An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of July 17, 2016
Issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort adjoining
Chichén Itzá Ruin, Yucatán, Mexico

Whirlpool Galaxy

INTERGALACTIC DUST


I like to think about Stevens getting excited about the Whirlpool Galaxy 25 million light-years away, then reflecting that all the tiny dots around the Whirlpool also are galaxies -- but even much, much farther away -- at distances "inconceivably great.

I've known people who, when similar awe was expressed about something outside ordinary everyday life, said, "So what? What good does it do you to know about that?"

In fact, I know people here who are unfamiliar with the whole concept of the galaxy. To them, the sky is just the place of Sun, Moon, stars and such, and these people get through life as well as anyone else. And I have to admit that in their day-to-day world the Whirlpool Galaxy and all the distances and insights attending it are irrelevant, and knowing about it wouldn't do them any good at all.

The Whirlpool Galaxy is important only to minds that have become a little unhinged. Unhinged from perfectly defined, rock-stable facts of repetitive, ordinary life. Exultation in what is merely deduced, postulated, imagined, or hoped for requires a mind that at some point in a person's life has undergone the crises of realizing this: that what rests comfortably and predictably around us is just laughably ephemeral dust off a flicker of time in an infinity of outrageous, tempestuous, never-ending, universal birth-giving. Even the Whirlpool Galaxy, as majestic as it is -- if one thinks hard about the computed dimensions of the Universe -- reveals itself as just another random dust particle. (What brothers we are, that Whirlpool Galaxy and we who look through our little tubes at it!)

So, Stevens sits orienting his telescope toward a certain mote of the eye-sky just to see what's there, to think about it, and find pleasure, even joy, in that meditation. Finding something, he abandons himself into one of those voluptuous and wholly invisible and implausible but nonetheless most certainly real currents of inspiration and self-realization rampaging through time and space purely for the fun of it, purely for the hell and heaven of it, purely to be purely what it is as it does it. Such currents, I'd guess, are just one in an infinitude of such currents, or maybe there's just one current, and we're all in it all the time. An infinite number of such currents, or just one, but no number in between, my unhinged mind wants to say.

And yet, the cup on the table demands its attention, and it is true that knowing that the Whirlpool Galaxy's mass is 160 billion times that of our Sun's -- despite the Whirlpool being only 35% the size of our own Milky Way -- does us no good at all.

Only the unhinged mind can sing a song to intergalactic dust.

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