20 December 2007

The Pensive Astronomer

There is a wonderful description by Frederick Douglass of the way the desert draws one to the sky. As an astronomer transplanted to New Mexico, I respond more to this now that I no longer lie under skies overwashed by the lights of the East Coast.
In this wide waste, under this cloudless sky, star-lighted by night and by a fierce blazing sun by day, where even the wind seems voiceless, it was natural for men to look up to the sky and stars and contemplate the universe and infinity above and around them; the signs and wonders in the heavens above and the earth beneath. In such loneliness, silence, and expansiveness, imagination is unchained and man has naturally a deeper sense of the Infinite Presence than is to be felt in the noise and bustle of the towns and men-crowded cities. … The heart beats louder and the soul hears quicker in silence and solitude.
From The Autobiographies of Frederick Douglass, ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr., Library of America (1994), pp. 1009-1010.


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