There’s a great deal that I can’t explain about what is going on in the sky, but much of this is because I haven’t read enough, haven’t kept up with the march of the knowledge battalions into lands unknown, spurred on by a sort of manifest destiny, to conquer the mysteries that once grew wildly in the backyard––which, I assume, are still flourishing somewhere, but the armies are long past me now, and I have no doubt that should I approach the land and the heavens I once knew as utterly and completely mysterious, someone would be lurking like a sniper in the trees, to shoot me with an answer.
On this day in 1783, the great fireball was observed in the heavens above the British Isles. It was faint and blue at first, holding still. Then it grew and moved. The whole landscape was illuminated. It must have lasted about thirty seconds. Someone thought they heard a crackling noise come with it, like small wood burning. A noise like thunder at a distance followed.
It was a meteor procession, we know now. But no one had these words then, so it was The Great Fireball. Weary romantic that I am, I can’t help but envy the unknowing of those observers, centuries ago. The sudden return to pre-pandemic pace has me feeling like the world-weary speaker in Wordsworth’s verse: Little we see in Nature that is ours . . . it moves us not (“The World Is Too Much With Us”). What was it like to study the sky with their naked eyes, to look with no means of expecting any explanation from any living soul, for the fantastic spectacle before them? I celebrate the advances of science to cure what might kill us, but I mourn the momentary pause of recognition at our common vulnerability to something still unknown––not the fear, but the silence around it.
Of course, our unknowing, as compared to that of anyone from any age, is almost just as infinite. But from where I am, trying to catch a breath from the relentless pace of a given week, it seems like a nearly impossible distance to walk to get to the beginning of some terrain still vast enough that, once entered, goes on and on forever and in every direction, into mystery. Even when I know it’s right here, in this space where I am still trying to catch my breath from keeping up.