Friday, March 28, 2008


Due to a mysterious computer glitch I still don’t understand, I’ve been prevented from having my say here for a whole week. My intention had been to string together at least a few words every day and it’s been much more frustrating than I would have expected to be so thwarted. But, the planet seems to have continued in its orbit of the sun nevertheless.

On the subject of orbits, acting on a heads-up from the family astronomer the other night, we witnessed the transit overhead of the Jules Verne, an unmanned “automated transfer vehicle,” followed a few minutes later by the International Space Station. As I understand it, the two will orbit in sync until April 3rd when the Jules Verne is scheduled to dock with the Space Station and unload many tons of supplies.

The two vehicles moved so purposefully across the sky, their construction and operation far beyond my ability to comprehend, but their existence deeply pleasing to me. High enough above us that they flew in sunlight when all was dark here below, they shone like stars until they entered the Earth’s shadow and vanished from sight, one after the other.

Declining to contemplate any possible hostile uses for this technology, I prefer to look at the exploration of space as one of the clever things we humans have managed to do with our opposable thumbs. I’ve enjoyed such sightings since my first look at Sputnik crossing the night sky back in the 1950s. At the time it was simply astonishing to realize I was observing something designed and built here on earth; not a planet, not a meteor. I didn’t care who had put the thing up there, I was awed by the human achievement. And I still like the fact that Sputnik means “traveling companion”; a modest, non-technical name.

The delightful sky-watching experience of the other evening followed on the heels of a weekend gathering that had brought together a group of family and friends spanning four generations, from nearly nine months to 90-plus years. The composition of this group fluctuates somewhat from one occasion to the next, sometimes including more members of one branch of the extended family, sometimes more from the other. In this case the group included people we only see on such occasions, people we hadn't seen in years, and others we see almost every week.

This collection of people reminds me a little of a galaxy, if galaxies could alter their composition from time to time. Some of us are blood kin, some are related through marriage- our own, or someone else's. Some of us, like moons, circle a parental planet. Some of us have spawned moons of our own. We travel through our separate lives, in our separate orbits, sometimes intersecting, sometimes running parallel to each other. Most of the time we're not conscious of ourselves as a group at all. Yet from the right vantage point, say, someone observing us from another galaxy, perhaps our overall form would be evident in some other night sky.

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