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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 12.07.08
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

Look to the skies, for heaven's sake!

You know what's more exciting than geometry? Space geometry! It really is, especially if you say it out loud in a deep, sonorous voice: "SPACE GEOMETRY!" Go ahead, try it. I'll wait...

Fun, eh?

So what am I talking about? Well, if you had happened to look up in the sky early Monday evening you would have seen the crescent moon and a very bright Venus and Jupiter. But that's not all. The three objects formed a perfect triangle.

"SPACE GEOMETRY!"

It was cool and it was awesome and then cool all over again. I gazed at the triangle with my naked eye for a while. Then I gazed through binoculars -- at an even bigger triangle!

I think my reaction was fairly typical. Humans get excited when they perceive order in an otherwise random universe. And when something orderly does occur, we tend to attribute great significance to it. For example, the alignment of planets is said to portend strange and rare occurrences, such as extreme tides or Stephen Harper not acting like an ass.

Even when the universe is random, we impose artificial constructs, the most common example being constellations. The ancients looked up, saw a cluster of stars, connected the dots and, voila, Taurus. A bull? Looks more like the spots I see when I stand up too fast. The constellation could just as easily have been called Syringe. Probably the only reason it wasn't is because syringes weren't invented when Ptolemy catalogued the constellations circa 150 A.D., whereas the bull was invented circa 22 A.D.

With astrology, the stars and planets are read to make predictions. Just yesterday morning, my horoscope said that Mercury was rising into Conjunctivitis with Hemoglobin descending, indicating that it was not a good day to bathe in malt cider or make small talk with Conservatives. Sound advice.

If there's one thing we like more than order in our universe, it's the strange and unpredictable, things like shooting stars and Mickey Rourke. That meteor that streaked across the prairies sky month, for example, made headlines. It was apparently quite a massive meteor, and yet it still managed to miss Ralph Klein.

I remember in 1973, my older brother and I prepared for the arrival of Comet Kohoutek, which was supposed to be spectacular (wasn't). We set up some sort of lab/briefing room in the tiny crawl space behind the bathtub pipes. We pinned newspaper clippings up on the beams and everything.

Or maybe it wasn't the comet. I recall something about an asteroid that might possibly slam into the earth, destroying life as we knew it. Maybe the crawl space was our fallout shelter? It's hard to remember, possibly due to the fumes from the pipes.

In 1972, my hometown in Nova Scotia offered front-row seats to the total solar eclipse. What an event that was. You couldn't, of course, look at the eclipse directly. Instead, the Lions Club distributed strange boxes that you looked into to see a shadowy facsimile of the eclipse. Which just goes to show that Nova Scotians are incredibly gullible.

Here in Stanstead in 1994, I looked up just at the right moment to see that meteor that landed near Sorel. (Again no politicians impacted. Sadly.). Not long after, one night I spotted spectacular northern lights hovering over the edge of town. I left my sleeping household, hopped in the van and drove up the hill to the cemetery to watch them glisten. It was an amazing, almost spiritual experience. If they had formed the shape of a beloved Disney character, I really would have been impressed.

I guess it's all rather geeky. But like geometry, trying to fathom the skies and stars and planets goes back to the earliest civilizations. Which, I guess, makes it all rather Greeky as well.

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