Monday, December 01, 2008

That animal eye

These late fall days my walk to college takes me directly into the rising Sun. I wondered this morning -- if I kept walking at the same leisurely pace, how long would it take me to get to the Sun? That's easy. I can do it in my head. About 5000 years. That is to say, if I had started walking -- without ceasing -- at the time the Sumerians invented cuneiform writing on clay tablets, I'd just now be getting to my destination.

Who would have thunk it 5000 years ago, that the Sun -- that god, that consoling presence, fructifier, lamb-begetter, anointer of kings -- was so big, so distant? There it is, bubbling up on the horizon, tangled in the branches of the trees, "that strange flower," Wallace Stevens called it, "that tuft of jungle feathers, that animal eye."

If you have not previously visited the website of the TRACE satellite, you might have a go, still images and movies. Here is a flare on the limb of the Sun. The Earth would be a pea on the dinner plate of this great loop of blazing gas. And it's only 160 billion steps away.