Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I am excited. We have landed that probe, or whatever it is, on Mars and it is digging into the surface to find out exactly what is going on there. Is there a huge layer of ice under the surface of Mars. If so, there is water. If there is water, perhaps that planet was inhabited at one time. Perhaps it is inhabited right now. If so, where are the people? What do they look like? How do they survive? Can we see them, hear them, feel them? The questions are endless.

The walk on the moon, the pictures of Mars....all reveal just a sand-like surface covered with rocks and rubble. Just think, if earth loses orbit and all fades in time, the brick from big buildings will turn to dust, the people disappear and fade, the bridges and roads turn to rubble; earth would be just exactly like Mars, a frozen tundra, far away from our sun, the sun that gives us warmth and life.

I think I missed my calling. I'll bet you feel the same way. I want to be a scientist and sit in a huge domed room with my telescope aimed at outer space, listening for those radio waves, waiting for that message from someone out there. Surely there is someone out there somewhere.

I read somewhere that it would take thirty years for a message to reach Earth from outer space. I have had that same experience when I tried to call the electric company and was placed on Hold. It may not have been thirty years before someone answered, but it felt like it. There is no Hell quite as agonizing as being left on Hold for an indeterminate time. Then, too, there is that sweet, cajoling voice that says, "Your call is important to us. Please do not hang up. We will be with you shortly." This is repeated every so often just to make you think there is human life at the electric company and that, if you wait long enough, it will reveal itself.

When you grow up as a poor person in a small town, you have no idea there is a world out there awaiting you. You sit in school and learn about the climate in Brazil and France, but you have no clue as to where these places are or what they have to do with a student sitting in a one-room schoolhouse. Poor people seldom travel, unless they are coming from the South to Michigan to get a job at the auto plants. In today's world, forget that. Now they leave Michigan to travel elsewhere to find jobs. The auto plant boom is over.

When poor people travel, it is always the same. Everything you own is packed in the trunk of the car, with leftovers tucked in the backseat in between the passengers. Food is packed for picnics on the side of the road. There's a jug of water and milk for the kids, warm as toast. Coats and other necessary items are strewn throughout the car. Frequently, half of those necessary items are tied to the top of the car.

This is way my family traveled from Southern Illinois to Michigan, kids packed like sardines in the back seat of the old car. They reached Detroit and I have no idea where everyone slept until they rented a house and Pop got a job in one of the factories. I was not born yet, so I missed this episode, but Mom described it to me in detail. In her mind, it was a horribly uncomfortable time in her life. Her problem was in controling her brood of children, not old enough yet to join Pop in the plants, running freely on the streets of Detroit. The girls could be kept within eyesight, but the boys were out of sight much of the time. Her life had always been on a farm, planting vegetables and milking cows. Suddenly, she was transported to a world of streetcars and street gangs. It was sheer misery for her.

She did not think Hubert and Bud, who were very young, would survive their new life. They ran the streets and she ran after them, holding a toddler in her arms. Other kids did not accept the "hicks" from the South too kindly. They put Hubert in a cardboard box and left him on the streetcar tracks. They beat up Bud, who tried to protect his brother. It was a daily struggle and Mom begged Pop to take her away from the city. He was not happy in the plants. He missed the fields. He missed the cows and the horses and the pigs. He didn't understand how people could live standing at an assembly line, spending the entire day putting parts on cars, tightening a bolt, or adjusting a wire. He and Mom were both miserable.

So, they began their exodus, finding a small rental piece of property, usually equipped with a shanty, no electricity, no plumbing, nothing but weeds and snakes and broken windows. In these crumbling places, Pop battled the weeds to plow new fields, bought a team to hitch to the plow, and a cow to give milk for the kids. Mom hacked a garden out of unyielding soil and planted her vegetables. Snakes were companions for the kids. They invaded the yard, the barn, the bedrooms. It was an austere existence, with little food, but at least they had vegetables and Pop finally bought a hog and raised it for meat on the table. Hilda said she had nightmares of a time during the Depression when there was only oatmeal to stave off the gnawing hunger, so when bacon and grease gravy reached the table, it was a feast, a bonanza.

They moved constantly and the kids kept growing. From one shanty farm to another, the Little Farm, the Big Farm, the Davisburg farm, the Kile Road farm, the Gingellville store, Pop's only venture into the capitalistic world and a dismal failure, and finally, the spot I will always call The Farm, because it played such a huge part in my childhood. I came along when they lived at the Big Farm and my life was a succession of moves until we settled in on The Farm and my world was encompassed by family and animals.

Sometimes, on summer nights, Sis, Charlie and I would sprawl on a blanket, enjoying the warmth of the night air, looking up at the stars. They twinkled and beamed in the dark sky, sometimes streaking through the darkness into oblivion. The Milky Way was a pillowy path of light stretching across the sky. We could locate the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper and what we thought was the North Star. We knew little about galaxies, the existence of other planets or the scientific names for them. There were few Science Fiction movies back then, few little green men coming down from Outer Space, no E.T.'s wanting to go home. We had to use our imaginations, envisioning a man in the moon, a moon made of green cheese, a distant, glowing, unreachable sphere sending a path of moonbeams to earth.

Children of today have a universe open to them, a slow expansion of the world, a giant step for mankind on the moon, a trip to Mars. If we finance it and if the curiosity for knowledge is great enough, the glories of space beckon today's children. It is mankind's remaining frontier, a mystery begging to be solved. As Carl Sagan said, it is good for us to realize that we are just one small nondescript galaxy in a universe filled with billions of them. We can't possibly explore them all, ever, but we can take it one step at a time.

Yes, I'm excited. I can envision a future when we may have a sister planet. Possibly, if Earth is threatened in some way, it could be used for the rescue of humanity. Who knows what scientific or medical discoveries are out there? Who knows the benefits or the dangers? Will the life we find be only deadly viruses lurking as they do to cause deadly diseases? Or will there be some actual people, some creation recognizable as human, waiting to greet us as we step from the intricate and expensive ships that would enable us to reach them? Would they be friendly? Or would we simply find another war to add to the ones we create here at home?

When I was a girl, spending the warm hours of the night on the blanket in the yard, slapping away mosquitoes, staring at the stars, I never thought the day would come when anything created by humans would reach them. Now they have. As a people, we have many accomplishments to brag about, but this may be Number One. We are exploring the Red Planet! We are trying to solve the mysteries of space. We are reaching out into the universe to touch the Hand of God, to discover a little bit more about this infinite creation we live in!