Not sure where to even begin. Well, a commercial company sent a crewed rocket into space with NASA's help. Kind of nice to see the idea of space travel revisted.
Still, not sure if humans are really responsible enough to look after another planet of any size or shape, they're not doing a terribly good job with the one they've got. It might be more uplifting if the motivations were a bit more lofty. Anyway, there's that.
But the debris of comet Thatcher (back our way in 2276) put on a light show in the form of the annual Lyrids Meteor shower. Pretty. We were in lockdown so didn't really get a good view.
We've always been fascinated with things in the night sky. We've told stories about the stars and the spirits who live there. We've written tales about the make-believe of possible worlds, epic deeds and wonderous adventures. Maybe we need to know we are not alone in the dark and that there is hope for a dawn. Maybe we do need to go back into space to be reminded how our small wonderous planet protects us from the vast cold dark of space.
The lights are pretty though.
Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash
I was thinking about blueberries this morning and how you wouldn’t get them in space. You can’t get them in a lot of places on Earth either but in space it would be very difficult. Or on Mars. For some reason people are thinking about living on Mars. Like they’ve just given up with all of the problems on Earth and they’ll just start over on another planet. But what if they can’t. What if they can’t leave behind the things that made life here on this planet a problem? Not just blueberries, but things in their hearts that nibble away at happiness and make a restlessness that doesn’t have a reason. On the other hand maybe a fresh start isn’t such a bad idea. At least that’s what Suschewalden’s only hairdresser, Mrs Bowsplint, put about as the reason for the town’s most enigmatic and eligible bachelor’s reason for moving to the hamlet.
Not a bad reason, not a specific reason, but precisely the sort of reason that made sense. Not that anyone bothered to argue while they were having their tresses coiffed. No one with any sense argues with a person wielding sharp scissors inches from your head. The subject of this perennially fresh discussion was Dee Hadrikson, short for the unknown correct full name of W.D. Hadrikson. Never mind that he seemed perfectly happy to continue his existence as sole police officer, and a few other offices, of the town. Never mind that he seemed content to unravel the sometimes prickly relations and situations of a small town where everyone, except the tourists, knew everyone else. Never mind that he received regular mail and packages from people also called Hadrikson – this she had on good authority from the shop keeper’s wife who also worked as post distributor. He was obviously lonely and needed someone special in his life, and Mrs Bowsplint was not a woman who gave up on people who needed her help.
So on this particular fine day as Officer Hadrikson offered practical advice and gentle commiserations to the tourists stranded in their little town due to an unfortunate incident involving a large fish and their windscreen, his quiet ordered life was about to be assaulted. As the annual Fish Fall came to an end, the final day was always marked by a dance and supper. Usually involving quite a few fish dishes. The clean-up would begin in earnest the next day with high pressure water hoses borrowed from the fire department. The entire town would smell of fish and lemon detergent for at least another week. However the affair was one of the highlights of the Suschewalden social calendar and everyone would be there. A prime hunting ground for singles of all ages.
But the only single person Mrs Bowsplint had in her sights was Dee. Her only problem was deciding who would be on her shortlist from the promising unattached young women of the town. She pondered her choices as she combed and snipped at her station which was strategically placed so she could view the entire street through the large plate glass window. Only part of her mind was on the professional patter she kept up with her customer. Although her mind sorted through the flow of words and filed away snippets for later perusal, rather like an algorithm prowling through the data flow streams picking out key words and images. The run-away dog that flashed past the window was instantly noted—collar, trailing leash, breed, coat colour, direction of flight and a dozen other details. Had a large law enforcement organisation known of Mrs Bowsplint’s talents they may have either been very concerned or offered her a job. However, today her talents for dog catching would not be required, as in hot pursuit was an attractive young lady in training gear.
In the few seconds it took for her to traverse the shop window, Mrs Bowsplint had noted her classic profile, her attire, hair colour, hair style and aerobic fitness. What she hadn’t been able to note was young woman's name or address - and Mrs Bowsplint knew everyone's name and address. There was someone new in town.
New people were always of interest to Mrs Bowsplint. Especially when they fit the criteria on her shortlists. She didn’t for a moment pause to consider that her fit dog-chaser might simply be a passing visitor or already be in a committed relationship. She trusted her instincts when it came to such things, and had a feeling a certain young woman would be needing a haircut soon. After all, everyone needed to feel fresh when they made a new start in a new place, where they hardly knew anyone.
On the last Friday of September, scientists crashed the brave sturdy little space craft called Rosetta into the surface of comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko thus ending its 12 years in space chasing this dusty ice ball as some journos called it. Kind of sad in a way, but they didn’t want to just land it and leave it to hibernate on the off chance they could reboot it when the comet came back next time. So as Matt Taylor of the European Space Agency was quoted as saying just before the impact, "It's like one of those 60s rock bands; we don't want to have a rubbish comeback tour. We'd rather go out now in true rock'n'roll style."
Still, there was 10 years of flying alone in the darkness of space chasing the dirt ball and then 2 short years of stalking it around our sun, lobbing the little satellite Philae onto its surface (poor little thing fell over and couldn’t get it’s solar panel to work so kind of starved to death). Maybe it was better to crash it and make sure it was dead, better than the lingering hopeless lonely death of the Mars Rovers. This must be one of the very few times when crashing is considered a great success – unless you’re running a crash dummy testing site. Space science seems very cruel somehow. What happens when the probes and rockets become sentient, will we still send them on suicide missions? You know, Petunia, humans are weird.
They are probably no weirder en masse than any of the people of little Suschewalden. Although on the first high tide after the summer equinox the curious event of fish fall is celebrated, if that is the right word. Fish Fall is an event that happened in historical Suschewalden when for no apparent scientific reason fish of all species and persuasions spontaneously committed mass suicide on the foreshores of the little town at the end of winter. Aside from being a notably smelly affair, it was a completely unexpected answer to the question of empty larders that had come to a head over the previous hard season. Henceforth, so folklore has it, the grateful citizens celebrated this event by throwing a bucket of fish on the town beach; a tradition continued to this day when hundreds of citizens with their buckets converge on the coves and beaches of Suschewalden. Generally to the delight of the town’s resident seagulls and dolphins, and the consternation of sunbathing tourists. Why the event is commemorated in mid-summer during the height of the tourist season, instead of say, at the beginning of the spring thaw for example, is a question only STOOP (Suschewalden Tourism and Other Opportunities Promotions Committee) could answer.
On this particular occasion the local police in the figure of Officer Hadrikson were in charge of firing the starter pistol to begin the festive fish throwing. He squinted into the sky and noted the presence of a very large flock of unidentifiable birds lazily circling high in the sky. The crowd shuffled expectantly behind him on the promenade, a clunk of buckets and the occasional murmur along the lines of “That’s a nice haddock” being the only sounds. The normal shush of the waves and happy chatter of holiday goers on the beach several metres below, wafted up to the crowd, only to be damped by the anticipatory silence. All eyes watched the town hall clock as its hands stiffly jolted towards the magical moment of 11.27am; the official start of Fish Fall.
The pistol shot startled the seagulls into flight and the tourists upright on their beach towels. The luckless ones were those who had chosen to sit close to the promenade’s high stone wall. They received the full bountiful blessing of the Suschewalden fishing fleet’s catch of the day; or previous day to be exact (and in the case of a few thrifty citizens the catch of some days past). Mrs Bowsplint, the town’s prominent hairdresser and keeper of knowledge, threw her bucket load over the chain which looped along the top of the wall. She was satisfied to see that she would be receiving a few clients this afternoon in her salon. The special shampoo and conditioner she kept on hand for just this occasion, which removed the oily residue of fish scale, was remarkably effective.
Tony Alboney of “A Pressing Hurry” drycleaning was also suitably content as he surveyed the astonished faces of the hapless tourists below. He waved cheerfully at those shouting from the water’s edge. This year he had cunningly attached his business cards to his fish so clients could find his laundry more easily. It was likely business would be good over the next few days as Fish Fall ran the customary three days, and the local college students took to their traditional light-hearted shenanigans of spontaneous fish fall pranks. He also pretended to not see the daggers Mrs Bowsflint shot him when she spied one of the card-carrying fish on the beach below. She never liked someone stealing a march on her, even if they weren’t in the same business. He mentally reviewed his security system and reminded himself to triple lock the doors on the drying rooms and pick-up area. It had taken him weeks to pick out all the cooked fish from his dryers last time.
What an unattractive name. May I call you Petunia?
Since I am expected to speak to you on a regular basis I thought it should be on a first name basis.
This week was the 39th anniversary of the “Wow” signal – that anomalous signal from somewhere near Sagittarius (maybe) picked up by the Big Ear radio telescope during the SETI program and named after Jerry Ehman’s hand written exclamation in the margin of the printout. In 2012 on the 35th anniversary we apparently sent a 3 minute burst of 10,000 tweets into the region of space we think the signal came from. Although we only ever heard the “Wow” once it is still the best evidence of a signal from aliens.
I think it’s good to reflect on things bigger than ourselves from time to time.
I think of you, Petunia, a little like the “Wow” – I don’t expect you to call back, but I know you are out there, somewhere.
I also think Frans Holtsmeyer who owns the flower shop on Mains Street is a little like you, from the flower perspective, and I have it on good authority that he owns a telescope. Not that I am insinuating that owning a telescope should in any way make him any more extraordinary than anyone else here in Suschewalden. Of course no one else owns a telescope. Or lives on a cliff-side house with a widow’s walk that overlooks the gorge. Or spends his nights on the walk with that huge telescope fixed up at the sky. But everyone should have a hobby, it keeps them out of mischief. I think he’s looking for comets. Well, one comet in particular. I do hope he doesn’t find it.
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Tea-drinker, writer and editor. Ecologist, environmental scientist, futurist and student of irony.