Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Fiddling on the roof

Our house in New England is boxed in on all sides by other houses; no views of the horizon. The cottage in Ireland has mountains to the east and west. Here on this skinny, low-lying island, sunrises and sunsets are defining moments of the day.
Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze
Of, course, lots of things rise and set besides the Sun. A whole universe rises and sets as the Earth turns on its axis. But it’s the Sun that keeps human time; or rather, humans keep Sun time.

It may have been Aristarchus who first imagined that it was the Earth spinning on its axis and not the universe turning around us, surely one of the biggest ideas of all time and one that ultimately severed our communications with the gods. I stand on the morning sunrise terrace or the evening sunset porch and try to feel myself whistling along in a circle at a thousand miles per hour, toward the Sun just there over the eastern horizon, or away from the Sun in the west. It's good practice, learning that the universe doesn't revolve around us.

I have a friend and colleague with whom I used to teach astronomy. We would sometimes meet with students in a dark, open part of the campus waiting for something or other -- the Moon, a planet, a comet –- to rise. Mike would stand on his tip-toes to point to the object, just there, over the horizon, as if those extra few inches would bring the object into view. He had the roundness of the spinning Earth fixed firmly in his head,

We all reflexively stood on tippy-toes too, following his lead, flying along in Aristarchus' space at supersonic speed, learning to become children of the universe.
Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears