Lost in this big universe


Alene found this t-shirt in a thrift store. As soon as she saw it, I insisted she buy it (it was only $5.) We didn’t notice the second “I” in TRIIBE until she got home — and then she thought she’d better Google it. It’s the name of a band that neither of us has never heard of — but I hope she wears it anyway — because it rather sums up the way she feels much of the time.

When we came to Seattle in 2001, we instantly felt part of things — as though we had finally found our real home. But that feeling has been dissolving over the last couple of years — and this weekend, Alene realized with regret and sorrow that she no longer feels connected with the place.

I’m in Vancouver right now — visiting people I knew long ago back in England — and feeling rather ungrounded by the experience — so that might be what’s making Alene feel disconnected. But the name Vancouver had obviously been running through her head — and it made her think of the early explorations of Puget Sound — and the pioneer settlement that gave birth to the city of Seattle — and the history that followed — and it seemed nothing more than fiction — just something she might have written in one of her stories set on another world.

There’s a particular planet Alene really enjoyed writing about. Here’s a brief excerpt from something she wrote a couple of years ago:

“As I tell you about my world, Fig, you will have to bear in mind that it no longer exists,” Icon began. “It was in a part of the universe that folded in on itself – not so long ago actually. But the humans were long gone – on to other worlds. Anyway, there’s no point in my trying to explain where it was.”

“Was I ever there?” asked Fig, in quite a matter-of-fact way that caught Icon a little by surprise.

“You know, that’s a very good question, Fig,” Icon admitted. “I hadn’t even considered that.”

Icon closed his eyes and thought hard for a while.

“Nope!” he finally answered. “You were never there. Let me tell you about the place. The planet was roughly the same size as Earth and about the same distance from its parent star, which was also roughly the same size, temperature and age as Earth’s Sun. That configuration repeats itself over and over throughout the universe.”

“The Goldilocks Zone,” said Fig.

“Indeed,” affirmed Icon. “However, my world had more land to it. While oceans cover seventy percent of the Earth’s surface, on my world, the land-ocean areal coverage was closer to fifty-fifty before all the ice melted. There was one really massive continent, about as large as your Pacific Ocean, with a huge interior plateau that was largely uninhabited. The highest mountain was around sixty thousand meters high, making your Mount Everest look like a molehill by comparison. The summit elevation was never precisely measured, because we never had the advanced instruments that have been invented on Earth. But over many centuries, surveyors and geodesic scientists had refined their estimates and settled on the sixty thousand meter value. No one really worried about nailing it down any more precisely. The summit was too high for any man to make a trip up to it anyway. Meteorologists studied atmospheric circulation patterns around it, but their technology was crude also; they launched simple radio devices on weather balloons to gather data and then plotted maps by hand. But, knowing the precise summit elevation of Mount Kearson would not really have helped any, so people didn’t waste any more time and energy trying to measure it. Bit different from Earth, eh? Your scientists won’t be happy until they have mapped every last nook and cranny of the planet’s surface with micro-matic precision.”

Alene has long been fascinated with alternative terra forms. In 1998, before she started having the really bizarre experiences that ushered in my arrival, she was enjoying episodes of hypnagogy in the wee hours of the morning — seeing visions with her eyes closed. One morning, she was seeing rather old-fashioned weather charts — but something seemed wrong — areas of high and low pressure were in odd places. Then it dawned on her she might be looking a weather charts from another planet with a very different arrangement of land masses.

The “Earth” shown on this t-shirt looks rather appealing — at least the side of it we can see.


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