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Volume 17, Issue 1: Flotsam

Solar Frolic

Nathan Wilson

It is strange to look at the night sky, busy with stars, and see understatement: a black canvas decorated with tasteful restraint. With only billions here, and galaxies there, it is clear that God held back. With such a space to decorate, it would be easy to overdo things. Any man certainly would. While "Kubla Khan" serves its word-picnic purpose, I would grow weary of a sky done by Coleridge. An Elizabethan sky would amuse for a while. The ruff influence would grant a certain advantage when working with galaxies, but the tights and codpiece would soon undermine it.

Kant, frog-like Immanuel, would think his arrangement dignified. Why frog-like? Because he, like a frog, is not logically necessary. There is nothing imperative about him. Kant would want the arrangement of his stars to be in good order, unread and badly named. A Prolegomena to All Future Pleiades. No bears. Especially not big ones. And Orion would have his legs crossed.
Jane Austen would be subtle. Her stars would be very carefully placed, but somehow I think they would be a bit preoccupied with each other, or perhaps with how the moon was behaving (given present company). I should enjoy a Jane Austen sky. And, in fact, I believe that I have seen the sort before. Clear night, but not too many stars. No Milky Way stripe, and nothing happening. Certainly nothing bright streaking into our atmosphere. I don't think Austen would be much for ionic storms, or astral breezes, and I doubt the moon would have craters. Lunar craters are a dead giveaway for the actual author, and a bit odd as well. At some point there was a great deal of action up on that moon. But, like the gift of tongues, not in our time.
Louis L'Amour would crater any moon of his, perhaps to a fault. I am hardly one to criticize, but Louis, I believe, would overdo the orbs. The moon would be forever orange and climbing fast through a magnificent atmospheric haze that quadrupled its size. It would probably even give off heat. The days, with half a horizon's worth of sun, would be intolerable. The stars would most likely be overlooked, assigned the role of sagebrush and left to go about the business of their choice. On the positive side, he would most likely be strong on action and cool-headed business. His sky would do things—northern lights, eclipses, and comet portents establishing tension.
Henry James and Thomas Hardy would both be inevitably pompous failures. They would assume that intentionality justified failure. Better yet, that failure is more soulful, more artistic. Neither would be able to resist the temptation to assign their stars and constellations poor life choices, and then sit by and watch them all go out gradually. Frustration would come when they discovered that the sun and the moon could not both be eclipsed at once.
What is the night sky? It truly is understatement. Mostly black, or midnight blue, spotted with bits of shine. But then, if my eyes only had some sort of zoom feature, if I could ever really get a sense of the vastness of this stage, of the number of solar flares all firing off throughout this universe at any given time, celebrating nothing more than the fact that they have been created, if the hair on my soul suddenly felt the wind created by the mad orbiting gallop of this little Earth, then I would have to go have a lie-down. I would, like my son, put one sole ladybug in a cup and take it up to my nap.
The sky is understated. But it is also one of the most overdone things available to our perception, besides butterflies. There appears to be no end to how much fun is going on in space, how much goofing off, blowing up, twinkling, and spinning around goes on in this world.
There is only one author who could do this sky, with a mind for every genre. Only one author so foolish, with so little taste and so much beauty. His story telling is more like my son's than mine. The constellations in our solar system were most emphatically designed by someone who thought that the next necessary plot point in Jonah's life was to be swallowed by a big fish, and then thrown up. He thought a bunch of middle-eastern nomads should be made to remove some man-flesh to set them apart as the good guys, and that the Son of God should descend from a whore. Sick tackiness and blasphemy—both things that should get a Christian student-author suspended. The one who designed our moon traffic also thought up Napoleon, made him small, and gave him stomach pain. The same one who melodramatically introduced a villain into the last century as overtly wicked as any the world has seen, but then, unable to take his evil seriously, couldn't resist naming him Adolf and drawing on the silliest moustache available.
This author thinks that the moon should be sometimes gray and sometimes yellow. Sometimes bulging like a cow's eye and sometimes an agonized fingernail. This author is all fireballs and decorum, all comets, sci-fi book covers, and gentle, fresh-baked breezes, scented hair and period hats. I cannot now enjoy every type of story, every ice cream in the shop, without growing ill. But someday soon, a thousand years or more after death, I hope to be more capable. I hope to lack as much discernment as God.

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