Clean Air for All

With the increase in air pollution, there are things you need to know to keep your air supply clean and refreshed.

| July/August 1999


“The air at 500 km is so thin that a molecule will travel an average of 30 km before it collides with another molecule.”  —Ray Roble, Senior Scientist High Altitude Observatory National Center for Atmospheric Research

“. . . this most excellent canopy, the air . . .”
—Shakespeare, Hamlet, II ii 317

Hail to the air apparent. Though ubiquitous, essential, this planet-­protecting blend of gases is notable for being defined by what it is not—a litany of negatives: tasteless, odorless, colorless. A pervasive nonentity. An oxymoron, is our air.

It wafts its way through our language as through our lives. We put on airs, cultivate an air of mystery, dis­appear into thin air. A braggart is full of hot air. Deliriously happy, we’re walking on air. We air ­grievances—and opinions.

We enter this world with an inhale that, some ­doctors theorize, burns all the way down, harsh as a shot of cheap whiskey. Our relationship to this invisible presence brackets our days on Earth: the breath of life, death’s last gasp. Breath is the silent heart of meditation practice, and in archaic times, the words “air” and “breath” were interchangeable, perhaps as they should be.

Still, air—still air—ranks as one of the four elements in traditional cosmologies, associated with spring, the heart, and bright colors. But if air in its static state has classical associations, it is air in motion—dramatic, even catastrophic in its force and unpredictability—that fires the cross-cultural ­imagination.

In Chinese antiquity, the wind, or feng, was revered as a bird god—and serves as the introduction to feng shui, an ancient practice for ordering the domestic world in reference to the natural. Mean­while, the ancient Greeks personified the winds by compass directions: Boreas, the bitter north wind, abducted an Athenian princess; Zephyrus, the mild west wind brought the young Psyche to Eros.

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