WASHBURN – The words chiseled in the rock on the edge of Lake Superior are still there: “Nature = God.”
Washburn native Tom Blake carved his creed into the rock more than 57 years ago. He etched his name, “T. Blake” and the year “1964” below the line, a summation of a religious/scientific notion that’s iconic among people who are Tom Blake fans. It’s a narrow segment of society, but the people who love Blake and his ideas, love him.
Blake believed that God was part of everything, woven into the atoms that make up people, animals, the earth, water and air. He did not worship nature as such, but instead used his philosophy as a way to enhance or illuminate Christian and other religious teachings.
Raised Catholic, Blake formed his philosophy, he said, as he “searched for the true meaning and intent of Christ’s words and doctrine.”
If he were young today, and versed in social media, he probably would be a top-earning influencer. As it was, he influenced a lot of people, and he wasn’t even trying.
By the time he carved “God = Nature” along the shore just north of Washburn, he had already been a rail-riding hobo, an elite long-distance swimmer, a champion surfer, an actor/stuntman in Hollywood movies and an inventor who created several ground-breaking innovations that changed water sports. Among those inventions, a hollow, lighter surfboard, a waterproof camera designed for surfing shots, and a sailboard.
His athletic feats elevate him as a historic figure on their own. But his ideas that blended religion, philosophy and science lift him almost into a cult status.
Most of the people who admire Blake are hardcore surfers who understand the history of the sport. Even though Blake was a writer and open with his friends and other interested people about his philosophy, he never was much for self-promotion. So it takes some research to parse out who he was and what he was about.
Blake was 62 when he carved the words into the shoreline. The surfing days were largely behind him, but he kept both his mind and body healthy and on the move. And a lot of his thoughts focused on his free-ranging philosophy that blended nature, religion and science.
He wrote a lot about “God = Nature,” as he grew older, first in a forward to a book he authored, “Hawaiian Surfriding,” that came out in 1961, then later in an article he penned titled “Voice of the Wave” in 1968 and finally a short book, “Voice of the Atom,” that he started writing in the 1970s and continued to work on until his death at age 92 in 1994, according his biographers Gary Lynch and Malcolm Gault-Williams, co-authors of “Tom Blake: The Uncommon Journey of a Pioneer Waterman.”
‘God is part of everything’
Lynch and Gault-Williams published “Voice of the Atom” in their Blake biography, and in it, Blake wrote about his “Nature = God” carving.
“I wanted to leave some kind of record of my thoughts,” Blake wrote. “I saw myself getting old and dying with a secret I felt should be shared. So in a lonely, but beautiful gorge, a place I had known since childhood. I carved on an outcropping of solid sandstone, facing the bay….”
The “Voice of the Atom” is an unorthodox piece of writing; in the preface Blake called it “rather disjointed.” In it, Blake writes in the first person about a chance encounter with Anthony, an itinerant Christian monk. The work describes their conversation, but essentially it describes Blake explaining his nature is God theory to Anthony.
“The authority and information in the story was patiently gleaned from seventy-eight years of life on earth,” Blake wrote, as well as study of thinkers and scientists from throughout history. Those included Jesus Christ and the writers of the New Testament, Aristotle, Galileo and Albert Einstein.
He never graduated from high school, but it’s clear Blake continued his education on his own. His nephew, also named Tom Blake of Plymouth, Minnesota, believed that it’s likely he spent a lot of time reading and studying, probably in public libraries and museums.
Blake’s philosophy was influenced by the scientific advancements and development that led to the Atomic Age, most significantly Einstein.
“Science has proven that each atom, with its mass and energy system, is a complete unit of nature, with all the divine attributes, sustaining power and intelligence found in all substance, in all things,” Blake wrote.
Looking through that lens, Blake concluded, that “the voice of the atom tells us God is part of everything, everything, part of one God; one universal nature.”
‘What is morality?’
Blake did his best to live in a way that reflected the connection of everything to the divine.
“And what is morality? To me it is a way of life that hurts no living creature, person or ourselves, with compulsive cause,” he said.
He acknowledged that life can be steeped in evil and tragedy stemming from natural disasters and disease.
Evil results when human beings make errors or willfully live in a way that breaks nature’s laws, Blake believed. And natural disasters such as disease, earthquakes and storms are confirmation of the “uncertainty factor in all things.”
Loss shaped his own life. His mother died of tuberculosis when Blake was still a baby. His father could not care for him at the time, so he was raised by relatives in Washburn.
And disease once again struck when he was a teen: His high school shut down in 1919 when the Spansih flu epidemic swept through the world. When that happened, he left Washburn and started a wandering life that took him to New York, Florida, California and Hawaii.
Blake was a lifelong vegetarian, and worked to stay fit and healthy after his surfing and swimming days were over. He rode a bicycle, jogged and walked to keep active.
“We must settle for what harmony we have and enjoy, and consider the magnificent potential of body, mind, and thought. For heaven on earth is a state of consciousness,” he wrote. “Nature has given us an organized energy, or will; a limited control, for a limited time, to enjoy the wonders of it all.”
Contact Keith Uhlig at 715-845-0651 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at @UhligK on Twitter and Instagram or on Facebook.
This article originally appeared on Wausau Daily Herald: Nature = God was surfing innovator Tom Blake’s lifelong philosophy