Land - Symbol and Metaphor - Part 1 - The Ground in Nature


The Land is a symbol in Primary Scenes that helps to hold several aspects together.

Aesthetically, it is in the middle of the darkest blue of the Storm, and the lightest blue of the Sky. Beyond color, the symbol itself, is a multipart symbol, being comprised of the Ground, and the Mountain together.

Each aspect of the Land symbol, plays a key role in understanding our human experience.

Here in this piece, we will look into the Land symbol, from the perspective of the real examples in nature, that inspired it.

The Ground In Nature

In the grand scheme of everything we see and interact with on this planet, the ground, is quite possibly the most important, and least recognized. It is, quite literally, the foundation, for everything that we know that is not of the sea, the sky, or the celestial domains. Yet because it is the ground beneath our feet, we, both literally and figuratively, don’t see it. Here we take a look at the ground and its crucial roles in nature.

The Greatest Stage on Earth

When you think of a great play, or movie, or even a novel, they all play out in some setting somewhere. In many cases, it is the stage itself, that brings the motley crew of actors and characters and audience, into the same world.

In nature, the greatest stage on earth, is the earth itself. More specifically, the ground.

Normally, we think of the ground as being necessary but forgettable. This misses the mark by a long shot. Consider the remarkable dance of coming and going, living and dying, rushing and resting, that depends on the ground. Your perspective starts to change when you see all that is actually happening, courtesy of the greatest stage on earth, the lowly and forgettable, ground beneath our feet.

Launching Life

A seed drops to the ground, without anyone or anything noticing. A rain drop falls to the ground, without an ounce of ceremony. A beam of sunlight touches the ground, unseen and unheard. Then one day, sprout springs forth, from underneath the chocolate soil, and a butterfly lands nearby, to take a peek. A million years later that seed that nobody remembered or cared about, lead to a forest. That forest now buzzes with the ebb and flow of seasonal migrations, the give and take of hunter and prey food webs, the pump of nature’s heartbeat, the very cycle of life and death itself.

Though we may not remember the history of this planet, the ground remembers all.


It is ironic that the very part of the earth, that we think of as the place for the low and discarded things, the dirt, is also responsible for launching so much life.

Soil is much more complicated than it first appears. To the untrained eye, dirt is dirt, but it isn’t so. Soil actually has three phases of matter within it. There is a place of solid minerals and organic matter, and also a porous phase of gasses and water.

The soil is not completely static as you might think. This aspect of the ground, is dynamic in its own right, though it may look frozen from the top.

Soil is constantly interacting with everything that is on top of it, below it, and inside of it. Beavers create underground homes to shelter in. Ants build labyrinthine mazes in the ground, that would make Daedalus jealous, and put his maze for the Minotaur on the island of Crete, to shame. In truth, we should consider the ground to be less of a floor, and more like a subterranean city, that never sleeps.

Rest and Death

The soil may not rest or sleep, but the ground is home to rest, throughout much of the animal kingdom.

There is the temporary rest of sleep. Animals across the continents find unique ways to rest and recover on their own little patch of ground. Some sleep in groups like lion prides, mostly during the day. Some sleep standing up like cows. Others, like meerkats, sleep in large groups with as many as 40 sharing the same burrow, for heat and safety.

There is the longer rest of hibernation. Bears, squirrels, and many other animals, fatten up and gather supplies when it's warm, so they can rest through the winter, in their shelters, above or below ground.

Lastly, there is the longest rest, that of death. It is here in death that, paradoxically, the ground truly becomes alive. The same ground that was a launching pad for life, transforms from nursery to cemetery, in the blink of an eye. The job of the ground is never over, for just as soon as one form is buried, another springs forth, from the fertile soil, comprised of all who came before.

Where The Land Meets The Sea

Most of what we know on this earth is land, and most of the land we know is the ground beneath our homes, and cars, and schools etc. There is another part of the ground that is exceptional, a place where the land meets the sea.

The Shore

The shore is a special place . It is here, in this slushy area of transition, where the ground and the water get all mixed up.

While animals and even plants can trace their creation to some line of ancestry, the shore has no such lineage. The shore creates and destroys itself, in an endless cycle as if the Hindu gods Brahma and Shiva, took material form, as the waves and the rocks, to hash things out.

The further we walk towards the water, the less clear we are on what exactly is ground, and what is ocean.

The fine sand, and soft silt, that our feet sink into, are in a sense, where all of these intricate puzzle pieces of land, get their shapes from. It is the erosion over millions of years, at this boundary, where the land meets the sea, that borders for water and earth are negotiated. They are always in flux, and constantly being shifted. Occasionally, they are settled temporarily, but never truly finished, like a good conversation, or your average Boston construction project.

The Infinite Coastline

There is something very unexpected, that we can learn about nature, where the land meets the sea. It starts with a seemingly simple question, such as “How Long is the Coast of Britain?”. To most people, this would seem to be a straightforward question. Granted, it might take some work to survey the land, to take arial photographs, to check satellite images available in modern times etc. The point is, that when we think of the land, and the coast where the ground meets the sea, we intuitively imagine that whatever the distance of the coastline, it is certainly easy to define, given the proper resources. So, it may come as a shock to find that in 1967 when the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, wrote a paper asking “How Long is the Coast of Britain?”, he found that it was effectively infinite in length. So, how can that possibly be the case?

It turns out that the process of erosion, is naturally great for creating self similar roughness, across distance scales. The constant thrashing and wearing down of the land in some areas, while also depositing sediment that may become new land in other places, is a prime example of the creation of fractals in nature. Such a process, creates what Benoit Mandelbrot has often described as “roughness” that exists across scales.

In practice, this means something quite strange for measurement. If you try to measure the distance of a coastline using one length of ruler, but then try to measure it again using a smaller ruler, you would find that the coastline had seemingly increased in its distance. This is because every time you attempted to use a smaller ruler to “once and for all” get to the bottom of this issue, you would just find the same problem again. The “roughness” you are hoping to “get beneath” to do a clean measurement, just continues at smaller and smaller scales. As a result, there is no “ruler” you could ever hope to use, in practice, that would give you the definitive answer1.

We see examples of this “scale free” “self similarity”, in many places in nature. It just so happens that it was a question about the coast, where the land meets the sea, that this phenomenon grew into a topic all its own, known as fractal geometry.

Closing Thoughts

In this entry, we looked into the importance of the ground in nature. We saw that the humble ground is actually the greatest stage on earth. The place where much of nature’s drama, palsy’s itself out.

We looked at how the ground serves as a launching pad for life. How it can take a seed that no one would remember dropping, and turn it into a forest, that can’t be forgotten.

We came to understand that the dirt really isn’t so dirt simple after all. It contains multitudes, and has a life all its own.

We looked at examples of the ground as a universal rest bed. A place where the living can retire for the short night, and then when we eventually expire, the place that becomes our home, for the long night.

We explored the border regions where the land meets the sea. We found that this dance, between land and water, is ongoing and never finished.

Finally, we found a mind-blowing fact about the world, in a place we would least expect it. We found that the coats we seem to know so well, turn out to have a length, that we can never know in practice. It’s one of nature’s best magic tricks, that the ground hides more within itself than we could ever imagine. It just gets longer and longer, the closer we look.

Now that we know something about the ground in nature, we can consider it to be more of a dynamic stage, for the play of life, and less of a passive receptacle for refuse. See how this changes your perspective of the gravel paths, the backyards, the campus courtyards, and the muddy marshes, we trek though each day. The ground is there for every step you take, from your first step, to your final resting place.

  1. There is a technical solution to the coastline issue, though it is not practical by any means. Combining Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity, leads to the realization that there actually is a minimum distance, based on our current understanding. That distance is called the Planck length, and it is 10^-35 m^2. No measurement could be done to probe below this distance, because doing so would mean using a wave of such high frequency (QM), that the associated mass (GR) confined to such a small region, would create a black hole (GR).

    So if you could somehow measure the coast of Britain in Planck length units, you actually could, in theory, know how long it is once and for all. That said, you’re probably better off just bringing a book and a beer to the beach, and worrying about precisely measuring the coastline, some other time.