When the crew of the Apollo 17 spaceship was about five and a half hours into their lunar voyage 41 years ago they became the first human beings to photograph a fully illuminated Earth from 28,000 miles away. With the sun at their backs and a clear view of the whole planet, the astronauts declared when viewed from space the Earth is a blue marble. Look closely at the top right of the photo – that’s a typhoon in the Indian Ocean.
Last week, we worried about the projected path of Typhoon Haiyan in the South Pacific with winds up to 240 mph. Abruptly; a storm half a world away seemed personal. When I was a very young high school teacher, one of my junior history class students, Leslie, distinguished herself as the most brilliant person I’d ever encountered. She was bright, perky and curious about how the world worked. We urged her to graduate early and attend UConn. Within a scant few years she was doing biogenetic work at MIT. She retired 11 years ago and has been on an open-ended sailing adventure ever since.
I taught at a small rural school in northeastern Connecticut that is less than 90 minutes from Rhode Island but it’s always seemed too far away to visit. Like time, travel is relative. Leslie and her husband, Phillip sailed 28,025 miles from their homeport, Seattle aboard Carina, a 33’ Mason. Over the past decade they’ve posted hundreds of photos and narratives of their voyage (http://www.sv-carina.org) including a live GPS page that plots their current location. They’re currently anchored off Pohnpei, an island in Micronesia, which is 7,033 miles from my office window. Carina’s steady blogs have kept me connected to Leslie all of these years. I’ve followed her across the seas. This summer she gifted me with a day together in Rhode Island. I felt very close to her having kept abreast of her voyage and peered at her photos for the past decade.
Leslie said blue water cruising is the same situation that astronauts endure in space. Sometimes the night sky and sea blend as one and it becomes absolutely clear that there is absolutely no one out there who can save you except yourself. You’re on your own on a big blue marble. If something breaks, you have to fix it. The sea won’t remember you or the boat if you sink.
I can’t see past the willow tree outside my office window but the screen size images of the typhoon’s wake are intensely clear. When I saw satellite weather photos of Typhoon Haiyan with winds up to 240 mph charging up from Micronesia, I feared for the safety of the souls aboard Carina. Leslie seemed so far away and too close to Harm’s way. I thought of the Blue Marble and realized our world is smaller and what’s outside a window can be seen on a laptop. Without hesitation, I emailed Leslie and inquired about her safety.
Within the hour, Phillip and then Leslie replied – “The ugly nasty horrible typhoon Hiayan was just a nasty little 1007 mb low when it passed us last weekend. Computer weather models predicted it would spin up into a nightmare and it did just that. We had a rainy, gusterly day at home, monitoring our gps drag alarm and bailing the dinghy regularly. Otherwise we were fine.”
There is a box of marbles on my office bookshelf. Marbles remind me that there are just so many days to play during any lifetime. Some of us learn that playing the game of rowing our own boats means discovering that is life is often but a dream as we go gently down the stream. But, as with most toys, it’s easy to lose one’s marbles and then the game is over. I figure the best way to express my gratitude for Leslie and Phillip’s safety is to offer some help for those not as lucky. I’m 5,565 miles away from the Philippines but only a couple of keyboard strokes from the Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org/news/article/Red-Cross-Sends-Support-to-Philippines-for-Typhoon-Response). Give a little, it will mean a lot to people who feel like astronauts lost in space.