Who uses it: Earth scientists
What it means: The theory that the planet itself is a self-regulating organism, and that climate changes and seismic activity are the earth's own efforts at correcting damage or improving its condition.
How you can use it: To discuss natural disasters.
Some weak form of the Gaia hypothesis is hard to argue with; for example, we now know that forests need periodic fires in order to regenerate and restore the balance of species. The strong form of the Gaia hypothesis -- the idea that the planet has some form of consciousness -- is a little too wacky for me, but forms the basis of many animist religions.
Either way, it's hard to look at this year's string of natural disasters without wondering what the planet might be trying to tell us.
I got a lucky break in the weather yesterday, as I drove from Montreal through Vermont, New Hampshire and western Maine, back to Gardiner. The leaves were gorgeous, and the views were dazzling.
Lots of my neighbors have decorated for Halloween, replacing the natural adornment of spring and summer flowers with pumpkins, scarecrows, toy ghosts and fake cobwebs. The fake cobwebs seem unnecessary, because the real spiders have been so active; I had one the size of a dime hanging out by my kitchen door for almost a week, until the rain washed her away. Spiders don't bother me, as long as they stay outside.
The change of seasons feels intense and mysterious in New England, as the fall reveals things hidden by the growth of summer, and the winter lays everything bare. It's a time and place for ghost stories.