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“…to deal more kindly with one another…” A Big Picture perspective from the late Carl Sagan

Like everyone else, I have been feeling crushed and deeply dispirited by the dreadful events in France last Friday, and now Mali today. I’ve also been feeling the need to post something on my blog by way of response. Thanks to Robert Bruce over at 101 Books, I found a wonderful quote from the late scientist Carl Sagan which offers a large enough perspective to encompass the horrors currently happening across our beautiful planet.  It was inspired by an image of Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft on February 14, 1990 from a distance of more than 6 billion kilometres. In it, our Earth appears as a tiny dot against a background of  muted slanting bands of colour. I have taken the liberty here, though,  of illustrating the quotation with the most famous picture of the Earth ever taken:

Our beautiful planet

Our beautiful planet

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

I took some comfort from this wise statement. What do you think of what Sagan says here? Do you have favourite quotes to which you turn in dark times?


500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


Here is the latest post on Astrology: Questions and Answers:

‘If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’ An upbeat ‘take’ on Descent into the dark…

Having just returned from our annual visit to the misty, melancholy beauty of the Scottish Borders in late autumn, I am in reflective mood today. Despite the pattern of intermittent mildness and cold which has heralded the descent into winter over the last few years here, so that one never knows what to wear from one day to another, the autumn is losing its hold now. Light is fading, leaf fall nearing completion. In the vivid words of the poet Shelley ‘…the leaves dead Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing…’

Late leaf fall, by the River Tweed

Late leaf fall, by the River Tweed

photo: Anne Whitaker

The first of the early winter storms will soon be limbering up. How clearly I still recall childhood nights in Scotland’s Outer Isles, tucked up cosy in late November, whilst the wind did its best to tear the world apart outside my bedroom window. I loved that wildness – used to wonder what Power  lay behind it…

We need winter. We may not like it much, especially in the frequently wet, grey dreariness of the West of Scotland at this time of year! But we need it, and the darkness that goes with it. A long rest refreshes the earth, revitalises it; new life quietly germinates in the dark, bursting forth in the miraculous renewal of Spring.

We need the dark. Within the year’s natural cycle, the diurnal alternation of light and dark brings restful silence at night and the restorative power of sleep, without which all creatures including us would burn out and die before their time. We are in danger of forgetting this – at our peril – as an increasingly technology-driven culture sweeps the world, creating the illusion that we can live sustainably and healthily in defiance of the ancient rhythms set by the great cycles of nature.

So, this winter, let’s all try and be mindful of the deep wisdom of Nature which brings us this season of  Descent into the dark – the earth needs it, and so do we. I promise to try and remember my own advice, as I trudge miserably through frequent rain, wind, cold, and dark in the weeks and months ahead.

As that great poet Shelley optimistically observed in his Ode to the West WindIf Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’

Melrose Abbey: eerie autumn twilight

Melrose Abbey, Scottish Borders: eerie autumn twilight

photo: Anne Whitaker

400 words, and images, copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


Hallowe’en drama: all fall down!

This spooky story is set towards the end of  my restless twenties, a period where I earned my living as an adult education teacher. Here, I learn with my students that many an episode in this life of ours lacks a rational explanation….



Ever on the move, I had just given up a full time post as a college lecturer in scenic Wiltshire, England, UK,  to “be a writer”, returning to my native island to do so. However, living with my parents, a mutually unsatisfactory arrangement, was followed by my moving to a small Scottish town that autumn to live with a poet friend who had a creative writing fellowship at the local university. Sharing her house, I hoped, would provide an appropriate creative stimulus. It certainly provided more than a few hangovers!

With my usual facility for obtaining employment in those days, I soon had several part-time teaching jobs including a few hours a week teaching drama, having acquired such experience “on the hoof” in my last full-time job, officially teaching English to A level students. The new drama teacher had failed to turn up at the beginning of term, and my head of department assigned me the job thus:

“You seem the dramatic type, Anne. I’m sure you’d love a weekly Drama class….”

Back then, education was a much more laid back and less regulated pursuit than it is now!

Hallowe’en that year thus found me teaching a Thursday twilight drama class from 4.30 to 6.00 pm in Dundee College of Commerce, a fairly new brick and glass building situated on a hill with stunning views across the River Tay’s estuary. The drama studio was a great space to work in: a clear light empty area with polished wood floors and a couple of heavy, six or seven foot high wooden stage sets free standing at the back wall.

I was sitting in a circle on the floor on the opposite side of the studio, with a class of lively young women in their late teens – working with them was exhilarating and fun. Through the huge picture window we could see the city of Dundee spread out below us, the local river, the ‘silvery Tay’, catching late glimmers of waning light. Outside was a clear night with a hint of autumnal frost. Inside, the studio was quiet, warm and low lit.



It being Hallowe’en, I decided to set aside our usual programme, asking them if they would like to tell spooky stories instead. They enthusiastically agreed. I no longer recall what order we worked in, nor what the stories were. Most of the girls had a strange tale to tell, then it was over to me.

“Go on, Miss, tell us one of yours !”

I can no longer remember whether I told them one of the chilling stories  handed down by my mother from her side of the family, or whether it was one of my own experiences. But I do recall with vivid clarity what occurred next. At the climax of my creepy tale, both the stage sets fell forward, clattering onto the bare floor of the studio with a deafening crash…..

After we had recovered somewhat from our shock and fright, the students and I went over to examine the stage sets. With some difficulty, since they were heavy and hard to manoeuvre, we restored them to upright positions. They were perfectly stable. There was absolutely no reason why they should have fallen over, none at all. There had been no vibrations, or wind. It was not possible for someone to have come into the studio without our noticing. Had anyone been hiding in the studio and pushed the stage sets over, they could not have got out without being seen.

Subdued and silent, we left to go home in a tight little group, furtively glancing behind us until we reached the comfort of the well-lit streets. I would be willing to bet that none of those present with me that night have ever forgotten it!


Do you have a spooky story you’d like to share during this Hallowe’en week? Do leave as a comment – should the spirits move you…


To read more of my ‘weird’ experiences, check out my recently updated memoir “Wisps from the Dazzling Darkness : an open-minded take on paranormal experience” 


700 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

“I have known autumn too long”: e e cummings captures Autumn’s fleeting melancholy

Today, feeling drifty and pleasantly melancholic as befits the season, I went looking for an apt quote to accompany my two autumn pictures, taken earlier this week on a glorious, cooling, sunlit autumnal walk toward my office at the far edge of lovely Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow, Scotland, UK .Here is the quote, from one of my favourite poets, e.e.cummings, born, appropriately, on 14th October. For me, it strikes the right notes of simplicity, power and bleakness.

“A wind has blown the rain away and blown the sky away and all the leaves away, and the trees stand. I think, I too, have known autumn too long.”

e. e. cummings

Enjoy the photos! Feel free, also, to add a favourite autumnal quote of your own in the comments box, should the spirit of autumn move you to do so…

Sunlit Path

Sunlit Path

Leaf Fall

Leaf Fall

photos: Anne Whitaker


200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page




In the Spirit of Halloween: Ghosts and Shadow Men

Anne Whitaker:

Beverley Young is one of my favourite bloggers: her site is a ‘must’ for those of my readers who are interested in all matters beyond the ordinary. Here, as a warm-up ( or should I say a chill-down! ) for Hallowe’en, are some extremely spooky tales sent to Beverley by her readers. Enjoy the stories – and it would be great if you left me some of your own as comments.

Originally posted on Welcome to ghost talk blog:

Here in Canada the trees are on fire with red, gold and orange sprays of color. The days grow shorter and colder and the wind strips the leaves from their branches to prepare a patchwork quilt for mother earth. The mood is set for Halloween when ghosts and shadow men come out to play. In the spirit of Halloween, I have collected some of my favourite haunted tales, sent to me from readers, to share with you. Warning: don’t read these stories at bedtime or risk having nightmares!

halloween ghosts

From Rebecca

I live in what used to be an old pub that is approximately 600 years old so the house has seen a lot of things! When I was about 7, I used to sleep with my door open and would see the shadow of a man wearing a hat appear round the corner of my door. I used to ask the…

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Can you believe this writer? He does not write in coffee shops…

Anne Whitaker:

cartoon by Paul F Newman

Anne W and Friend write in a coffee shop

Cartoon by Paul F Newman

I’ve been following Robert’s writers’ blog for a while and would heartily recommend it to those of us fatally addicted to attempting to communicate via the spoken word. This grumpy but funny post about not writing in coffee shops ( can you believe it? This man does not like coffee! ) gave me a good giggle. Do you recognise your writing habits here? Do tell!!

Originally posted on 101 Books:

Confession: I’ve never written a single word in a coffee shop.

Confession number two: I don’t recall ever taking a laptop inside a coffee shop.

Confession number three: I hate coffee. Like, I loathe coffee. It smells like a combination of cigarettes and skunk.

That being the case, I’m a terrible candidate to be a novelist.

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