Saturday, April 10, 2010

Channeling my inner David Bowman

Many, many years ago my roommate (FOS) and I took a road trip during Spring Break. Without planning exactly where we wanted to go, we set out in his Ford Mustang ensuring that we drove south out of Chicago. Eventually we made our way to Arkansas and stayed there for a day. (Aside: I played cricket for the first time after I came to the US at an impromptu pick-up game on a tennis court after midnight. I still remember how many runs I scored and I got out that day!)

From Arkansas we meandered back north, sidestepping Chicago, and moving into Wisconsin. We did not know anyone in Wisconsin to bunk with, so as a last resort we stopped off at the Harrington Beach State Park and rented a campsite (we were smart enough to pack a couple of tents before embarking on our road trip). The campsite had a mandatory lights-out policy after a certain time and FOS and I went for a walk towards the nearby beach after dark.

As we walked towards the water, I was admiring and talking about the view when I heard a soft thump. I turned around and found FOS on the ground, staring and pointing up at the sky. I looked up and I do not know when my knees went weak and when I fell to the ground. All I know is that I was lying on my back and looking up at a sky I had never seen before.

I had read and heard about the Milky Way Galaxy but had never seen it personally. That day in Wisconsin, for the first time in my life I got a good look at a sky that was filled with stars. That day the question of how unimportant us humans are in the cosmic scheme of things became starkly apparent. Since that night I have never wondered why our mythology is filled with references to stars and planets and ascribe many awe-inspiring stories to them.

The question of whether we are alone in the universe (you know what I mean) has got to have one of two answers. With so, so, so, so many other stars and planets out there, surely the earth cannot be the only one with sentient life forms? And if, on the other hand, we are the only planet in the entire universe with sentient life forms then all I can say is - what a waste.

Even today, when I take long drives out west beyond the artificial lights of the city I look skywards and am reminded of that glorious night sky from way back when. This is roughly what I saw that day (especially from the 0:50-0:55 mark).

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