June 20, 2013. At Nordkapp [North Cape] 71°10’21″N, 25°47’40″E
The treeless bluff John and I were standing on was maybe 300 meters above sea level. There were only a few scattered snow drifts. After all, it was summer – even here, far above the Arctic Circle where the coast is warmed by the meandering currents of the Gulf Stream. Mother Nature had daubed some pastels on the sky from her paint palette; perfect for a balmy day.
We were at Nordkapp, at the top of Europe, on the Norwegian Island of Magerøya, about 1,300 miles from the North Pole. Nordkapp is where the Norwegian Sea, which is part of the Atlantic Ocean, meets the Barents Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean. We were there for a late morning brunch with plenty of additional time for exploration.
Sometimes when I wander after a good meal my mind wanders even further. June 20th was no exception.
Maybe it was the balmy day; maybe it was a little too much salmon and wine. Maybe it was the articles I had read as we were sailing. One was about the Mars One project – about people buying one-way tickets to Mars, and the others were about the Biosphere, the glass dome created on the Arizona desert, the failed project that sought to prove that humans could live in an enclosed environment on places like Mars, which has been revived as the University of Arizona’s Landscape Evolution Observatory.
Certainly, the balmy day and the food and wine and my memories of the artices were contributors – “teachings” from the Society of My Mind, as Marvin Minsky explains the workings of our brains.
But what really triggered my mental wanderings on June 20th was the black metal wire globe on the black metal tower standing near the edge of the Nordkapp cliff, silhouetted against Mother Nature’s pastel-painted sky.
As I photo’d, the mind-wandering began:
The black metal globe morphed into Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot,” our insignificant planet circling the Sun, an insignificant star in our Milky Way, an insignificant galaxy among the trillions of galaxies in our Universe, a not-so-special universe among trillions of universes in an endless sky.
My mind sauntered to the writings of Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell. Not long before our trip to Norway, I had read his book, The Way of the Explorer. Interviewed in 2008 for the American Chronicle about his experiences and his book, Mitchell said:
“Particularly, what the space experience has shown me was that when we understand that the matter in our bodies and in everything (all matter is created in the star system, the heavy matter created in the furnace of stars) we start to realize that that is the basis of our very existence. And when we start to realize we are interconnected in this way it helps you see things in a different way.
“We have to ask a question of how did we get here? What’s this universe all about? What’s our relationship to it? And humans have been asking that question forever. We still don’t have a final answer to what is this nature of the universe we live in and how did it come to be. And part of that involves the question of a deity. I think the answer is still to be found. …
“All I can suggest to the mystic and the theologian is that our gods have been too small; they fill the universe. And to the scientist all I can say is that the gods do exist; they are the eternal, connected, and aware, self-experienced by all intelligent beings.”
I have often wondered about our ancient prophets who spent their lives trying to make some sense out of life, our world and our destiny. I have wondered how the stories they told － the stories that their ancient scribes inked onto the pages of our sacred scriptures that became in the minds of many irrefutable stories － would have been told had they stood with Ed Mitchell on the moon, sharing his emotion, and his awe, as they gazed on the distant Pale Blue Dot we call our home.
Or if they had sailed around the world with Darwin on the Beagle and worked with him gathering specimens in the Galapagos. Or if they had climbed Mount Arafat with Galileo’s telescope in hand.
Or if they had seen the ancient cave paintings – the Neanderthal ochre paintings of seals adorning the Spanish Caves of Nerja some 40,000 years ago, or the Paleolithic paintings 10,000 years later of bison, lions, bears, hyenas and human hands, found in the caves of Chauvent-Pont-d’Arc in southern France.
Or if they had been guests in Switzerland, in the underground tunnels where scientists bombarded atoms at supersonic speeds searching for the Higgs Boson particle, a necessary cornerstone of life itself.
Or if they had had an opportunity to share thoughts with the likes of Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, Currie, Hubble, Schweitzer, deGrasse Tyson, or any of the countless other inquiring minds that have continued to knock on the doors of the mysteries those early prophets worked so hard to comprehend.
And so the wandering and the wondering go on.
A few days after writing this blog, I reread this passage in Thomas Berry’s The Sacred Universe:
“If for a while we lost the poetry of the universe, this significantly changed when the astronauts came home stunned by the immensity and beauty of what they had experienced. … A new poetic splendor suddenly appeared in their writings, a poetry that emerged from the Earth. Astronaut Edgar Mitchell tells us:
“Instead of an intellectual search, there was suddenly a very deep gut feeling that something was different. It occurred when looking at the Earth and seeing this blue-and-white planet floating there, and knowing it was orbiting the Sun, seeing that Sun, seeing it set in the background of the very deep black and velvety cosmos, seeing-rather, knowing for sure-that there was a purposefulness of flow, of energy, of time, of space in the cosmos-that it was beyond man’s rational ability to understand, that suddenly there was a non-rational way of understanding, that had been beyond my previous experience.”
Time Magazine asked Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson: “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe? This is his answer.