Our Pale Blue Dot – Up Close

From Our Pale Blue Dot - At Yosemite

A Photo From Our Pale Blue Dot – At Yosemite

Yosemite at moonrise.

I took this photo five years ago, when my good friend Greg and I were in Yosemite for a winter photoshoot.

John Muir, perhaps the most famous of our environmentalists, and Theodore Roosevelt, then President, stood on cliffs near here in 1903. Smithsonian gave me a photo of those two as a gift for a contribution we made a few years ago.

Roosevelt had asked Muir to travel with him on his three-day visit to Yosemite. Roosevelt wrote in his autobiography:

John Muir met me with a couple of packers and two mules to carry our tent, bedding, and food for a three days’ trip. The first night was clear, and we lay down in the darkening aisles of the great Sequoia grove. The majestic trunks, beautiful in color and in symmetry, rose round us like the pillars of a mightier cathedral than ever was conceived even by the fervor of the Middle Ages. Hermit thrushes sang beautifully in the evening, and again, with a burst of wonderful music, at dawn.

It wasn’t long after – and historians think, because of Muir’s persuasiveness on that trip – Roosevelt established Yosemite as a National Park.

But my focus that cold, winter evening was on outer space, not on Yosemite, the Cathedral in the Wild where I was standing. That night, there was to be a full moon. We waited on an overlook under a misty, deep blue sky as the sun set and the full moon rose slowly, majestically over two of America’s most famous mountains, El Capitan and Half Dome.

I remembered as kid asking my mom about those moon shadows. “It’s the man in the moon,” she said, and for many years I thought the shadows really were.

Of course, there was never a “man in the moon.”

But, there have been twelve men on the moon.

On February 4, 2016, Edgar Mitchell, one of those twelve men, died – one day before the 45th anniversary of his moon-journey as a member of Apollo 14. In 2014, I had been in touch with Dr. Mitchell’s office for his permission to include his thoughts in my book, Wonderlust, which he freely gave. I wrote:

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. Mitchell has written and 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 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. . . . All I can suggest to the mystic and the theologian is that our gods have been too small; they fill the universe.”

Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14. (Photo NASA)

Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14. (Photo NASA)

On that night in 2011, as I stood on the Pale Blue Dot we call our home and peered into the darkening sky at the rising moon, I could not see the valleys and mountains that Mitchell walked on and experienced up close, the creators of the shadows that shaped the man-in-the-moon I have known since childhood.

But I was awed by beauty and harmony – by a deep feeling of connectivity, of spirituality.

In February 1971, as Mitchell peered down at the Pale Blue Dot we call our home, from his vantage point he could not see the gritty details of the gigantic, plastic floating patch of trash we have created in the Pacific – an island larger than Texas. Nor could he visualize our growing deserts, shrinking forests, melting glaciers, rising seas, polluted cities, or the scars carved into our Earth from the wars and battles that have plagued us since the dawn of civilization.

But he was awed by beauty and harmony – by a deep feeling of connectivity, of spirituality.

I also included in that chapter of Wonderlust another quote from Mitchell, as Philosopher Thomas Berry reported in The Sacred Universe:

“ ‘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.’ ”

Except for his trip into space, Michell spent his life on our Pale Blue Dot. That’s where we too spend our life.

For some reason, too many of us don’t seem to grasp the awe, the connectivity and spirituality, that came to Mitchell when he saw our home from the moon, some 240,000 miles out in space. For some reason too many of us don’t seem to want to take very good care of our Earth, the only home we have. We pollute her skies and her waters. We overuse her forests and soils and other offerings, so precious for life itself; and, when it comes to sharing her resources, we refuse to be anything but tribal.

So, I wonder:

Do we have to travel 240,000 miles into space to conclude that all of life in the Cosmos is connected? That we have to take care of our Earth, the only home we have? That our tribes are all members of a global community, and that means sharing and caring and getting along?

Or can we figure it out from here?

Our Pale Blue Dot Up Close

Our Pale Blue Dot Up Close


We are One – Edgar Mitchell’s final message to us:

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After writing this blog, a friend sent me a link to the poem, “If the Earth Were Only a Few Feet in Diameter:”

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To learn more about Wonderlust, click on:

Wonderlust Cover

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4 years ago

Loved your moon shot. As you know, I am with you totally about the fact that the human race has to turn its focus on saving, not destroying the planet. We are great at the latter; we need to spend a lot more time on the former.


Rob Bayliss
4 years ago

Dick I wish you wrote a column every day! Always something to ponder… Best, Rob

Peter Schenk
4 years ago

Profound thoughts, awesome images!…