Light and Heat.
At dawn, the world rises out of darkness, slowly sense-grain by grain, as if from sleep. Life becomes visible once again. ‘When it is dark, it seems to me as if I were dying and I can’t think anymore,” Claude Monet once lamented.”More light!” Goethe begged from his deathbed. Dawn is the wellspring of more light, the origin of our first to last days as we roll in space, over 6.684 billion of us in one global petri dish, shot through with sunlight, in our cells, in our minds, in myriad of metaphors for rebirth, in all the extensions to our senses that we create to enlighten our days and navigate our nights. – Diane Ackerman, Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day
Every day I sit with my coffee on my deck with my husband and my dogs.
Before I hit the ground writing, I sit and watch the light change. Most days there are sun but I also appreciate the gray. I could do this every day for the rest of my life. This ritual of light observing.
In the evening, we light candles. The last light I see is the flickering flame of our bedroom candle. I end my night with the same ritual – light observing.
Recently, I did a short chemistry block with one of my students. I begin any exploration into chemistry with fire. Why start with fire? Because it is the most active force that produces a chemical change. It has played a huge role in the history of chemistry.
For the first few lessons, we literally play with fire. We make fire, we burn things, and we also put fires out. And then we simply observe. We watch the slow burning stick and the fast burning roots of a plant. We are curious to see what happens to different types of minerals. We begin with questions: What are the elements of fire? For fire, we need a spark, material to burn, and oxygen.
Fire has two phenomena – heat and light. As Richard Feynman’s brilliant talk on fire explains: when we burn a piece of wood, we release the sun’s energy back. The light and heat of the fire originated in the sun. They return to their original states—to their beginnings – carbon dioxide and move upwards. The ash is a dead mineral that falls to the ground. We begin to make this connection between the heavens and the earth, the polarity of upward and downward.
(In later years, we look at fire more with the lens of the scientific – chemical changes expressed in the language of symbols, balancing equations because in a chemical transformation, no energy is gained or lost, simply transferred into another form. But for the early years of adolescence, we focus on the phenomena, and the intuitive and observable qualities of fire.)
We also talk about warmth. A candle has light but not much heat. The sun gives us both light and heat.. There are substances that are mineral-based that are combustible that give us a great flash of light with no heat (phosphorous which means “light-bearer”) or originate from the depths of the earth that give off heat without a bright light (sulphur which means “sun-bearer.”). What gives us warmth? Can we love the light without its warmth?
We talk and paint and sit with the questions that arise after just like the lingering smoke after a candle is extinguished.
- Copy a quote or poem on light or heat (see below or above)
- Draw/paint fire or light
- When have you felt the transformative power of fire? When has it been out of control?
It doesn’t interest me if there is one God
Or many gods.
I want to know if you belong — or feel abandoned;
If you know despair
Or can see it in others.
I want to know
If you are prepared to live in the world
With its harsh need to change you;
If you can look back with firm eyes
Saying “this is where I stand.”
I want to know if you know how to melt
Into that fierce heat of living
Falling toward the center of your longing.
I want to know if you are willing
To live day by day
With the consequence of love
And the bitter unwanted passion
Of your sure defeat.
I have been told
In that fierce embrace
Even the gods
Speak of God.
- David Whyte, Fire in the Earth