The Learned Astronomer
“As the eye is formed, such are its powers”
I stood in a field as the moon rose as yet unseen. I’d never heard the foxes scream as I learned they always did three days before the moon was full. They screamed like anguished women. I’d stood in that spot years before and at my feet I’d found a strip of a hedgehog’s skin not yet dried out. A fox had peeled the little animal alive as it curled to defend itself, biting into the sharp quills. The hedgehog had understood the fox then, standing there in the dark listening to the screaming I understood the foxes hunger was worse than what the hedgehog had felt. That pain had passed yet the fox was still here, hiding under the ancient stone wall screaming at the moon that only it knew was there. Does the fox understand the moon as the hedgehog understood the fox in turn? There’s no panic in a blackbird’s song and there’s no peace in that of a fox, why does the moon make it sing so? It understands better than we do.
The Dog Star, the Whale Road, the bestial floor; mothlike stars flickered out and the white moths passed unseen. The moth’s sense of smell is as far beyond a dogs as a dogs is beyond a mans, in pitch darkness it can see in full colour, crawling in the carpet or among the grass of the field it experiences things beyond our imagination. It understands the night better than we can, it loves the moon so much it seeks to die against it and it knows the stars shine but knows nothing of their nature. We know less of life than the short-lived moth and love the worlds beyond ours less and instead we fear death. Its universe is full and ours is empty and almost infinite. For every star that will be named there are hundreds of trillion that will die unseen and every one of those is far less than a drop of rain in the ocean to the passing of time. The more these scales of time and distance are repeated on the television the further we are from knowing what the sky looked like before electric light. Astronomical data becomes feel-good mantras for the irreligious the same way the Greeks placed roofs on temples to the sun and moon and called them wonders.
We cannot look into the night sky over a city we can only look at it. The orange sodium foam that poisons our world’s abyssal womb traps us in the uneasy half dream of the everyday we’ve been compelled without our consent to deal with once again. What once served as the celestial denouement to our day is transformed into a worse version of that day with a fearful black wall built over it. The comfort that can be drawn from insignificance and agelessness is gone and instead we feel what an animal in a generously proportioned cage might feel. The sun’s light is not really the light of a near star, that is not how we experience it but rather it is the light of Earth, and the dimmer lights we ourselves have made in imitation of it leaves us with only the dark of Earth, and we can see that the Earth’s darkness is far more terrible and baffling than the far off, and thus reassuring, un-light of space; the city lights bury us alive in an infinitely deep grave. Just as man’s evening fire has been replaced by the flickering archon-dull glare of television, the stars have been put out and replaced with a holding message- “Nothing to see, don’t get any big ideas, you’re here for life.”
The fox knows when the moon is rising and is terrified, the moth knows nothing of the stars and yet they are there. Why should we feel so secure in these limits of space, that that’s all there is?