A Walk on the Moon

Occasionally, I while away sleepless nights turning the pages of Zdeněk Kopal’s A New Photographic Atlas of the Moon. I discovered it in a second hand bookshop on the Isle of ManIt’s an intriguing book,  packed with full-page photos of the lunar surface, photos  dating from the earliest unmanned Russian missions to the Apollo programme. Especially interesting are the images of the elusive far side of the moon. (One cannot  help but be reminded how much the Russian space programme achieved where the moon is concerned,  despite the fact that no cosmonaut has yet set foot on it).

Reading it at night, on the verge of sleep, it is easy to imagine yourself dropping into the pages and walking on the surface, trecking, for example,  across the floor of the crater Ptolemeus, towards its distant,  mountainous rim, or traversing the uncanny,  double-walled basin of Schrodinger on the far side. Since the gravity of the moon is one sixth that of the Earth, it seems reasonable to assume one could cover, roughly,  six times the distance on a moon walk as one could walking on Earth.

However,  despite the fantastic landscape and the starlit sky, there is something missing from my moon walks.  They lack something I inevitably encounter on my real walks across the earth’s surface: signs of human activity.  It strikes me as interesting that,  although I seek out wild places,  there is a satisfaction to be found in encountering faint paths, ruins, the traces of earthworks and so on.

Thinking along these lines, I happened to pick up Robert  Macfarlane’s book, The Old Ways and read this quote from Emerson:

All things are engaged in writing their history… Not a foot steps into the snow, or along the ground, but prints in characters more or less lasting,  a map of its  march.  The ground is all memoranda and signatures; and every object covered over with hints.  In nature,  this self registration is incessant,  and the narrative is the print of a seal. 

Perhaps when out walking I’m seeking not wilderness but a wildness where my species’ presence feels not overwhelming but proportional, like the presence of  one species among many. And perhaps, although history can seem nightmarish when written or spoken about,  perhaps there is comfort to be found in the unspoken history, the traces. It strikes me that,  whether  or not I care to admit it, were I walking on the moon in real life,  even though I had travelled through space for days to get there,  to encounter the landing site of a probe or an Apollo mission would be a highlight of the trip.


12 thoughts on “A Walk on the Moon

  1. Beautiful post. Now I will see if our public library can find me a copy of that book through the interlibrary loan system. I will remember the thought of a walk on the moon when I find myself unable to fall back to sleep. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for that. It’s just the sort of book to keep the interloan library service on its toes! I find imaginary space travel far more effective than counting sheep. Imaginary camping, too. When you lie down in the dark, you could be anywhere. An illicit camp on the East coast of Lindisfarne usually does it for me. I’ve never been there in real life.

  2. When I am sleepless I like to think of the small speck of dust I am in the universe. I like the idea of every step leaving an imprint, and all the steps that have come before the ones we (and everyone and everything) are taking now. I’m going to look for that book. It sounds like a grand thing to look at. And… thank you for stopping by the blog and for your kind words.

  3. Your observation about walking where there are faint traces of human history is wonderful. I’m reminded, for example, of walking along Offa’s Dyke, then reading Geoffrey Hill’s poem Mercian Hymns, which seemed to be a grand meditation on the strata of history I’d had beneath my feet.

  4. When going to sleep I like to think of the huge complexity of everything, far, far, far beyond anything we can comprehend or imagine. However, it is a step too far to accept that only the minutest fraction of it relates in any way to humanity. I’m sure in my heart that this can’t be quite correct 🙂

    1. Perhaps it’s not a case of “us” and “it”? In a sense all sciences are astronomy – only differing from it in that they study things that are near at hand.

  5. Thanks for that. I agree with what you say about the footprints thing. And if footprints make a map, it’s the sort of map that reminds me of the Borges story about a map having to be the same size as the landscape (which I know by reputation -I’ll have to get round to reading it!)

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