It’s all about perspective; every great (or even good) artist knows that. Art educates. Education is the sending; the learning happens in the receiving: the re-schematization of received information.
Here’s an example of perspective: seeing Michael Collins, one of three members of the Apollo 11 crew, 45 years after his pioneering moon-landing mission, now an elderly gentleman wearing a t-shirt reading “Get your ass to Mars.” The whole image puts everything into a kind of perspective:
That life is short and people age. That those bitten by the space colonization bug never give up on their dream. The image says it all. This is the Art for me; the education.
Collins never set foot on the moon, but instead piloted the Command Module while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin each spent around 2-1/2 hours on the lunar surface, collecting moon rocks and leaving oversized space-shoe footprints on the eerie powdery surface. I recall seeing the images as a 9-year-old on my family’s black and white television set. They seemed surreal. It was surreal that these men were on the moon to begin with, and even more surreal that through the miracle of video, these images, almost 300,000 miles away, came to us with only a few seconds’ delay. I remember the slightly asynchronous communication between the ground controllers and the astronauts. I also remember President Richard Nixon congratulating them from Earth for their achievement. I heard this on the radio. I later learned that Collins stayed the Command Module, a kind of orbiting taxi driver, waiting patiently for his fellow space travelers to finish exploring, before shuttling them back to earth.
I’ve been doing research on the Apollo 11 mission, having seen this picture. Collins designed the mission logo: a bald eagle with an olive branch in its talons, hovering over the surface of the moon. I like the significance of the olive branch. It signifies that our spirit of endeavor and exploration can best be served when we work together, as is demonstrated in the cooperative venture of the International Space Station, and the multi-nation partnerships into which NASA is entering in order to continue its engagement with the Great Beyond.
“I’m getting old,” I moaned to my 19 year-old daughter, attempting to share my state of self-pity and disillusionment, as part of a larger existential malaise. “Well, you’re not dead yet,” she said, with trenchant insight.
You know, looking at things from the perspective that you’re about to die really gives you clarity about what’s important. And then, when you realize that a lot of people really are close to death, and possibly really depressed about it, you realize that your moping and dejection are really foundationless. You look up at the sky, take in a deep breath, and realize, “Yes! There is so much more I can do!!” There is time to chase my rainbow, to right (at least some of) my wrongs, to move forward into joy and meaning.
I have been looking for my career to be my inspiration and my solace. When I lost my job, it seemed like my life was over. A part of it is. The social interactions I had every day are gone. I am nagged daily by the “need to make money,” that ugly little mosquito that constantly threatens a malarial bite. Its uglier big cousin, the “Need to Define Yourself by Your Job” is lurking even more menacingly, just out of visual range; a true vampire waiting for the nightfall of my self-esteem.
It’s time to turn on the lights, stand up, and tell the Boogey Man to go away. My daughter is right. I’m not dead at all, dammit, and I’m going to continue my quest to be enlightened and to do good. Maybe I’m not sure how, yet, but I have confidence that my path will come apparent.
This thought liberated my mind enough for some global reflection on society for the past 75 years or so:
It’s all about communication. Letterpress newspapers and telegrams have given way to e-magazines, tweets and text messages. Google Glass is showing us that you no longer need a keyboard to look up a person’s data; you just need to literally look up at the person, and a stream of their personal data appears. Other interfaces soon to be invented will allow our thoughts to control devices and communications, making any 3-dimensional media obsolete.
I’ve always been wary of Facebook and its seeming disregard for any shred of privacy we once thought we had as individuals. More insidiously, the web crawlers and cookies that are scattered everywhere we tread (like the breadcrumbs Hansel and Gretel used to find their way home) track our every move, and seemingly even our thought patterns. I don’t have a Facebook account, but I know that every keystroke I make imprints another portion of my identity into the eternal “cloud.”
You know, I need to take a moment to demystify the cloud. Calling is a “cloud” gives it greater cachet and significance than it deserves. The “cloud” is just a collection of remote data servers, basically hard drives, located outside your computer or device. It does not share the heavens with the Almighty, but lives in scattered, sometimes isolated rooms, in buildings here on earth, fed by long, steel and fiber-optic cables buried underground and under the ocean. It is simply a system of remote data storage, and nothing more. Big deal.
Now back to my mistrust of Facebook. Young people don’t seem to share my paranoia.
The hate of the 1940s caused society in many countries to close itself off and compartmentalize, as a means of survival. Hiding from Nazis and other fascists, extreme circumspection, a lack of sharing of any kind of personal information, were frequently the only defenses against annihilation.
If you look at all of humanity as a huge, collective being, maybe World War II can be viewed as a period of disease in our collective body, brought on by self-doubt (the need to blame someone else for economic and other woes), resulting in self-injury (the brutal targeting and massacre of specified groups), and the consequent need to seal off the wound in order to recover (lack of communication and ultimately the Cold War). Sealing off from other people assured survival. Or at least it seemed so to millions of shell-shocked individuals.
Maybe the Millennium is finding out that being closed off to other people is not the answer.
Maybe we’ve learned something from that. Maybe it’s that by reaching out to others as part of ourselves, we are affirming ourselves and assuring our mutual survival. It seems that the most prosperous human beings are socially adept and enjoy working with a range of other individuals; sometimes to achieve a common goal, sometimes just to catch up, empathize, or exchange stories. This is what makes social media—a vehicle for connecting with large groups of individuals—so attractive.
The impulse to continue to fight and “win” (currently exhibited by more than one aggressive group on the planet) is really an inconvenient anomaly, like an illness, or a virus, and the rest of the collective “patient” (humanity) needs to be patient and optimistic while the disease runs its course. Can you imagine if your liver declared war on your stomach? Or if your hands decided that your feet were an inferior race, and rallied the rest of your body to eliminate them? How far along would you be then?
Glad I could put everything into perspective. What do you think?
“Whales have been here forever. Their flesh has fed the people and been the occasion for celebration and feasting. Their bones have been made into tools and objects of status and ceremonial importance. The sighting of a whale still thrills all who see it.
May it always be so!”
Cultural Resources Director
Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians
“We made them endangered. Now we must discover their needs and change our behavior to assure their survival.”
OSU Whale Biologist
I took a spontaneous solo trip up the California & Oregon coasts, all the way to the Olympic National Forest in Washington state, making inland ventures to visit friends, family, and natural phenomena. But that was more than 20 years ago. My recollections of Newport were hazy at best. They didn’t include the Oregon Coast Aquarium (which opened one year later), nor the touristy fisherman’s wharf area. I remember natural seascapes with real working towns and real fishermen in little buildings behind mounds of oyster shells. Things have obviously grown up a bit since then. For all of its 10,000 inhabitants, this seaside community really holds its own, maintaining charm, natural beauty, and culture. There is something for everyone here, from family style tourist to hard-core naturalist to artsy bohemian to yuppie culture vulture.
While I used to grab a pair of shoes and a backpack and just go when I wanted to travel, I now have a family where things must be planned in advance. So for this trip to the Oregon coast, we checked the tour books, researched the websites, and booked our hotels and activities. One thing I was glad to have reserved was seats on the Marine Discovery Tours boat in Newport. It’s an educational vessel that goes on tours to see marine life: specifically, hopefully, whales.
A slight nip in the 9 a.m. air sent us off under a gray sky. Our seasoned captain gave facts about the history the Yaquina River and Harbor, as well as the impressive Yaquina Bridge and Bay. Our young naturalist guide (a University of Oregon student) pointed out the NOAA research facility and ships, as well as the Hatfield Marine Science Center, operated by the University of Oregon. We went “over the bar” into the ocean, where the dip and roll of the waves necessitated rail-grasping for those brave enough to ride the bow. The sky was overcast, but the slight chill would soften to a muggy warmth within an hour. Our captain, a retired seafaring policeman named Bob, was kind, about 5 feet tall, with an easy smile and an outgoing manner. He invited all the children on deck to take turns “driving the boat.” Our naturalist student showed the young people how to bait and set out crab pots off the stern of the boat.
Continue reading “Newport Harbor: Whales, Crabs, and Good Seafood”
I’ve been doing some important research this past week. Here are some things that everyone should know about puffins:
1. There are two types that live in the North Pacific Ocean: horned puffins and tufted puffins.
2. Puffins are auks. They are not penguins. Auks live north of the equator, and penguins live south of the equator. They are not related.
3. Puffins, like all auks, can both fly in the air and swim underwater (cool!)
4. Puffins are damned cute.
5. The ones at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Oregon like to splash-land, showering the spectators in the aviary. They think it is great fun. They are right.
6. The puffins mentioned in #5 also enjoy swimming very close to people and doing crazy, frenetic dances in the water.
7. They like to be watched and photographed.
8. They love life.
9. (Bonus fact) I think I’d like to come back as an auk in my next life.
I couldn’t let the subject rest without sharing these really dramatic views from Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. You’ll recall my post from July 8, 2014. I returned to experience the scene one more time and capture some of the drama created by the trees, cliffs, and lighting over the ocean. The “God rays” as I call them can be seen descending from the clouds toward the ocean in the last shot. The effect in real life was much more breathtaking than could be captured by my little Canon Elph, but you can get an idea of the beauty at every turn.