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Pluto: The Innocent Fox

Ever since Pluto, that far-flung sentinel in the cold, dark outer bounds of the Solar System, was discovered in 1930 and given the name "Pluto," people began to envision that world as dark and frigid as the Styx, a realm of dark greys and deep blacks and the occasional despairing splash of white starlight and sunlight, a dirge in a never-ending minor key, taking on all the characteristics of the God Whom the Greeks called "Hades" and the Romans, "Pluto." For decades astronomers wondered what it looked like close up, and finally they began to put together a way to find out. Thus New Horizons was born, and launched into the heavens on January 19, 2006, at 2 p.m. EST at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

For nine and a half years, New Horizons, so far the swiftest space vehicle ever launched from Earth, drove on and on toward the elusive ninth planet, in spite of potential space hazards, in spite of the ugly controversy that had likewise started up in 2006 over whether Pluto was even a planet or not, in spite of tense and anxious moments among those following her progress farther and farther from the Sun. And on July 13, 2015, we finally saw Pluto close-up:

In his essay "The Innocent Fox," America's great essayist and scientist Loren Eiseley said:

" . . . Suddenly I was back under the overhang of the foundered boat. I had sat there stiff with cold for many hours. I was no longer the extension of a blizzard beating against immovable gates. The year of the locust was done. It was, instead, the year of the mist maker that some obscure Macusi witch doctor had chosen to call god. But the mist-maker had gone over the long-abandoned beach, touching for his inscrutable purposes only the broken shell of the nonexistent, only the tracks of a wayward fox, only a man who, serving the mist maker, could be made to stream wispily through the interstices of time.

". . . The fog and the night were lifting. I had been far away for hours. Crouched in my heavy sheepskin I waited without thought as the witch doctor might have waited for the morning dispersion of his god. Finally, the dawn began to touch the sea, and then the worn timbers of the hulk beside which I sheltered reddened just a little. It was then I began to glimpse the world from a different perspective.

"I had watched for nights the great bolts leaping across the pane of an attic window, the bolts Emerson had dreamed of in the first scientific days might be the force that hurled reptile into mammal. I had watched at midnight the mad scientists intent upon their own creation. But in the end, those fantastic flashes of the lightning had ceased without issue, at least for me. The pane, the inscrutable pane, had darkened at last; the scientists, if scientists they were, had departed, carrying their secret with them. I sighed, remembering. It was then I saw the miracle. I saw it because I was hunched at ground levelt, smelling rank of fox, and no longer gazing with upright human arrogance upon the things of this world.

"I did not realize at first what it was that I looked upon. As my wandering attention centered, I saw nothing but two small projecting ears lit by the morning sun. Beneath them, a small neat face looked shyly up at me. The ears moved at every sound, drank in a gull's cry and the far horn of a ship. They crinkled, I began to realize, only with curiosity; they had not learned to fear. The creature was very young. He was alone in a dread universe. I crept on my knees around the prow and crouched beside him. It was a small fox pup from a den under the timbers who looked up at me. God knows what had become of his brothers and sisters. His parent must not have been home from hunting.

"He innocently selected what I think was a chicken bone from an untidy pile of splintered rubbish and shook it at me invitingly. There was a vast and playful humor in his face. 'If there was only one fox in the world and I could kill him, I would do.' The words of a British poacher in a pub rasped in my ears. I dropped even further and painfully away from human stature. It has been said repeatedly that one can never, try as he will, get around to the front of the universe. Man is destined to see only its far side, to realize nature only in retreat.

"Yet here was the thing in the midst of the bones, the wide-eyed, innocent fox inviting me to play, with the innate courtesy of its two forepaws placed appealingly together, along with a mock shake of the head. The universe was swinging in some fantastic fashion around to present its face, and the face was so small that the universe itself was laughing.

"It was not a time for human dignity. It was a time only for the careful observance of amenities written behind the stars. Gravely I arranged my forepaws while the puppy whimpered with ill-concealed excitement. I drew the breath of a fox's den into my nostrils. On impulse, I picked up clumsily a whiter bone and shook it in teeth that had not entirely forgotten their original purpose. Round and round we tumbled for one ecstatic moment. We were the innocent thin in the midst of the bones, born in the egg, born in the den, born in the dark cave with the stone ax close to hand, born at last in human guise to grow coldly remote in the room with the rifle rack upon the wall.

"But I had seen my miracle. I had seen the universe as it begins for all things. It was, in reality, a child's universe, a tiny and laughing universe. . . ." -- Loren Eiseley, "The Innocent Fox," in The Unexpected Universe, pp. 208-210

And so, in the run-up to New Horizon's closest approach to Pluto, the dark, cold, elusive Lord of the Underworld, Judge of the Dead, the great King in Darkness, we found -- the face of the universe turning toward us, innocent, smiling, laughing, loving. "I love you," said G-d. "I love you, Life. For always, forever." That great Face turned out to be -- a heart. The symbol of love. "I love you, Life."

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 10th, 2015 03:51 am (UTC)
It's amazing how so many people worldwide experienced just this at their first glimpse of Pluto. :)
Aug. 14th, 2015 10:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Beautiful!
It is. It's like getting something in the mail and opening it to find it's a Valentine from G-d, saying, "I love you, Earth!" <3
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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