Size of the Universe

essay, Ron Day

“Estimates of size, age of universe rise” said the headline in a recent issue of the Lexington Herald-Leader. I was not surprised. It could have grown by leaps and bounds without my being aware of it. I am often dismayed by the fact that now “I live in town.” There was a time--mere decades ago--when I lived in the world instead. Being surrounded by beech trees and walking beneath migrating battalions of geese gave more information about the changing of the world than does living in apartments and walking beneath buzzing streetlights. My measurement of the world is now staccato and intermittent rather than linear.

Before....things moved in a line. The changing of the seasons was felt and observed in our daily lives as we trudged through deep snow to the spring where we collected out water. Eventually the winter would fade into spring and each day we would observe the melting of the ice, the slow greening of the plants around the spring, the plop of frogs and salamanders as we watched them grow daily. Everything around us pointed to the linear movement of time and nature. We saw in the ditches alongside the road the eggs that soon became polliwogs and then odd-looking creatures with legs here and a tail there. Finally the frogs arrived for us to carry home in pockets. Each day we passed hundreds of species of plant and animal life and measured ourselves against the mullein stalks as they thrust upward, and observed the changing hues on the peels of “wild” apples. Milkweeds were observed in their infancy (when they were still young enough to add to a collection of potherbs) through the stages when their sweet blossoms attracted the monarchs and on into the fall, when their para-sailing seeds delighted all the children. Sometimes we broke open the pods for our play, but often we were content to observe them floating on the wind as we went about our chores or ambled through the fields.

If dandelions and clover would outnumber by far the blades of grass in our lawn, we would not mind. Dandelions grew into plain posies for our mothers, and then we blew upon the seed heads to see how many children we would have. We knew we would marry, because we would swing “love vine” (plain old dodder to those who lived in town) over our heads and, if it was found growing the next week.. and then then flourishing the week after that, our true loves would be ours! We picked pokeweed in its infancy for mother’s kitchen, lay in its cool shade in high summer, and later squished the berries into ink for our gaming.

Everything progressed in a natural and noticeable line. We planted the seeds in spring and gathered in fall toward the winter’s famine. We frolicked with the baby chicks in spring, waited for the cow to “go fresh” and slaughtered the hog in November for the Easter ham. We sat outside each night--perhaps those who lived in town had air conditioners--within the swirl of our “gnat smokes” and beneath a panoramic sky that we came to know intimately. Now I must leave the town to even see the sky, and never remember quite where to look for Cassiopeia or Draco. It is often months between times I even see a star. Geese are not heard to fly over when the CD player is on and the sirens are passing. I wonder if geese even fly over a town at all. Now, the newspaper tells me it has been discovered that the universe is both larger and at least a billion years older than we had thought. Funny.....I had not noticed. Now I live in town, and I did not see it passing......



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