Our thoughts are often fed by what book or books are currently in progress and it happens that, among other things, I am reading A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. Actually, my husband and I are reading it together, in that I'm reading it aloud as time permits...on car trips, sometimes before we go to sleep, whenever the spirit strikes. Our very own book on CD, live and in person! Neither one of us has a strong inclination toward the scientific mind, but we are both fascinated by the sciences, by ideas and how they come to be discovered. Ooops...off on a tangent. So, still at the beginning of the book, I've been thinking a lot about the macro (the unimaginably vast universe) and the micro (the unimaginable small universe). It seems to me that in order to talk about "the fleeting moment, the backward glance", it is necessary to place it in some sort of context and for me, the larger cosmos (the micro and the macro) is a way to talk about time and distance.
Whenever we look out at the night sky, it is the ultimate backward glance...we look back into a time and distance almost impossible to imagine. As Bill Bryson is fond of saying, the universe is just enormous. We look out at stars whose light has been travelling often millions and billions of years and only now appears to our gaze. And here's a another little bit of perspective about our very own tiny solar system swirling in space. Remember those school room charts that lined up the planets, their size and distance relationships, just so? Well I must have always known that nothing was quite so neat and tidy, but I wasn't quite ready for this kind of adjustment....that it is impossible really to depict the solar system to scale, even with a multitude of foldout pages, for if earth were reduced to the size of a pea, Jupiter would be a thousand feet away and Pluto a mile and half, but alas also the size of a bacterium and impossible to see. Proxima Centauri, our nearest star, would be nearly ten thousand miles away. Gulp. Enormous doesn't even come close.
And how about the impossible-to-comprehend tiny universe that makes up everything we experience with our senses...oh, including us...let's look at this little footnote from page 104. Avogadro's number, a basic unit of measure in chemistry, is the number of molecules found in 2.016 grams of hydrogen or any other equal volume of gas. It's quite the formula to write, but here's how Bill Bryson helps us to understand it's magnitude. How about the equivalent of the number of popcorn kernels needed to cover the United States to a depth of nine miles, or cupfuls of water in the Pacific Ocean, or soft drink cans that would cover the earth to a depth of 200 miles if stacked evenly. That number of American pennies would be enough to make each person on earth a dollar trillionaire. It's just so big...this is molecules...we won't even make it to subatomic particles before we short circuit!!!
So, where are we in all this vastness...or that tree, or the wilting flower in the vase, or the vase itself...what do we make of all that we experience in a lifetime? Are we not, for our brief moment, at the intersection of these vast worlds...everything we know and experience is made of the very stuff of the cosmos, fleeting and yet eternal, as the dance of light and energy continues indefinitely. A kind of loop, all one, the micro and the macro....I can't figure out how to describe it.
Here's how I make sense of it all...I make art that points to larger things. The night sky has long been a feature in my work and I incorporate it as a kind of pointer to that larger context, as if to say, "look up, look out, look back, it's all so much bigger than we can imagine!" Below is a piece from a few years ago, The Bundle. There is the "everyman" making his brief apprearance, leaving a trail of his own history in a scatttering of pearls. That bundle, tightly wound and bursting at the seams....what a very large gift....we must be careful how we unwrap it.
More to think about during the week, as we come to terms with The Fleeting Moment, The Backward Glance. I'd love to hear comments, ideas that come to your mind....this feature can be a collaborative venture! I look forward to hearing from you!
Enjoy the days....