Monday, 30 June 2008

My home and native land

Tomorrow, July first, is Canada Day. It commemorates Confederation in 1867, the key step toward our independence from Britain. I'm here in Alberta, still writing up my PhD (almost done!), and I thought I'd take a few minutes to share with you what I love about this land I call home.

I grew up on an Alberta farm. The landscape of my youth contains gently rolling prairies dotted with native woods, and the wall of the Rocky Mountains standing guard on the western horizon.

Photos will never give you the full sense of a place that is at once complete and unfinished, a sense that I got early this spring, looking out over the soft browns of the grassland, dotted with pale, naked deciduous trees, dark spruce, and dirty-white patches of snow. For that, you would need to come stand beside me at the edge of the farmyard here, looking out over those fields. Breathe deep of the crisp, dusty air; squint against the brilliant sun and the vast, pale blue sky. Taste the calm anticipation of spring, the heady vibrancy of summer, the hot explosion of fall, or the sharp, dry tang of winter. Listen to the quiet, vibrant present, humming with the birds of the season and the distant activity of humans. Feel the steady is and the eager will be of the world commingling in this place.

See the sharp peaks of the Rockies on the western horizon. Go visit them. Stand surrounded by these majestic Titans, waiting eternally by the standards of a human life. They have grown an inch, a millimetre, a micrometre at a time, age after age, until the sea floor became the land's ambassador to the sky. Let yourself be thoroughly daunted by the realization of their vast, patient ascent, their venerable serenity. Some are almost as old as life itself; others are young, rising in the late Cretaceous (after the first mammals evolved).

I wish I could share with you just what I love about this land that is in turns both humble and arrogant, noble and common (much like its human tenants). But I cannot. At the root of my connection to Alberta, behind every phrase I use to try to evoke its essence in your mind, is that impossible-to-communicate longing called "home". If the central Alberta prairie is your home, you already know what I mean and my words are a pale substitute for our shared understanding. If it is not, I can only hope to show you fragments and moments of what this place is to me.

Perhaps that is enough.

Come and visit. Not necessarily me, or my family's farm (though you're welcome, of course). Come visit the land. Let me know what it says to you.

Happy Canada Day.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

A beautiful picture from Mars

What do you think: is this the most beautiful picture you have ever seen?

Well, why don't you go see what Phil Plait, the coolest and most engaging science blogger I've come across, has to say about the deceptively simple image:

Here are a couple of links to another blog that talks about this awe-inducing image (including a picture that tells even more).

I simply can't compete with Phil's description, so I'll leave you with his words:

Think on this, and think on it carefully: you are seeing a manmade object falling gracefully and with intent to the surface of an alien world, as seen by another manmade object already circling that world, both of them acting robotically, and both of them hundreds of million of kilometers away.

Never, ever forget: we did this. This is what we can do.