Top of the Globe

Nothing grows in Barrow, Alaska. It’s like being on another planet.

I remember standing at the Arctic Ocean, looking out over the ice floes. We walked along a desolate shore, covered in smooth, black stones. I thought, “I’m standing at the top of the globe.” The North Pole was just 1122 nautical miles away, about the same distance as between Boston and Minneapolis. I put a couple stones in my pocket.

Awe is a difficult experience to describe. People tend to respond, “Cool.”

I felt somewhat the same thing the first time I used Google Earth. I decided to see if the house in Connecticut where I grew up was still there. I typed in the address and immediately zoomed up, arced across several states and flew down so quickly that I almost got dizzy.

We’re standing on a planet – one of those things we learned about in science. They were tiny spheres bouncing on a mobile, made out of styrofoam and painted different colors. We used pipecleaners to make the rings of Saturn. That was our galaxy.

But we’re not bobbing on a coat-hanger. We’re hurtling through space. If I spin a globe, I can simulate the earth’s rotation. But since I can’t feel it, and since the rest of the planets are still just painted styrofoam balls, I don’t really believe it.

I know it’s true. I know it – I just rarely feel it.

I don’t know why any of this matters; it’s just a different perspective on what I already know. Billions of people live on this planet, but you wouldn’t know it looking down from space.

And I don’t think about it as I drive to work, or stop at the store, or sit in my living room typing on my laptop. But when I go up to the park and tromp through the snow to get some exercise, I gaze up at the sky and imagine looking down at myself, a tiny ant wandering in circles.

It’s a strange feeling. Realizing that I’m so tiny and insignificant ought to make me feel fragile. Instead, I think how fragile this planet is, and I am awed.

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