Humboldt County, California
The planet hung silently in space. A tiny jewel in the blackness, it was a half-lit marble of greens and browns and blues and whites. But it was more than a planet, it was a life-bearing droplet, a little oasis of life journeying in infinite patience in its timeless passage around the sun. Soft moonlight from its single silvery satellite played upon the planet’s face, creeping across continents and oceans as the world revolved in its glow.
From the moment of its birth the planet was in constant motion. It orbited its sun in a never-ending ellipse, and it spun on its axis unceasingly. Beneath its surface tectonic forces pushed and pulled, shaping the planet’s larger features. Forces on the surface and above it carved and polished the land. Rivers wore the terrain down and carried it in their flows to the oceans, and the oceans themselves sloshed to the rhythm of the moon, their waves and tides nibbling at the edges of the land. The atmosphere roiled continuously overhead and further smoothed the planet’s features in its persistent caress.
Continents drifted, mountains rose and fell, glaciers came and went, each process shaping the land dramatically. But life on the planet was oblivious. Life is short, and the pace of change was long, and life lived on unaware and unconcerned, shaped through the eons by the very forces it could not see.
One night my brother Seth and I stood in the moonlight on the continent’s edge, two small ephemeral life forms contemplating the planet we call home. The Moon’s silvery orb hung in the sky, bathing the western edge of the North American continent in moonlight where it met the great Pacific Ocean. Rocks mingled with the waves, vainly resisting the erosive forces tearing them down. Yet they seemed permanent fixtures.
We could not see the shape of the coastline changing before our eyes, but we knew it was. The waves crashed against rock and beach unceasingly, one after another, and still we saw no changes. A lifetime of observation would mostly note only minor changes to the shoreline or landscape. But a lifetime is merely a spark next to the long life of the Earth; what chance have I to glimpse any of these great processes except as a single snapshot?
Up the coast from us, across the ocean waves smoothed by the long exposure of the camera’s patient eye, sparkled the little town of Trinidad. For as long as I can remember it has been there, and it will no doubt be there long after I’m gone. Yet it, too, will be gone in the blink of Earth’s eye. Or will our civilization last until the end? No, we are too fragile and tiny to be thinking in those terms. Humanity will die off before Earth does; Earth has billions of years left in her. Perhaps if we tread lightly we will prolong our stay, and so will last longer than we otherwise would have.
Jeni Sue Wilburn says
Hi Dave. My name is Jeni Sue and the NC Journal published my letter to the editor about this photo. We have never spoken, so Thad erroneously published a note saying you had talked to me and that I realized you were referencing the star near the top of the photo. Looking at this photo now online I clearly see Polaris, and I’m glad I looked, as this photo is really so much nicer than its version in the Journal. It was misleading in the Journal, and I didn’t really like the misquote. Maybe you talked to someone else about it, but it wasn’t me.
However, I loved the piece about how tiny our human race really is in the grand scheme, and I love the photo as seen here. I truly can’t make out polaris in the journal, though…so that’s why it seemed misleading.
Hey I just talked to Thad and he explained how you had talked to someone else, etc. He said he was publishing a clarification next week.
Anyway, no worries…it’s hard to get the full impact of your photos in newsprint, and as I said, I’m happy to see the real photo here online.
Hi, Jeni Sue, thank you very much for reaching out. I think I had a part in the confusion, and I apologize. Another reader had written to me about Arcturus, too, and how travelers could be thrown off by 30% degrees or so looking for Polaris (to paraphrase), which still makes me smile. We corresponded and got the sky sorted out. Then when the Journal told me of your letter the other day, I carelessly thought that it must have come from the other reader, and I told them I’d sorted it out with the person. But it wasn’t you! I’m sorry about that and causing the misquote of you, which was really the other reader.
You know, I didn’t realize the piece was in the physical copy of the North Coast Journal that week until I read your message mentioning newsprint; typically the stories go up online at northcoastjournal.com . I wonder if Polaris might have been cropped out in the print edition, but I missed it. I do try to catch the Journal, though!
I have updated the annotated version to more clearly label the celestial objects in the sky.
Thanks for your message.
Diana Martin-Gotcher says
Beautiful work, David! Your articles are very interesting, as well your photography.
Thank you very much, Diana! I appreciate it.