaco Canyon, is aligned with key points in the sky (with key points in the orbital journey that we call a year.) Heiau actually means, "to capture time." Here on Maui the crowning moments are May 24th and July 18th/19th. The precise moment on May 24, 2010 is 12:24 p.m. in Lahaina and 12:22 p.m. in Hana. 

I experiment with these moments. I have to because there is no instruction manual for downloading the Sun's radiance. Sometimes my experiments feel productive, and sometimes they make me feel like a fool. But I keep trying because every cell in my body says it's possible to learn - or remember - how to bring more light into this world. And don't you think that experimenting with the light is better than staying in the dark? 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a part of our yearly orbit where we see the Big Dipper high in our northern sky - as high as it ever gets. The Dipper is one of the few constellations that actually looks like its name. This raises a question that you have probably asked yourself: What were our ancient ancestors thinking when they connected the stars into constellations? Many constellations do not even remotely resemble their names. What were our ancestors thinking - or smoking? 

I've been teaching astronomy since 1980, so I've spent a lot of time trying to justify the constellations' names to people. Finally, I got so tired of being in this awkward position that I did something about it. I put my feet into the shoes of our ancient, sky-watching ancestors. And I hope you will join me there, back in the days before electricity, cars, planes, oil tankers and supermarkets. Or maybe you and I should put ourselves in the future, after the time when oil spills have made it impossible to ship our food half way around the planet. So we are growing, gathering and hunting our protein. But... protein isn't available 24/7 and it isn't available 365 days of the year. It grows only in certain seasons. It migrates through our territory only in certain seasons. It flies over our territory only in certain seasons. It swims close enough to be caught only in certain seasons. If we don't know its natural rhythms, we don't get to pass on our genes to future generations. 

Fortunately for you and me, our ancestors passed on their genes. They tracked the annual life cycles of plants and animals and they devised ways to make the most of these cyclical opportunities. During the seasons when they didn't need their garden tools or their fishing or hunting gear, they repaired and upgraded this equipment. They also kept their eye on the sky. They saw that the visibility of certain stars is how we can know what time of year it is. (The visibility of certain stars is how we can know where we are in our yearly orbit.) The particular stars we see tonight are the same stars we saw on this date every year in the past and they are same stars we will see on this date every year in the future. 

Yes, the sky was our ancestors' calendar - and it was the only calendar on Earth for 99.99% of human existence. If you want to use the sky as a calendar, you have to divide it into sections. Everybody using this calendar has to agree on what to call the sections. Some sections look like their names, and some don't. But so long as everybody agrees on the names, everybody can use the calendar; and everybody can eat protein. 

Last night, as I gazed at the Big Dipper I made a wish on its stars. My wish is that your next meal will be more tasty and more nutritious because while you're eating it you're thanking our ancient ancestors for figuring out how to pass on their genes to you by inventing constellations. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a part of our yearly orbit (a place called June 4th) where we're celebrating the awesome success of an impossible mission. Mind you, this mission was impossible ONLY in the eyes of Western scientists and historians. 

Last month we talked about the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Formed in 1973, it set out to prove that Western science was wrong in claiming that open ocean cannot navigated without the man-made latitude-longitude grid created by Western sailors, and wrong in claiming that the migrations of the Polynesian peoples were just a series of happy accidents made by fisherman drifting aimlessly around the Pacific. 

In the early 1970's a Hawaiian boy named Nainoa Thompson was burning with the desire to sail the Pacific, the way his ancient ancestors had done - using the ancient, non-Western, methods of navigating with guidance from stars. Unfortunately, nobody could show him how to do this because it hadn't been done for several centuries. So Nainoa went to the Bishop Museum Planetarium in Honolulu and asked the director, Will Kyselka, to help him learn how to navigate by the stars. The director used the Planetarium to simulate the changes in the sky that Nainoa would see if he were moving across the Pacific. This is how Nainoa learned how use the stars as mile markers. 

On June 4, 1976 the Hokulea canoe (built by the Polynesian Voyaging Society in the ancient style) arrived in Tahiti after its month-long maiden voyage. Since then we've seen the revival of navigating by stars, driftwood, clouds, seaweed, winds, birds, weather, the smell, taste and temperature of the ocean, ripple patterns on the sea surface, the sense of smell of an on-board pig - and the navigator's testicles. 

Then, suddenly, in the 1980's, leading-edge scientific researchers were shocked by an accidental discovery. They had uncovered a flaw in the foundation of Western science. Scientists always assumed that an ocean is a random and disorderly thing and the only way to navigate it is to super-impose a longitudinal/latitudinal grid onto it. Because of this, Western sailors could navigate this man-made grid - but not the ocean. Then, scientists discovered that an ocean is not random and disorderly, after all. It is profoundly orderly - in ways that are all but invisible to the eyes of classical science. In fact, an ocean retains the memory of all its previous states. 

As we celebrate the anniversary of Hokulea's maiden voyage, I honor Nainoa Thompson and the many others who have contributed the Polynesian Voyaging Society's many successes. Doing this helps me to look at where I may be navigating a grid of assumptions myself. 

So I'm hoping that this message is an opportunity for you, too, to leave behind whatever grid of assumptions you may be using - and immerse yourself in the waters of life. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a part of our yearly orbit where those of us who live in the northern hemisphere are enjoying longer days and shorter nights than at any other time of year. All this light is what gives us summer. Our longest days are around June 20th to the 22nd - and we call this the summer solstice. But our hottest weather is not until after the solstice (after our days begin shortening) because our rocks, our soil and our bodies of water take time to heat up. 

I love this time just before the summer solstice. I can bask in the Sun's light without being distracted by the heat - and the sweat - that are soon to follow. This is when my brain lights up, crackling and sparkling with questions about light. Because light is a mystery to us. Even though you see light all around you (and even though light makes it possible for you to see), nobody knows what light actually is. 

If you could hop onto a light ray and ride it, you'd be traveling at the speed of light. At this speed you can circle the Earth 7.5 times every second! Our Sun's light, traveling at this speed, takes 8 minutes to reach us. So we say that the Sun is 8 light minutes away. The light from the reddish star, Antares, that's dominating our southeastern sky these June evenings takes 600 years to reach us. So we're seeing Antares as it was 600 years ago. In fact, we're seeing all of the stars, not as they are, but as they were. Light makes it possible to peer into the past. 

Antares is old and dying. (This is why it has the reddish color that we also see in the dying embers at the end of a fire.) Since Antares is dying, and since we're seeing it in the past, it might already be dead. So, when we looking at Antares, we might be seeing something that's not really there. If we can see something that's not really there, what does "really" mean? 

OK now, let me ask you to turn on your imagination. Imagine something that disappears whenever it stops moving. This thing cannot be an ordinary object like a car, a person, or a baseball that's been hit into the air! No, this thing that stops existing when it stops moving is more than ordinary. In fact, it is light. Light is not a thing: it's an action. But what is doing the action? Is light doing itself? 

Yes, as you and I travel through this de-light-ful part of our orbit that we call June, you might want to enjoy peering 600 years into the past by checking out Antares. Or you might want to do what Albert Einstein did when he discovered what happens at the speed of light; you might want to imagine yourself riding on a light ray. I wonder where your imagination will take you... 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a part of our yearly orbit that we call mid-June. And this is when I always remember a Hawaiian elder who told me something about the demi-god Maui, something that he was told by his elders. You may know Maui (the namesake of our island) from the Polynesian myths about him - or from the enormous, naked statue of him snaring the sun in the Kahului airport. If we want to de-code the myths about Maui, we should remember that he is an "Everyman." Hawaiian elders say that he is all Polynesians wrapped up into one. But why am I remembering this at this time of year? 

Our planet is tilted over to the plane of its path around the sun. So our hemisphere points toward the sun during part of the year (summer), and points away from the sun during part of the year (winter.) June 20th to the 22nd is when we get maximum sunlight - our longest possible days. This, the summer solstice, is a treat if you live in a cold, grey part of the world. But, here in the Tropics, maximum sunlight means maximum danger of skin cancer. If you want to stay alive, you clothe your skin. 

Maui's mother, Hina, makes cloth for clothing, but she has a problem: the fibers in Hawaii's cotton plant are too short to weave into cloth. So the fibers of tree-bark have to be dried and then pounded into "tapa cloth." But these thick, sticky, gooey fibers take so long to dry that for much of the year the days are too short for them to dry. So they rot before they can be made into clothing. Mother Hina, worried about this, begs Maui for help. 

He responds by zipping over to Haleakala, the House of the Sun - a world-class sun-watching site and summit of the volcanic island that now bears his name. He sees that the sun can kill us as easily as it can give us life, and he engages in a long battle with it. In the end, he triumphs. The sun has no choice now but to work with Maui. They agree that from now on the sun's motion will be regular. Maui, to help his mother, makes the days longer. But making the days longer doesn't mean adding hours to the clock. It means getting more out of the day. And you do get more out of the day when you understand the sun's annual cycle of long and short days. Then you can schedule your work more efficiently. 

Today, I'm celebrating the summer solstice by remembering Maui (our collective Polynesian ancestors) for their heroic struggle. Maui flexed his mental muscles and snared the sun; he grasped its pattern, he "got" its cycle. He also "got" that any cycle is predictable, so we can count on it and we can plan around it. The cycle of our sun can sustain us or destroy us, depending on whether we synchronize our activities with it. When we are in synch with the sun, we get more done with less effort - and in less time. This gives us free time for surfing or dancing or singing or...

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a point in our yearly orbit that reminds me of an earthquake that knocked me to the ground in Peru in 1986. Until Spaniards invaded Peru in 1533, its Inca Empire enjoyed prosperity, technological sophistication and splendor beyond anything ever seen in Europe. In spite of this, European invaders deemed the Inca primitive and superstitious sun-worshippers. 

You and I can fry in the sun's presence and we can freeze in its absence. So, if we don't figure out the sun's annual cycle and learn to live by it, we end up on the list of extinct species. You can see this cycle yourself. The sun always sets in the west, but it doesn't always set in the same spot. This shifting is because our planet is tilted to her yearly orbit around the sun. When sunset is as far north as it ever gets, we in the northern hemisphere receive maximum sunlight, and we call this the summer solstice. 

After I recovered from the earthquake, I found the people in Cuzco (capital of the Inca Empire) celebrating in the streets. Their Roman Catholic cathedral had just collapsed. Underneath it stood the Coricancha, the Inca observatory, which had once monitored our planet's relationship with the sky. This observatory employed 4,000 people and was the center of an empire so perfectly synchronized with the seasonal rhythms of earth and sky that a family satisfied its needs by farming only 65 days a year. 

A few days after the earthquake I visited Machu Picchu. Here, at the carved stone "Hitching Post of the Sun," the Inca celebrated the solstices. Here they watched the sun's cycle, they grasped it, they hitched it in their minds. Even though most of their land was steep, rocky and dry, they hitched their activities to this cycle with such efficiency that they enjoyed a 3-to-7 year food surplus. So, I ask you: Were the Inca really superstitious sun worshippers? Or were they revering the richness of life that's possible when you live in harmony with the sun's cycle? 

According to Westerners, the Inca were so superstitious as to believe that their Hitching Post prevented the sun from straying too far in winter and from coming too close in summer. However, my guide was calling this Hitching Post a technology. "A technology?" I asked myself. "How can it be a technology when it has no moving parts and no power source?" 

In the aftermath of the earthquake, I started to see things differently. I began to question the people who tell us that progress requires more complicated engineering and more fuel-consumption. These people cannot recognize a technology that's simple, silent and clean. I began to see that the simple, silent, stone Hitching Post of the Sun needs no fuel or moving parts because our moving Planet Earth provides all of the necessary motion. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a point in our yearly orbit that's called July 4th. Back in 1744, when we orbited through July 4th, the Onandaga Indian chief Canassatego reached out and extended a helpful hand - a life-line - to you and me. Canassatego was the speaker for the Iroquois Confederacy, an alliance of tribes that networked so effectively they were stronger and more prosperous than any individual tribe would have been on its own. At a meeting on July 4, 1744 Canassatego gave struggling white colonists radical advice: If you want to be effective in your struggle with the injustices being inflicted upon you by the King of England, then do as we have done and unite yourselves into one nation. 

Native ideas lit fires in colonists' hearts and minds. A young man named Ben Franklin had been listening at meetings with natives and publishing popular booklets about them called broadsides. Indigenous government was radically different from Europe's kingdoms because it was nature-based. Indigenous people knew that you and I survive because of plants; they feed us and they feed all the animals we eat. Plants do not grow from the top down; plants grow from the roots up. If the roots are shallow the plant is weak, unstable and sickly. So, in nature-based governments leaders are not the masters of the people, but are their servants - and there are laws for impeaching those who fail to serve their people well. 

The seeds of America's grass-roots democracy were planted in colonists' minds by natives like Canassatego. These seeds rooted, sprouted, grew strong and bore fruit 32 years later (on July 4, 1776) when colonists united into a radical new kind of government called the U.S.A. and declared their independence of England. Since 1776 indigenous seeds have continued bearing fruit; in 1964 the Supreme Court made it virtually impossible for public officials to successfully sue for libel. 

Other native seeds remain in the ground - and they are radical. One of them is the indigenous Council of Grandmothers, where older women make the decision whether to go to war. 

Our word, radical, comes from "radix," meaning root. Being radical means you are so deeply rooted in our mother earth that the ideas you put forth are viable and strong. 

Each time we orbit through July 4th we shed some more of our European ancestors' arrogance toward our indigenous ancestors. We develop the humility to recognize - and to celebrate - the Native American roots of our U.S. Government. The American Revolution is becoming the American Evolution. Radical developments in the 1700's were just the first phase of the American Evolution. It is recognizing that if we want to survive we must, like natives, be deeply and firmly rooted in our mother earth. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a part of our orbit that we call July - a good time to remember that a month is a moonth. A moonth is a month. It's the time the moon takes to orbit us. Long ago our months were actual moonths. But Julius Caesar fabricated an extra month and named it after himself: July. Caesar Augustus fabricated an extra month and named it after himself: August. So, September is now the ninth month, even though sept means seven. October is now the tenth month, even though oct means eight. November is now the eleventh month, even though nov means nine. December is now the twelfth month, even though dec means ten. Yes, our calendar months are out of alignment with our moon's journey around us; they are mere sheets of paper. Fortunately, there are still many cultures (including the Herbrew, Islamic, Chinese and Hawaiian) where a calendar month is still an actual moonth. In these cultures you know when a month begins because you see it in the sky. 

The moon's cyclical journey around us is the rhythm of woman's fertility. A menstruating woman in native American cultures is said to be "on her moon." This doesn't mean she is perched on that rock up in the sky. It means she is synchronized with its cycle. 

Hawaiians call the moon mahina, and their word for woman is wahine. When Hawaiians and other indigenous people talk about the moon they are referring to its cycle - and to every activity that's synchronized with this rhythm, including woman's menstrual cycle. Of course, this cycle involves the protecting, caring and nourishing of the womb. Malama, the Hawaiian word for protecting, caring and nourishing, also means moonlight and lunar month. Malama, in Samoan, means the ninth month of pregnancy. 

Women were our earliest astronomers. But these gals were not aiming for careers in science. They were asking each other, "How can we avoid bringing more babies into the world than our eco-system can provide food for?" They recognized the need for population control by regulating their sexual activity. This meant knowing when they were fertile. Observing that their fertility cycle is synchronized with the lunar cycle, they kept track of the moon. Their earliest known records of this were etched onto animal bones 40,000 years ago. This record-keeping for purposes of birth control became our first calendars, which were lunar. Today's scientific term for the calculation of time is mensuration. Originally, mensuration meant "knowledge of the menses," and it gave us our word, measurement. Even today in the Gaelic language of the Celtic people, the words for calendar and for menstruation are the same. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. The ever-changing quality of light that we receive as we spin and orbit around this star offers us all that we know as LIFE. We've come to rely on calendars and clocks to tell us where we are on this trip around the sun, but without those, would you know where we are? You might know if you were a native Hawaiian living centuries ago. You would know if you were a honeybee. You might even dance about it! So... what do Hawaiians and honeybees have in common? 

Bees who scout out resources like nectar, pollen, water or housing share this vital information with their fellow bees through a "waggle dance." This dance points out the direction of, the distance to, and the quality of the resource and directs the other bees there. The dancing bee's movements relate to the sun's position. Of course, that position changes from one latitude to another and it changes during the day and during the year. Even the rate of change changes at certain times. Scientists can calculate these changes only with complex mathematical tables. Honeybees do these calculations - and communicate them through dance - using methods so simple and natural that scientists are still struggling to understand them. 

You can have the sun shining directly over your head only if you're here in the tropics - in the belt that straddles our equator, 23.5 degrees north and south of it. Right now, for those of us living in the Tropics, we are traveling through a place in our yearly journey that offers us a very special gift. But... do you know how to receive this gift? 

When the sun is shining down directly onto the crown of your head it's in your zenith - at the height of its power - and you are crowned with the radiant force of this star that's big enough to hold a million Planet Earths. Hawaiians call this force "mana." But... when and how might we tap this power? The when in the Hawaiian Islands is late May and mid-July, and the precise moment depends on your precise latitude. 

In ancient Hawaii certain people were trained in the natural science of downloading this solar power. If you were one of these people, you would work with the astronomer, whose careful observations would provide the precise moment of this zenith sun. You would illustrate the sun's relationship with the tropics by using your waist to represent the equator. You would radiate mana received at this time to your community through complex dance movements and audio frequencies called hula and mele, or chant. 

The timing of this moment changes from the northern to the southern end of the island chain. As a dancer, you indicate this range of moments with a range of foot positions, and you indicate precise moments with precise foot positions. This kind of communication is called hula. When white missionaries arrived in Hawaii they outlawed hula for being crude, lewd entertainment. 

Now, as our planet is transporting us through the place in our orbit where we in Hawaii experience the zenith sun, I'm wondering... what can we learn from honeybees and native Hawaiians' relationship with the sun? 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a part of our yearly orbit where I celebrate three anniversaries - a birth, a death, and a dazzling display of technology. First, the techno-dazzle: In late July of 1969 the USA struck back at its arch-enemy, the Soviet Union, for beating it into space with the launch of a spacecraft, Sputnik. Watchers gathered around televisions all over the world and were captivated as man took his first walk on the moon. But maybe the most important view of all was seen by the astronauts from the spacecraft window as they looked at the Earth; there was no "US," no "Soviet Union," just a tiny, cloud-wrapped, blue-green marble, suspended in the vast blackness of space. The poet T.S. Eliot wrote, "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." 

In late July of 1919 a baby was born in England. This baby grew up to be scientist, James Lovelock, who worked for NASA, researching the possibility of life on Mars. Mars, like all the planets orbiting our sun, is a ball of debris that clumped up from a disk of dust cast off by our spinning young sun 5 billion years ago. But how does a ball of debris come to life? And how does it stay alive for billions of years? Lovelock introduced us to Gaia. Gaia, the ancient Greek name for this living, breathing blue-green planet who is your and my Mother Earth. T.S. Eliot: "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." 

In late July of 1985 my father died. He was so ravaged from fighting in the trenches during World War II that his unpredictable rages made my childhood a living hell. Terrified, I escaped from my body and took up residence in the space above our planet. From here, with the help of my astronomy books, I watched her spinning, orbiting and being orbited by our moon. The day my father died it was safe to return home to my body. At the age of 42, I began my journey back into a female, human earth-body whose genetic material is the living history of a clump of debris cast off by a star. The calcium in my bones, the iron in my blood, the oxygen in my lungs: all of these elements and more were forged in the cosmic furnaces that we call stars. How this star-stuff became living tissue capable of orgasms, giving birth and nursing babies is what I wonder about on this anniversary of my dad's death. T.S. Eliot: "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." 

Now, we're passing through this particular little neighborhood in our 600-million-mile orbital journey that we call late July. The anniversaries I celebrate at this time of year are a trinity: three different faces of this one little neighborhood. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a part of our yearly orbit that people call, "the dog days of summer." But... WHO is the dog? And what does he have to do with hot weather? 

The dog, as it turns out, is the Dog Star, in the constellation Canis Major, one of the few constellations that actually looks like its name: a Big Dog. This is the brightest star in the constellation - and it's the brightest star in all of our night sky. It's called Sirius, and it means "scorching." It's the namesake of Harry Potter's godfather, Sirius Black. And Sirius Black, as you may know, can manifest himself as a dog. 

Imagine our little planet orbiting the sun. Imagine our little planet surrounded by billions of other suns so far away that they appear to us as twinkling little stars. Some of these stars are blocked from our view because they're behind the sun. But they don't stay behind it because we don't stay still. As we orbit, certain stars pass behind the sun from our perspective, and certain other stars re-appear from behind the sun. Sirius is behind the sun in our summer. When it re-appears, it's visible very close to the sun very briefly before the sun rises. 

In ancient Egypt this Dog Star always re-appeared just before the annual flooding of the Nile, generated by rainstorms upstream. Without this flooding, Egypt's soil was dry and lacking in the nutrients to feed her people. So, the Dog Star's re-appearance gave people hope. Naturally, these Dog Days are hot because this is, after all, summer. But long ago folks didn't understand why summer is hot. They figured that the heat was because the Dog Star was so close to the sun, in cahoots with it, adding its scorching rays to the sun's heat: "the dog days of summer." 

Now we know that our earth is tilted. When our hemisphere is pointed toward the sun, we're bathed in its radiation: summertime. The sun is called Sol in Latin, and Sol is the heart of our solar system - it's the star of our show. Your heart and the area around it is called your solar plexus. And your solar plexus is like the sun that's inside you. It's the power that makes your heart beat, and it's the warm, sunny, heart-felt radiance that allows you to light up the world with your smile and shine like a star. This inner sun of yours knows something that's vital to your dignity, something that the sun up in the sky knows: I am not shining because the planets are out there applauding - or because they might applaud if I please them. I AM SHINING BECAUSE I AM A BALL OF FIRE. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a part of our yearly orbit where our ocean is warm and welcoming. We yearn to return to the sea... 

"Once upon a high tide - upon a very, very high tide, like the tides that we get with eclipses - our ancestors from the sea found themselves on an unplanned journey to land. There would be no return trip - no wave as high as this one for the rest of their lives." 

How our oceanic ancestors re-invented themselves into land creatures is a story too primordial to appear in our history books. But my body tells me it's not lost... 

I've been swimming in the ocean every week for over 20 years - swimming non-stop with my snorkel for an hour and a half. Staying in this long means that the me who leaves the water is not the me who entered it. No matter how big my problems are when I enter the water, they are never, ever problems when I emerge. To avoid sharks, I stay in the shallower waters, where I've discovered a workout that's inaccessible to most adults but is perfect for my 93-pound body that's only five-feet-tall. I navigate the narrow, twisting, treacherous channels between the coral reefs - treacherous because the ocean is in motion and coral cuts are painfully toxic. I wiggle my spine, flutter my arm-fins, rotate my wrists and work core muscles that my land-based self is totally unaware of. My body moves in ways that it does not and cannot move on land. As I break out of my land-based habits of moving, I become aware of dwelling in a body that has been fine-tuned by millions of years of evolution. 

Scientists have discovered that our legs, arms, necks, shoulders and wrists were formed - and functioning - in our fishy ancestors who ended up on land. Yes, the genetic blueprint for our legs, arms, necks, shoulders and wrists is millions of years old. 

So long as I remain on land, my body's aquatic history remains buried under layers of habitual, land-based ways of moving around. But when I'm in the ocean, experimenting with swimming among the corals, unturned pages of history begin to open up. I begin to read the primordial record that lives in my DNA. Yes, the lure of the sea is the lure of the ancient me. 

On land my problems feel like problems. In the sea, I access the genetic memory of our fishy ancestors re-inventing themselves in order to live on land. My body remembers that problems are how life invites us to evolve. And life is not going to stop evolving any more than our little blue-green planet is going to stop spinning and orbiting. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a part of our yearly orbit where you will find me belly-up under the stars. In mid-August the night sky seems to wake up, look around, notice that we're here, and bless us with showers of shooting stars. And I've been flat on my back under this Perseid meteor shower every year since I was a little kid. If I sit or stand, half of the sky is behind me. And I never, ever turn my back on the sky because I've learned that the more I open up to outer space, the more inner space there is for me to enjoy and explore. 

Once upon a time there was a big bang - a very, very big bang. All of a sudden, without any warning, everything exploded from nothing. The young universe began hurling itself out into space in a tantrum of creativity that's been going on for 13.8 billion years and shows no sign of ending. The Earth beneath our feet accumulated from an enormous disk of debris that was spun off by a star called the sun about 5 billion years ago. This accumulation of space debris that is our home planet continues to this day. On average, every two hours a hunk of cosmic debris the size of a softball lands someplace on Earth. Every day several tons of fine, powdery material rain down upon us. Our planet continues to form. 

How our Earth came to life, turned green, and gave rise to creatures like you and me is a mystery to our scientists. What we do know is that the iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones, the oxygen in our lungs and every other element in our bodies originated in outer space. 

Each year in mid-August we have a ring-side seat on the tantrum of creativity that is the cosmos. The meteor shower that we enjoy now looks like falling stars but is actually bits of space debris that are burning up as they rub against the film of atmosphere surrounding our Earth. This space debris comes from a comet that litters the mid-August part of our orbit on its journey around the sun. 

Even though I've seen more of these cosmic fireworks than I can count, and even though I understand the science behind them, I cannot help ooohhing and aaahhing. With each gasp of wonderment [sound of sucking in air], I suck oxygen into my lungs. Here the oxygen meets with my bloodstream and is transported to every cell in my body. As it burbles along from one cell to the next, it oxygenates them and renews them. 

While my breath is visiting my cells, it hears their history: "I am made of materials that originated in outer space." This song of my cells - this story of our cosmic origins - is whispered along on my breath until my breath leaves me [sound of exhaling/sighing]. Yes, outer space and inner space are the same space. And with each Perseid meteor shower, I am flat on my back in awe of this. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through the part of our yearly orbit where I think about sweat, salt - AND vampires. During these sweaty months we lose salt - which can be fatal. But blood, of course, is salty... [lip-licking sounds] 

Salt conducts electricity, and if you want to stay alive, your heart cells, muscle cells and nerve cells must send and receive electric signals. Without the right amount and kind of salt, your cells cannot take in water or nutrients, so you become dehydrated and malnourished, no matter how healthy your diet is. Also, your muscles cannot function, your blood pressure cannot be regulated and your brain becomes crazed. 

Fortunately, the seasonal rhythms of Earth and sky make salt more available now. Summer's heat evaporates the moisture in salt ponds, leaving a salt residue we can collect. Meanwhile, our planet goes through large, life-threatening climate swings that are difficult for our scientists to understand. But we do know that rising temperatures in medieval times melted glaciers, raised sea levels and flooded European salt flats, causing a salt famine there. Frightening accounts of blood-sucking vampires began - according to a European historian - with crazed, malnourished famine victims cutting the jugular veins of weaker ones, so desperate were they for salt. 

The saltiness in our blood is the saltiness of the sea, where our ancient, fishy ancestors lived. We survived on land because we kept a little ocean inside us. Our blood, sweat, tears and the fluid in our cells have a similar salinity, mineral content, and acid-alkaline ratio as the ocean where life began. 

Thanks to our salty electrolytes, we are walking electric fields, interacting with other electric fields, including the one that's in and around our planet. Lightning storms, volcanoes, hurricanes and earthquakes are electrically charged and driven. So are waterspouts, dust devils and the movements of the jet stream and El Nino. All the while, our planet's electric field is interacting with our sun's electric field. Charged particles blasting off our sun are blowing around us at a million miles per hour. This solar charge interacts with our magnetic poles, causing northern lights and southern lights. Storms from the sun have hit so hard that power grids and phone systems have been knocked out - and electric garage doors have gone up and down, up and down, up and down... all night long. 

As I sprinkle sea salt onto a juicy ear of August corn, I thank the salt for keeping my body electric. I also wonder about the electric signals in and around my body. I wonder about the exchange of signals between my electric field, our planet's electric field - and the electric field of the star that we're orbiting. I have no idea what the signals are saying, but I do know there is a cosmic conversation going on! 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through the part of our yearly orbit where baby hawksbill turtles are hatching from their eggs on Maui's beaches. When a female senses that her eggs are ready, she swims ashore, drags her pregnant body way up onto the sand, and deposits her eggs beyond the high tide line, to protect them from drowning. High and low tides are because of our moon - and the sight of our moon makes lovers want to make love... 

Imagine our oceans as an orchestra, with our moon as the conductor. Because our moon is SO close, her gravity tugs at our oceans, causing tides. Because she's orbiting us, she rises 50 minutes later each day, and high tide is 50 minutes later each day. The high tide at the full moon is extra high. 

In Australia's Great Barrier Reef coral sex happens five days after certain full moons. At this point in the lunar cycle the difference between low and high tides is minimal, so water flow is minimal. Eggs and sperms are released into the water, where they mix and mate, without being tossed about and separated by water currents. 

Here in Hawaii, coral sex is also well timed - and busy. Sponges, brittle stars, and marine worms often spawn at the same time. Myriads of tiny fish often gather around to eat the spawn. This attracts larger fish to dine on the little fish, until a whole food chain is joining in. The timing of all this depends on the lunar cycle. Different kinds of coral mate at different stages of the cycle, depending on their water-level and their water-circulation needs. 

Of course, female fish also release their eggs into the sea, where they are fertilized by males. Like so many ocean creatures, they have no need of genitals like ours because the sea is their mating service. 

Our lives on land are part of an experiment that started - and stayed - in the ocean for about two-and-a-half billion years. This life did not develop inside the wombs of any creatures, but in the womb of the sea. Here it soaked up nutritious fluids, while being rocked by the rhythm of the tides. 

You and I can only imagine what happened when the first ocean creatures found themselves on land. Charles Darwin had a theory about the creature who succeeded in adapting to this dry, hard place: She created a personal ocean inside her body - a womb of nutritious, amniotic fluid with its very own moon tides. A fetus in her safe, little sea could develop until it was ready to swim out onto land. Even today, a woman's fertility cycle is still synchronized with the lunar cycle. 

Yes, the sight of baby hawksbill turtles on our beaches now is strengthening my umbilical connection with this watery planet - and with the nurturing rhythm of our moon. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through the part of our yearly orbit where most people get a day off for Labor Day. But... I'm not one of them... I'm labor-free 365 days of the year... and all because of a demon. 

Once upon a time, I was possessed. But I didn't know it; I was much too busy climbing the ladder of my career, mapping out time lines for each and every step along the way. My vacations were even busier - crammed with activities proclaiming my gain in altitude. Then... suddenly, inexplicably, my career ladder collapsed. All my plans exploded in my face. Now... [groan of disgust]... there was nothing for me to focus on - but myself. 

What on Earth had made me think that success resides at the top of a long, straight career ladder? How had I forced myself to drive full-speed ahead, 24/7, on that long, straight, career-path to exhaustion? Why did I believe that time is a straight line when I know that a year is a circle around the sun? Why did I believe that time is a straight line when I know that a day is a spin of our planet around her axis? Why did I believe that time is a straight line when I know that a month is a "moonth" - the cycling of our moon around us? How did I ever forget that time is the cycles and rhythms of nature? 

2500 years ago a philosopher named Euclid proclaimed, "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line." His book of geometry sold more copies than any book except the Bible, until the 20th century. All of our science - until recently - was constructed on the foundation of Euclid's geometry. His belief that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points IS correct, but ONLY on a FLAT EARTH. 

[Gasp!] A light bulb turns on! Suddenly, I'm seeing a fatal flaw in my cultural conditioning ... a bug in the social program that my computer-brain was running. This bug went un-detected (and un-suspected) for 2500 years - because it was flattering. It was the long, straight, line-in-the-sand that I drew between me and my fellow creatures - the story line that I am superior to all of nature: "I alone am civilized." Now... I'm wondering: Isn't this man-made line the very same line that can appear on a hospital heart monitor? Isn't this the FLAT LINE of a heart that has stopped beating? 

Yes, I fell off the career ladder. I exited the expressway to exhaustion. I deleted the story-line about my "civilized" superiority. And now... I'm exploring the cycles of seeds, buds and blossoms. I'm exploring the rhythms of feeding and breeding that are generated by ocean tides. I'm riding the waves of natural time, so I'm getting more done with less labor. Best of all, the waves of natural time are taking me to places - and spaces - where man-made lines cannot go. Now... all my days are holidays from labor. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a point in our yearly orbit (a point called September 5) that deserves to be celebrated. On September 5, 1977, NASA launched the Voyager spacecraft. In 2003 Voyager got to the fringes of our solar system. Here it discovered something that, according to scientists, is NOT SUPPOSED TO BE! 

Voyager's primary mission was exploring Jupiter and Saturn. It learned that the largest volcano on one of Jupiter's moons is spewing sulfur debris as much as 30 times the height of Mt. Everest! (This volcano is called Pele, after our Hawaiian volcano goddess.) Voyager also learned that Saturn's ring system is so thin - and so wide - that it's proportional to a sheet of paper the size of San Francisco. 

On board the spacecraft is a plaque that NASA describes as, "a story ... to extraterrestrials." This story, on a phonograph record, includes diagrams of a naked human male and a naked human female, a greeting from President Carter, samples of 55 languages, music from all over our planet, and whale song. This plaque is like a message inside a bottle that we tossed into the cosmic ocean. 

In 1990 Voyager passed beyond the orbit of Pluto, 40 times farther from the Sun than we are. Here, NASA expected, it would begin passing through "empty space." But this expectation was shattered. As Voyager explored the edges of our solar system, it found something that's deeply disturbing to scientists - so deeply disturbing that in December, 2009 NASA made an announcement: "The solar system is passing through an interstellar cloud that physics says should not exist." 

Sol (the Latin name for our Sun) is radiating a plasma of electrically charged particles called the solar wind. It's blowing by us at a million miles an hour. Scientists assumed that the solar wind peters out at the edge of our solar system, where the vacuum of space begins. However... the void they expected to find out there... is ANYTHING BUT! Here are some words that scientists are using to describe the meeting between the solar wind and the SUPPOSED vacuum of space: "collided with" ... "slams into" ... "shock" ... "far more complicated than anyone thought" ... "similar to the sonic boom that occurs on Earth when an airplane breaks the sound barrier." 

Yes, the BIG NOTHING is actually QUITE SOMETHING! 

This humbling surprise reminds me of what happens when I'm confronted with a situation that's beyond my comprehension. If I surrender all my need to know - and I surrender all my need to look like I know - then it's not long before I get hit by a blast of insight that comes at me with the full force of a sonic boom. 

Happy birthday Voyager! You've sent us a message about the end of our solar system - and the end of a limiting story that we've been telling ourselves. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through a point in our yearly orbit where I celebrate the birthday of an astronaut who lost his mind - and came to his senses. Edgar Mitchell, born on the 17th of September 1930, walked on the moon when he was 41. On the way back home, while gazing out the window at the planet where he was born, Dr. Mitchell remembered something he learned at MIT: the molecules in our bodies were forged in the cosmic furnaces that we call stars. Suddenly, every molecule in his body was telling him he was heavenly. This, he says, "was an experience of bliss, of ecstasy." 

Ecstasy comes from the Greek word, "ex stasis." It means, "to stand outside of yourself." Dr. Mitchell, standing outside of everything that defined him as a scientist, wrote, "the story of ourselves as told by science ... was incomplete and likely flawed." The science that sent him all the way to the moon was useless to him in this critical moment. 

Fast forward to 2010. Edgar Mitchell's website reports that his ecstasy inspired him to create an organization that researches ways of knowing. This Institute for Noetic Sciences has 20,000 members worldwide. Mitchell is retired from its presidency, but he is still using science to help people stand outside of themselves. What he is saying, in a nutshell, is this: You do not end where your skin does - because you are made of atoms. Deep inside your atoms are sub-atomic particles - electrons, protons, neutrons, and so on. And they are connecting you with the whole cosmos. 

Here's the story: When two sub-atomic particles are joined and then separated, they continue behaving as if they're joined. When one particle changes its spin, the other does too, so that both keep spinning in opposite directions, as they did when they were joined. Initially, scientists figured that one particle must be sending a signal to the other. But they were wrong. No matter how far apart the particles go, they always change their spins SIMULTANEOUSLY. 

Deep down inside us - on the innermost, sub-atomic level of reality - distance does NOT mean separation. 

This discovery is widely regarded as the most important in the history of science because all of the subatomic particles in the universe were joined at the Big Bang - and are spread everywhere now, from the farthest star to your own body. Nothing is located just where its physical form is... If you exist anywhere, you exist everywhere... Your ability to know what's happening at a distance is not your 6th sense. It's your 1st sense. It's primary, it's primal. 

Happy birthday Edgar Mitchell! Thank you for re-assuring me that deep down inside I really am one with the whole cosmos. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet.  

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through the point in our yearly orbit (the point called the equinox) that many cultures celebrate as a holiday. In 1981 the United Nations established September 21 as the International Day of Peace. The UN is inviting all of us to create Peace Day events. The event that I'm creating is fueled by the spinning of our Earth - so the celebration never stops happening! 

Our Earth is tilted over at a 23.5 degree angle to the path of her annual journey around the sun. When our hemisphere is tilted toward the sun we experience the long days of summer. When our hemisphere is tilted away from the sun we experience the short days of winter. But now, at the equinox, day and night are equal all over our planet. Neither light nor dark dominates, and we enjoy a perfect balance of opposites. 

People who notice our ever-changing relationship with the sky have a term that describes this balance: "The sun is entering the sign of Libra, the Balance, the Scales of Justice." You can hear the word Libra in the word equilibrium. (Please do keep in mind that the sign of Libra is not the same thing as the constellation of that name. The constellations are groups of stars - and they're way, far out there. The signs are stages in our yearly journey around the sun, and each sign spans 30 degrees of the whole 360-degree orbit. Each sign is characterized by a specific ratio of light to dark. Since our lives depend on our changing relationship to the sun, we benefit greatly by being aware of this. We have a map of our journey. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through the point in our yearly orbit where our nights are longer than our days - and they'll remain longer until the spring equinox. So, we're spending more time in our planet's shadow than we are in our sun's light. This time of the long nights is, for me, the ideal opportunity to celebrate a little nocturnal creature who has recently brought scientists to their knees. 

Here's the back story: In 1899 the Commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents proclaimed, "Everything that can be invented has been invented." About the same time, Harvard's president, in a speech to incoming freshmen, advised them not to major in physics because there was so little left for physicists to discover. In England, physicist Lord Kelvin proclaimed there were only "two small clouds" on the horizon - only two little problems yet to be solved. Much to everyone's surprise, one of these "small clouds" led to the discovery of quantum physics - which turned physics on its ear. 

Physicists learned that if you go down, down, down inside the atoms that you and I and everything is made of, you arrive at the "sub - atomic realm." Here you meet up with impish little particles like electrons, quarks, muons and gluons. And these elfin entities can magically locate themselves in more than one place at a time! Now, as you may know, the movement of electrons is the flow of electricity. And a third of our national economy depends on products that owe their existence to our knowledge of this subatomic realm. Yet, our physicists still believe that subatomic weirdness is confined to the micro-world of subatomic particles and does not enter into our everyday reality. However, we have never found any boundary between the magical subatomic realm and everyday reality. 

All the while, geckos have been walking on ceilings without falling off. In the year 2000 these little lizards became the focus of researchers hoping to develop new adhesives. Researchers figured that gecko feet must be covered with a glue that could be synthesized in laboratories. But, as it turns out, they have no glue. If they did, they'd have dust, fuzz and other particles stuck onto them. No, gecko feet stay clean. The geckoes' secret to walking on ceilings is quantum physics. 

Physicists tell us there is "the strong nuclear force," and there is also "the weak nuclear force." The strong one is unimaginably powerful, but it acts only between distances so tiny that humans can barely measure them. As it turns out, tiny hairs on gecko toes are so microscopic that we can't see them. And the distance between these hairs is so tiny that the strong nuclear force comes into play. So, geckos are using the power of quantum physics to walk on walls, windows and ceilings! 

Thank you, gecko, for showing us that reality is utterly magical - and completely scientific. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet.   

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through the part of our yearly orbit where a lot of folks in our northern hemisphere have onions, carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, potatoes and other underground foods on their minds. Root crops survive falling temperatures longer than the leafy tops of plants because they are protected from snow, ice and frigid winds by the blanket of soil around them. 

Thinking roots means thinking cosmic. After all, we are NOT alone in our orbit around the sun. Throughout our yearly journey we are being orbited by our moon. And without our moon, life on Earth would be so blunt and brutal it would feel like death. Yes, our moon is doing us a profound favor. 

A month is a "moonth" - the time the moon takes to orbit us. Originally, our calendar months were actual moonths - back before our calendar was mangled by the men in charge. 

As you can imagine, our moon is a ball with one side that's sun-lit and one side that's not sun-lit. The side of it facing the sun is illuminated; the side facing away from the sun is dark. Sometimes it's in a position where it shows us none of its illuminated side - which means that we don't see it. Some of the time it shows us a sliver of its lit half. Some of the time it shows us a lot. And some of the time it shows us all of its sunny side. This is what we call the full moon, even though it's no more full than it ever is. 

Our moon distributes our sun's light, spreading it out over the course of a moonth, so that we are not receiving big blasts of daylight alternating with big blasts of darkness. Such harsh, de-stabilizing transitions never happen, thanks to our moon. And since all of life on the surface of our planet reaches toward the light, this is important. When the moon is full - or nearly full - and the night is bright, plants reach toward that extra light and grow leafy and full. When the moon is dark, plants direct their energy downward, and they develop roots. So, if you're growing beets for the roots instead of the tops, you plant your seeds during the dark of the moon. 

I think about roots in the fall because here at sea level on Maui fall is the only time of year when it's cool enough for me to plant beets - my favorite veggie - and be sure they're not going to wilt in the tropical sun. When I'm planting my beets during the dark of the moon, I'm not just digging holes and dropping seeds in the ground. I'm also appreciating the favor that our moon is doing for us. 

This favor was appreciated by our ancient Chinese ancestors, who called the moon yin because they saw that her cycle is the cycle of woman's womb. They called the sun yang for its radiant, thrusting heat. They also saw that at the dark of the moon yin and yang are joined, as seen from Earth, so this is time for planting the kinds of seeds that we want to have taking root in our personal lives. 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet. 

Pssst! You! Yeah, you... are a passenger on a planet... on a blue-green planet that's orbiting a golden star. And right now we are traveling through the part of our yearly orbit where many of the birds in our northern hemisphere are migrating to warmer homes. Long distance migrants travel 200 to 400 miles a day, and 90 per cent of migrating birds fly at airspeeds between 15 and 45 miles per hour. But how do they find their way? Many kinds of birds - and we don't yet know how many - navigate by the stars. 

Imagine our Earth looking like an olive with a toothpick in it. Just as the olive can spin around its toothpick, our Earth spins around its axis. Now imagine this Earth-olive surrounded by billions of stars. Some stars are shining on Earth's northern hemisphere, and some are shining on its southern hemisphere. But one star - and one only - is shining directly onto the top of the toothpick, directly onto our planet's north pole. This is the North Star - also known as the Pole Star and as Polaris. If you're looking for it, you'll want to know that it's not the brightest star in our sky. It's the 57th brightest. 

If you're standing at the North Pole, Earth's axis comes straight up through your feet, legs, spine and out the top of your head. So the North Star - since it's an extension of this axis - is located smack over the top of your head. If you leave the North Pole and travel south, you see the North Star getting lower in your sky. It keeps getting lower and lower as you continue southward - until you reach the equator. Here you see it on your northern horizon. As soon as you go even an inch south of the equator, you stop seeing Polaris because your view of it is blocked by the bulge of Earth's northern hemisphere. So, nobody south of the equator sees this star. 

If you're one degree north of the equator, you see Polaris one degree above your horizon. (You might want to remember that there are 360 degrees in the circle you could draw around our Earth.) If you're two degrees north of the equator, you see Polaris two degrees above your horizon, and so on up. Here on Maui we're 21 degrees north of the equator. New York, Chicago and Seattle are twice as far from the equator as we are - at 42 degrees north. So if you're in one of these cities looking for Polaris, you'll find it twice as high in your sky as we see it here. 

What migrating birds know about the sky is far, far beyond what we can explore here in a few minutes, so we've only begun to honor their intelligence and skill. Birds understand what our navigating Polynesians understood: if you want to find your way on this planet, you need the stars. Fortunately, you have more time to look at them now during this upcoming season of the long nights. And I hope you're enjoying the opportunity! 

This is Harriet Witt, your guide for this little ride on our passenger planet.