Billie Silvey
An eclectic website about Women, Christianity, History, Culture
and the Arts--and anything else that comes to mind.
Earth and Water
Fire and Air
Learning from
January 2012
Throughout human history, people have tried to keep
chaos at bay by classifying the basic elements of life.  As in
so many areas, the Greeks were among the first to do it.

Aristotle identified four elements--earth, air, fire and
water--a list which eventually grew into the periodic table
of elements.  It was a way to impose order on a chaotic
world by stepping back from it and analyzing what it was
made of.

In the 18th century, the Swedish scientist
Linnaeus did it
with plants and animals.  Biology is based on his

Traditional education has been a system of learning these
classifications, ignoring the fact that the pioneers of the
fields started with nothing but their observations of the
world around them and their minds.

Writers do it with words.   If I can organize experience
and put it into words, I have grasped it, tamed it to an
extent, made it manageable.

Many of us do it with faith.  We trust the God who made
the world to be able to control the chaos that threatens to
overwhelm us.

In 2011, however, chaos seemed to break free of our
classifications.  Earth, air, fire and water exerted
themselves in ways that threatened to plunge the universe
back into chaos.

It began in March, with the
earthquake in Japan.  The
earthquake touched off a tsunami which swept away many
of the coastal structures and much of the population of
northeast Japan.  The tsunami led to a nuclear disaster as
water got into the power plant at Fukushima.

About that time, my husband Frank and I started watching
NHK world news in English from Tokyo.  We could see
the stunned faces of the newscasters as their individual
worlds were plunged into chaos.

The first of two continuing features, "
Nuclear Watch,"
concentrated on the facts and figures of the Fukushima
disaster, another way to cope with disaster by attempting
to quantify it.  The second, the "
Road Ahead,"
concentrated on people and searched for hopeful signs of

Gradually, as the year has progressed, we've watched as
the newscasters began to relax and smile more, even
though the news from Nuclear Watch still too often
includes the words "worse than expected."

Our favorite weathercaster, Saki Ochi, responded to the
threat of disaster and the need for hope in the future in a
way that women have responded since time immemorial.  
She's pregnant, a real sign of hope in an instable world.

Frank and I were both war babies, and my first pregnancy
began when he was home on leave during the Vietnam

To classify, organize and quantify is the response of certain
more scientifically-inclined minds to dealing with disaster.  
To tell stories, develop programs to involve others, look
ahead with hope and search for personal continuity is a
way of coping among the more literary.

This issue of the website will concentrate on natural
disasters around the world, with emphasis on
earth and
water, fire and air, and learning from disasters.

I hope you find it enjoyable and enlightening and will
respond by writing me at
Natural Disasters
Saki Ochi, weathercaster on NHK World news
Relationships among the four elements
The Greek philosopher Aristotle and his four elements