I like terra firma, people around me will often hear me say. We weren’t built to live under the ocean, fly off into the heaviside layer (the woolx layer is much more comfortable), or rocket pell mell to distant solar systems. Perhaps in an earlier moment along the ancestry line, we swam with the fishes. I’ve always liked that idea, evolution theory an accurate explanation or not. There’s always something appealing about the ability to roam the planet with no borders. Nevertheless, those formative saltwater years are long over. What cannot be argued today is that the human being does rather well walking around on two feet, breathing the atmosphere, and quite poorly when trying to take up residence in other environments. For us, Mother Earth seems to be the right kind of planet and solid earth the right kind of swimming pool – so to speak.
Recently, I read about an Austrian man intent on moving to Mars. Not Mars, Maine, or the Mars’ Hill in Athens, Greece. No, he was speaking of the real thing, that dusty red planet that lights up our night sky from time to time, with strangely conceived inhabitants always threatening to invade us. In a very down-to-earth way, he described how he planned to discharge all his earthly possessions, occupy his time hurtling towards the distant rock (two years), set up shop on Mars (enclosed biosphere) and, most interesting of all, stay in contact with Earth. Through communication, he said, he could keep his memories of Earth alive. Why? Because he wanted to stay in touch with his friends and his wife. Just because he took up residence millions of miles away didn’t mean his marriage was over, he claimed (I’d like to check with his wife after a couple years of this and see what she thinks). What didn’t seem to enter into his Martian equation was any consideration that perhaps our natural home on earth is what our soul is derived from and attached to. Life on Mars wouldn’t work if he couldn’t stay in touch with other humans – humans attached to Earth and all rhythms in this perfect swimming pool.
Arid Central Asia. In this case, the former outline of rapidly disappearing Lake Urmia near the Iraq/Iran border.
All this occurred to me as I flew at 40,000 feet over the vast desert terrain of Central Asia. Below an inhospitable terrain of brown rocks and soil, with vast salt impressions of vanished lakes, all flowing out to the horizon, marked from time to time with a small mountain range as isolated as the land from which it they appeared, spread in all directions. To say this arid desert land was extensive would be an understatement. As intriguing as the view proved to be, I was uncomfortable, looking forward to a happy landing the moment the plane left the runway. I have never liked flying, seeing it as merely a quick way to get from point A to point B. It isn’t the planes themselves, or the people that trouble me. Both are some of the most interesting things about traveling by air. Nor is it fear of an accident. Rather, it is the sensation of flying that leaves me, well, up in the air. No longer attached to the ground, we became human missiles, in turns twisting, pushing, bouncing our way towards our destination, completely at the mercy of wind, machine, and the skill of a pilot. Do I have feet? No longer. An automobile connects us to the ground in a material way that a plane does not. Nothing solid underneath. Just space. As I ruminate over these realities and gaze at the earthy colours below, I’ve convinced myself I’d be happier down there, connected to solid stuff – even if that solid stuff was rather dry and barren.
The joy of solid ground. Main Theatre, Ephesus, Turkey.
I don’t know if Mr. Mars will get to Mars. His quest is curious, dangerous, and expensive. Yet his desire to keep what is human by remaining in touch with humans on Earth is revealing. What would happen to him – and his fellow intrepid colonists should any go along with the scheme – should they lose contact? The human soul, it seems, is connected not to the universe as much as it is connected to the living Earth. 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film by Stanley Kubrick, attempted to explore this deep connection when it is broken. The result of a man lost in space, cut off from Earth, was not encouraging – at least that was my interpretation of the movie. The soul requires certain things in order to be nourished. Staying here at home is one of them. For me, it also means staying with the idea of keeping my feet on the ground as much as I can. In the words of the traditional Peruvian poem and song, El Condor Pasa, made famous by Paul Simon:
I’d rather feel the earth beneath my feet.
Yes, I would.
If I could,
I surely would.