Small blue thing

21 07 2015

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NASA/DSCOVER satellite

I’ve always said that, if given the chance, I’d jump to hitch a ride on the space shuttle. To go into space!—how could I not?

(Presuming, that is, that I were physically capable of doing so. And that the trip lasted days rather than months: I can control my claustrophobia 0nly so long.)

But while I certainly would want to peer out, to see what I couldn’t see from the ground, I’d bet that I’d probably spend even more time gazing on our small blue world.

You know that old T-Bone Burnett tune, Humans from Earth? It’s actually a nasty little tune about otherworldly colonization, but that title has always stuck with me: this is where we started, as humans, and this is where we live, as humans. We might someday figure out how to be human outside of low Earth orbit, but everything about us, thus far, is grounded in experience living on this astonishing spinning ball of rock and water.

I didn’t always feel this way about Earth, tended to take it for granted. But at some point in my studies of genetics (and with a nudge from Ms. Arendt) I began to take seriously that we were worldly creatures, in the sense that we are shaped by our conditions, the most basic of which is that we are born, live, and  die on this planet.

There’s a scene from a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Defector”, in which said defector, a Romulan, is taken to the holodeck in order to “visit” his home planet. At first he delights in the sights, but then he rejects the illusion: this was not home.

Earth is home, to me. I understand, as someone who left her hometown and home state, that where one is from does not have to dictate where one goes; thus, I begrudge no one who might want to make a one-way trip to Mars, or beyond.

One constant of humans from the very beginning of us is that some of stay, and some of us go. So, by all means, some of us should go.

I’ll be waving from the ground.

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All things weird and wonderful, 20

12 03 2012

Afar depression hot spring; photo by George Steinmetz/Nat Geo Photo of the Day

Fifteen or so years ago L. and her friend S. motored over from Wisconsin to pick up me and my friend J. on the way to Wyoming and the Tetons.

Our first day’s drive we made it to Devils Tower (bad name, cool feature) and celebrated by breaking out a six-pack on our way to the campsite. We toured the base the following morning, crabby on instant coffee, then broke camp and hied on over to Yellowstone.

Yellowstone is a massive park full of curious and foolish people. (An example: You are given brochures at the entrance to the park warning you to stay away from the bison. They are as large as a small Honda and can go as fast, one of them said. And probably something about them not being pets. So what do curious and foolish people do? Instead of using their telephoto lens, they crawl under or over the fence to approach the bison.)

(Another example: we decided to pass a  slow-moving RV on one of the few stretches of straight road. There were cars from the other direction heading for us. Our car was a small and old Honda without much pick-up. Nonetheless, we floored it, with all of us leaning forward screaming GoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGooooooooooo! in an effort to give the little sedan a little oomph and scoot in front of the RV before we smashed into the oncoming cars.)

(No curiosity; just foolishness.)

Anyway, there’s a lot that’s cliched about Yellowstone and yeah, Old Faithful is cool and all but, y’know, the effect can be replicated by a machine.

What would be far harder to replicate, however, would be the sulfur pits (or, more accurately, the Artist Paint Pots). It looked like something out of a sci-fi flick or a recreation of what the earth might have looked like a million years ago. There was a crack in the planet and its history poured forth into the present.

Standing there, amidst the stench and steam and mud bubbles popping, I knew how small I was, how small this life was, and what a gift it was to witness the vastness of time stretched across the universe, catching us all up within it.

These hot springs, emerging out of the Afar depression gashed across east Africa, took me back to that moment, caught me back up in the yawn of time.

Make sure to read the story, by Virginia Morell, and click through the rest of Steinmetz’s photos.

Astonishing.





Perspective

3 01 2012

 

Coudal Partners, “History of the Earth in 24 Hours”, via The Daily Dish