So I’m reading ‘Red Mars’ by Kim Stanley Robinson. I’ve always been a huge fan of Science fiction (particularly Hard SF and Dystopian) and after recently discovering the first Barsoom Trilogy by Edgar Rice Burroughs (How did I live to the age of 40 and completely miss this?!), I thought following it up with a modern Mars trilogy would be cool. What I’m loving about it most is that it is an exploration of terraforming – the greening of other worlds, and it has introduced me to a new word: Viriditas.
Viriditas is a term attributed to abbess Hildegard von Bingen, and generally means ‘lushness’ or ‘growth’. It is used in an ecological context and also a spiritual context, where that spiritual growth is connected to or inspired by nature. KSR uses it in both the spiritual context (‘that greening fructiparous power within, which knows that the wild world itself is holy‘) and also as the ‘greening’ of new worlds and the universe. It is also the emotional and scientific imperative to see that greening occur.
It occurs to me that viriditas is the feeling I get when surrounded by a lush forest; that thrill that I get in wild places; the sense of triumph I feel when I see nature taking hold in anthropogenic environments – the cracks in walls and bridges, the ivy reclaiming neglected buildings. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it ‘spiritual’, but certainly some kind of intrinsic connection with the wild and the ancient.
It is a bittersweet feeling knowing that everything we do on this earth will no doubt be eventually reclaimed and erased – and perhaps my mild obsession with post-apocalyptic fiction feeds this feeling, but part of me secretly wants the wild to win, feels that it is right and good that it should happen.
Of course if people aren’t here then I wouldn’t be able to spend my life wondering at bats, beetles, plants and bees. The answer is clearly to find a balance, a harmony, and who knows if humans will achieve it, but I hope so. I hope that one day life is like something from the dreams of Carl Sagan or Gene Roddenberry. For now, I will have to enjoy the world in my own way, with my quiet moments of Viriditas giving me hope. Whitman knew what I mean:
“Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me,
If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me.
We also ascend dazzling and tremendous as the sun,
We found our own O my soul in the calm and cool of the daybreak.“