I remember the very first time I actually made that exclamation.
It was in Arizona, in the mid-1970s. At the time, I lived
in Prescott and whenever the trip from home was to southern California,
the route was to take Hwy 89 south out of Prescott and follow it down
till it hit Interstate which we'd take west across into California at
There's a spot on 89, still in the high country but with the road
heading down toward the low desert, near a little town called Yarnell
where there's a pullover for people to look out over the landscape
stretching out below. It's like a moonscape. It's like a
desert. It is an astonishingly beautiful and eerie glimpse into a
primeval record of planetary forces, a mysterious panorama worthy of a
Star Wars adventure for travelers or warriors mounted on strange beasts.
"What a planet!" I cried out looking over this vast panorama, shimmering in the twi-light.
My "What a planet!" moments are special to me, connected with some of
my deepest religious feelings. They are moments of being seered
with beauty. More fundamentally, they are moments of sudden
epiphany about where we live, which is also to say about from what we
arose, which is also to say about what we are.
One of these moments is conveyed in a piece presented here before, "The
Forest is Coming" (at click here
<blockquote> What was visible to me was that something powerful
was emerging from the earth""emerging not just in this burgeoning
spring, but over the ten years since we've moved here. It was as if my
mind were now able to play out a years-long time-elapsed film, and
could discern in that mental reel what it is that the earth is up to.
The earth here wants to create a great forest...</blockquote>
My exclamation at that time wasn't "What a planet!" but rather
"Wow!" But the meaning was the same. I saw the earth as
this living thing with its powerful determination to create life in the
forms that thrive most mightily in any given place.
Another such experience I recall from back in 1987, when my family and
I were traveling in New Mexico (long before we had any notion we'd ever
live there). Toward the end of our summer trip around the wild,
northern part of the state, my wife, April, and my two older children
(April's and my son would be born the following summer) were camping
overnight, in two little tents, along a canyon northeast of Santa Fe.
During the black of night, a thunderstorm struck. (Summer is
monsoon season in New Mexico.) Water flowing down the hillsides
soon saturated our sleeping bags, and many of the hours we'd expected
to spend sleeping we spent huddled, wet, in our car. But there
were a few moments that, for me at least, made it all worthwhile.
The flashes of lightening were dramatic, though not easily seen because
of the twisting canyon walls. But the thunder! I can recall
still --quite vividly-- the "What a planet!" sound that came with that
thunderstorm: this indeed was ROLLING THUNDER.
I've always loved thunder, but never have I heard thunder like
that. It was majestic, as could make one think thunder, as
peoples have, the voice of earth's creator. But, confined to the
canyon, the thunder was intimate as well, like the 1812 Overture played
in a room built for chamber music.
The great sound would begin further up the canyon, and then come
cascading down, taking the twists and turns and gathering strength like
a flashflood made of sound till it struck us full force and then
bounced off the canyon walls till it splashed on beyond us down into
the plain where it dissipated till the next cataclysmic clap.
This was a "What a planet!" moment accessible to the blind: oh
what a brave new world that makes such stirring music as this.