Friday, March 22, 2013

Fri, Feb. 8, 2013: Awe and the Very Large Array

We crossed the high desert plain past Soccoro, up into the mountains where the pines stood a stunted 20-30 feet high.  I was impressed that there were any pines at all, but they stood far taller than me, toes anchored in the sand.

One of my favorite intellectual experiences in my life so far has been learning French.  I find the psychology behind the language fascinating, and love to play in my mind with the differences between French and English.  I know very little of the language and haven't practiced it for years, but it still intrigues me.  When I think of what it felt like to fly across Route 60 and see the antennae of the Very Large Array for the first time, it feels better to say it in French than English.  

In English, "I have arrived" feels so... passive.  The words "I have" indicate, for me, something that can be taken away.  If one can be in a state of having, one can just as easily be in a state of not having.  Even to say, "I am here" feels so... blah. 

But...

In French, "Je suis arrivĂ©" is just magical.  Translated, it literally means "I am arrived".  Psychologically, this is so much more appealing to me.  I am this: I am this experience, this place, all of it is now part of me and my reality.  Arrived is an active state: I had to do something to get to this place and this moment.  All of my experiences have lead me to this point, and my entire life is relevant to to my existence in this place and at this time.   

Take that, the English language... I AM ARRIVED!
Breathtaking.  And I wasn't even there yet.

I am arrived... not quite...



I walked down the path from the visitor's center and passed one of the antennas that was off to the side of the array for repairs.  Almost there.... 
NOW... I am arrived!
I learned from the woman in the visitor's center that the array was in the "D" formation, which means the antennas are all fairly close together, which provides a very zoomed out view of the universe.  Every 4 months, the antennas are moved into a new formation, to provide a different perspective.
I just wandered around, as close as I could, which wasn't nearly as close as I would have liked.  The constant mechanical hum of the cooling units in each antenna provided some sort of relief, like a large constant presence in this vast and beautiful wasteland. 
There were train tracks all around the complex, which I realized are not for a train at all but for moving the antennas. 



Thoughts of outer space always make me feel incomprehensibly tiny, as if I might blink and knock my own self out of existence.  That these massive antennae formed the pieces of one organism, and that the organism was looking deep into space, "seeing" things that I could never even hope to sense, was almost too much. 
I have never felt so small, or so big, in my entire life.

Big because, after all, I am arrived, and what I am in that moment is something that sings in the same language as all of the stars.

The VLA and I were part of the same organism, the same system, sensing the same universe in our own ways. 

With heavy reluctance, I picked myself up from where I was sitting and continued my tour of the property.  The antennas disappeared behind the building where the astronomers work, a nice but plain brick building with lots of windows to welcome the bright desert light.
As I left, I stopped to contemplate the tracks used to move the antennas.  In time, they will be moved so that they are miles and miles apart, across the plain from one another, the organism stretched and distant but still connected.
The sunset was a riot of molten gold that evening, with a strong wind kicking dust up into the atmosphere and smearing the liquid light across the sky.  I felt so good: relaxed and cared for, almost like my old self again.

I like the owning of the moment that occurs when I think of my experience as "I am arrived".  My experience is now another piece of my heart, nestled up against my other experiences like a pulsing puzzle, the pieces gelled together and harmonious.  I have really come to love this little heart that I have worked to build. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fri, Feb. 8, 2013: Suddenly: Lava

Alamogordo, I still have a strange desire to love you, despite my experiences when last we met.  The small city was flat and brown, the yards that we drove past full of cacti and dust, the barren brown shoulders of rocky mountains forming one backbone of the land to the east.  

There were farms north of the town, and I wondered how anyone could make a living off growing things in the land in this dusty, remote corner of the world.

I pulled over to watch a train pass, drinking in the desert sun that was high enough to finally warm the earth that morning.
We headed east, racing toward the Very Large Array, determined not to miss it for the second day in a row, when...

suddenly...

lava.  Everywhere.


We passed a sign that declared we had entered the Valley of Fires, a place I had never heard of and certainly never expected.  I later looked it up on Google maps and found it's a rather impressive patch of lava sprawled out over the desert.
It was so strange to see up close, these black porous rocks adorned with alien desert life.  I think that people from the East who have never visited the desert can't possibly imagine the bizarre and wonderful things that it holds in its endless dusty miles.
There was a couple parked with their camper, walking their dog.  I envied them their freedom.
When I think of lava, I immediately think of dinosaurs.  I'm not sure why this association is so strong in my brain - after all, there are active volcanoes now and no dinosaurs (much to my dismay, though Velociraptors I happily live without).  Massive dinosaurs roaming this random desert lava field: this was an idea my imagination could get behind.
We left the lava fields and continued east, racing closer and closer to the telescope.  New Mexico, the underrated beauty...
New Mexico keeps me guessing, always.  Inexplicably vast and desolate; full of the longest, emptiest, flattest miles and miles and miles of unbelievable nothing; unexpectedly rich and lush, windy and wild and free.  Underrated New Mexico, you hold everything that the west should be.