Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sense Memory

Between 1976 and 1986 I spent my summers as a camp counselor in the Colorado Rockies. Every morning I woke up to the music of KVOD out of Denver, which back then was one of the few remaining commercial classical stations. Every morning they signed on with Rapsodia Romana (op.2) by George Enescu. To this day I can’t hear this music without remembering those cool summer mornings in the mountains and the sunrise lighting up the valley below the camp.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Life in the Post-R.V. Era

Garrison Keillor reflects on what life will be like when Winnebagos go the way of the covered wagon.

So we will need to amuse ourselves in new ways. I predict that banjo sales will pick up. The screened porch will come back in style. And the art of storytelling will burgeon along with it. Stories are common currency in life but only to people on foot. Nobody ever told a story to a clerk at a drive-up window, but you can walk up to the lady at the check-out counter and make small talk and she might tell you, as a woman told me the other day as she rang up my groceries, that she had gotten a puppy that day to replace the old dog who had to be put down a month ago, and right there was a little exchange of humanity. Her willingness to tell me that made her real to me. People who aren’t real to each other are dangerous to each other. Stories give us the simple empathy that is the basis of the Golden Rule, which is the basis of civilized society.

So when gas passes $5 and heads for $8 and $10, we will learn to sit in dim light with our loved ones and talk about hunting and fishing adventures, about war and romance and times of consummate foolishness when we threw caution to the wind and flung ourselves over the Cliffs of Desire and did not land on the Sharp Rocks of Regret.

Some of my fondest summer memories were just sitting on the back porch watching the lightning bugs dance through the deepening twilight, with nothing but the sounds of the crickets, the cicadas, and Ernie Harwell on the radio calling the Detroit Tigers game.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Reord of Voyager

Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the launch of Voyager 1.

Thirty years ago today, the Voyager 1 space probe — a one-ton robotic craft whose long antennas make it look rather like a spider the size of a school bus — was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on a mission to reconnoiter Jupiter and Saturn. To succeed, Voyager would have to survive five years in the vacuum of space, where it would encounter cosmic rays, solar flares, the hurtling rocks and sand of the asteroid belt, and Jupiter’s intense radiation bands.

The probe did all that, transmitting back reams of scientific data and memorable color photos: of the sputtering red and yellow volcanoes of Jupiter’s moon Io; of the shimmering blue ice that shrouds Io’s fellow satellite Europa, beneath which a liquid ocean is suspected to dwell; of Saturn’s myriad rings and the murky mysteries of its orange satellite, Titan, whose hazy atmosphere is thought to approximate that of the early Earth.

Having accomplished its mission, Voyager 1 might have quietly retired. Instead it remains active to this day, faithfully calling home from nearly 10 billion miles away — so great a distance that its radio signals, traveling at the speed of light, take more than 14 hours to reach Earth. From Voyager’s perch, the Sun is just another star, south of Rigel in the constellation Orion, and the Sun’s planets have faded to invisibility.

Like its twin, Voyager 2 — which dallied behind to examine the outer planets Uranus and Neptune and is departing the solar system on another trajectory — Voyager 1 is approaching the edge of the solar system. That limit is defined by a teardrop-shaped bubble called the heliosphere, where the solar wind (particles blown off the Sun’s outer atmosphere) comes to a halt.

If all continues to go well, Voyager should pierce the heliosphere’s outer skin by around 2015. It will then depart into the void of interstellar space, where it is destined to wander among the stars forever.

Mindful of this mind-boggling fact, the astronomers Carl Sagan and Frank Drake persuaded NASA to attach a gold-plated phonograph record to each of the Voyager spacecraft.

Containing photographs, natural sounds of Earth and 90 minutes of music from all over our world, the record was intended to preserve something of human culture beyond what an intelligent extraterrestrial, encountering the craft at some far-distant time and place, might infer from the spacecraft itself.

The information etched into the grooves of the Voyager record is expected to last at least one billion years. That’s a long time: A billion years ago, life on Earth was first venturing forth from the seas.

As for the Golden Record itself, it may be the only thing left of our civilization for anyone else to find. The inscription on it reads, “This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours.”

Right now I’d settle for making it to January 2009.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Has It Really Been Ten Years?

It’s hard to believe that ten years have past since my friend Brian first came to visit me and my ex in Albuquerque. We went for a balloon ride in one of the city’s trademark hot-air balloons, he got his first taste of real New Mexico food, played with Sam, and watched the amazing sunsets over the West Mesa.

Albuquerque sunset

We hung out in the back yard and talked about him moving out there, which he did a couple of years later…only to have me move to Florida a year after that.

But still…an entire decade. That’s hard to believe.

Oh, yeah; something else happened that weekend.