We may not hear it but it's evident among the drifts of dried and fallen leaves. It's readily apparent in the icy sheets forming and flowing along the local rivers. Its signature is also inked in the purple skies of early winter. This dynamic yet enigmatic essence I'm describing is nothing less than the ever beating pulse found in the world around us. Call it the rhythm of nature.
While musicians of all stripes immerse themselves intimately in the tempo of their work, nature does the same thing only on the very grandest of scales, one large enough to encompass the entire planet actually.
Like a colossal symphony, the natural world employs uncountable "instruments" of all fashions, each with its own cadence. Magically these elements meld together in an ancient rhythmic concert which never ends. And it's been putting forth this beat for millennia.
The shorter pieces are more easily witnessed. Take the seas for instance. Twice daily high tides are experienced by the oceans, a result of the earth's proximity to a certain orbiting body we call the moon. Also daily, our sun breaches the eastern horizon to cast its warming energy upon a dark and cool earth starting an almost perfect 24-hour rhythm yet again.
Some music plays a little longer and thus requires longer observation. The same moon mentioned above phases like a metronome through a 28-day rhythm. In a never-ending show of cosmic regularity, it repeats and repeats and repeats just as it has done since well before Galileo observed it doing so.
Even wider gaps exist between certain pulses. We are currently less than a month away from the longest night in the Northern Hemisphere. At about 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 21 the earth will have completed a 365-day trip around the sun, begun at the winter solstice last December.
In the larger sense, of course, even these rhythms are short. Take the population cycle of ruffed grouse, that's follows a ten-year ebb and flow. Sunspot activity roughly follows an 11-year cycle. Some species of insects called cicadas undergo a very defined, very predictable 17-year cycle. Halley's Comet, last seen on earth with the naked eye in 1986, should be visible yet again around 2061, the result of a 75-to-76-year cycle.
Still longer rhythms exist, like climate. Less than 10,000 years ago - a blink of an eye geologically - the Red River Valley was covered by a glacier. It had happened many times prior and likely will again one day in the distant future.
A walk through West Fargo's Armour Park last Sunday reflected fairly on the current pulse of the season. Gone was the crescendo pace of summer where every plant is putting forth leaves and nearly every living organism is reproducing. The tempo of this place is now entirely changed. The prestissimo (very, very fast) of high summer has been replaced by the largo (very slowly) of early winter.
Just skeletal tree branches remain where impenetrable thickets of green leaves were present this summer. Dragonflies, which frenetically patrolled the grassy areas, are gone. The air which carried the moist enchanting perfumery of summer fragrances now is cold and dry with hints of distant burning wood stoves. The chorus of morning birdsong which greeted summer visitors to Armour Park has fallen nearly silent as only the chatter of a gray squirrel interrupts the silence.
I'm no musician but my son Nolan possesses a certain aptitude for it. He's got an ear for pitch, skills with a few instruments and a keen feel for rhythm. Unlike the beat of modern music, however, the rhythm of nature is not the beating of a drum or some other percussive instrument. No, it isn't heard, it is felt and it is sensed. Despite the relative slowness of nature's current seasonal cadence, it will continue to beat long after we are gone.