Thursday, June 08, 2006

laika

For a long time people did not know what was in the sky. They looked up and saw blue or night or clouds. There was the land. And water, oceans, the ground. For them, the ground went on forever. This was the universe, land and sky.

Then very recently, some people fashioned glass and metal together into a simple tube and squinted through them and were amazed by what they saw. A simple thing called a telescope shattered this reality of land and sky and flung wide a vast horizon. There were huge planets, swirls of galaxies, glowing curling clouds that could swallow the land like one might swallow a fly, great clusters of stars, all kinds of shit; even the sun in turned out was strange, and complicated.

The people got excited and built bigger and bigger tubes, and up in the sky the night just kept going on and on and on. They kept looking for the end, the wall, and it just kept getting bigger.

Gradually, it dawned on us that the universe was in fact actually unimaginably more beautiful and grander than the wisest and best of our tiny conceptions, our biggest dreams.

Some say that this realization - of the real amazingness of the universe, is fairly unimportant. Our souls are more important, our hearts. Its not essential to know how big Jupiter is, or to know of the existence of galaxies in order to discover Truth, or God, or Enlightenment. And its not. I admire the Australian Aborigines for never having made any innovations past stone age technology. They barely wore clothes and werent even interested in pottery. They sailed no seas and looked through no telescopes. They knew that the universe is just as big no matter where you go. This is pretty smart.

But all this realization really is is humbly beautiful. This universe is not worried whether we acknowledge its existence or not. Its significance is in the moment of pause, when you say,

"there's so much of everything"

This can be a hard thing to say and mean. It sounds childishly sentimental, and people are terrified of acting like the little kids they are pretending not to be. We need to look serious and pragmatic. We are caught up in wars all the time, you see. Little, private wars; big, raging wars; spiritual emotional wars. We don't know how to say it.

So humans found all this So Much, and of course our little species began to make fumbling efforts to explore this Much Bigger Than Supposed more and more; because we are curious beings, because we are restless, because we always want more than what we have. We look at our siblings, plant and animal, and say we humans discover the universe, we humans explore the universe. We are proud to be so enterprising among the earth.

Then again, the first earthling to fly above the earth, the first being to cross into space, was not a human, but a dog.





Her name was Laika and she was a mutt found in the streets of Moscow. The people took her and fed her. They put her into a rocket, strapped her into a special padded seat, to see how a living being close to human would respond to G-forces, and weightlessness and etcetera. They did not plan for any way for Laika to return to Earth safely. Laika trusted the people and let them put her in the chair, although she was very nervous about the smells, and the hums, and the rumbles.

It would have been too complicated and expensive to bring Laika back. She died in mid-orbit about five hours into the flight, probably frightened and wondering when the people would get her out of the scary thing. She must have yalped a lot.

So the Christopher Columbus of space, of the greatest ocean to cross in all human history, was not Neil Armstrong or Yuri Gagarin, but a dog named Laika. No human's life was going to be risked to be the first.

A dog is a dog.

One of the things I learned being in awe of the stars and the natural world as a whole - is that our (human) distinctions are pathetic. We say one person is better than another, we say we are better than others. We split hairs and say we are dividing worlds, but when I look into the eyes of a dog it is not much different than looking into the eyes of a human. I see life and emotion and questioning unconscious innocence in the eyes of dogs, I see the little world of its own, just as a person.

If humanity comes to understand one day far in the future that each thing is of us, and we of them, perhaps Laika will be a hero of ours, one of our protagonists, sad and great.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

alberta

graffiti on the side of railcars in Olds on a Friday afternoon in spring, clouds like herds of slow-moving, fat cow turtles. "Ash" "THC" "Velonto"; names crossing the country, haunted identities where are they now? Oil and whatever; industrial works (complex and difficult to fashion) forcing their way through nature to make the colossal machinery of civilization possible.

in the dairy queen bathroom, a little kid taking a pee next to me, I think, how big and mythical must i seem to him, what children have to teach me? i dont know, i'd like to go around interviewing them and ask. but i thought of mysteriousness and the importantness of individual meetings when i was a kid, how everything is neverbeforeencountered because of the holiness of new days. Maybe as we get older we must get used to things, and the days and the confusions, tensions, etc. just pile up until you're someone else, survival and time do not gently harbor stopping and going back over yourself and pausing at your ease. yet i see people have fun and wonder in spite of all that, they do it gracefully and nobly everyday. here i am near the rocky mountains.

nice to meet you Alberta.