The Atacama Desert stretching 600 miles from the southern tip of Peru to the northern part of Chile, is the driest place on earth. There are stretches where rain has never even been recorded. Nothing lives here, no trees, no clouds, no moisture of any kind. It is the one place on earth that if you were to look at on a satellite image would appear brown because there’s no humidity present in the air. Do to the lack of moisture these 600 miles become the ultimate conservation ground, preserving anything and everything left behind from fossilized animals to human remains. The dry and rocky wasteland becomes a snapshot of frozen memories where you can shovel through and unearth organisms that once called this space home (Atacama Desert, Priit J. Vesilind).
I was watching a documentary the other day called, Nostalgia for the Light, where the story line paralleled that of astronomers peering into the desert skies and women digging through the dry grounds in search of lost loved ones. The documentary explains how in Chile, there are groups of women who go out into this massive desert in search of lost loved ones who are thought to have been killed by the Chilean government somewhere in Atacama. Knowing that the desert’s dryness would have preserved the bodies leaves the women hoping to one day uncover their loved ones remains. Wanting some kind of closure through being united with that person once more, they work tirelessly digging and digging and digging through the sand beneath the perfect blue skies.
Now, the completely clear skies of the desert brings teams of astronomers anxious to uncover the mysteries of the atmosphere. The blue skies make it the perfect place to study. So, through massive telescopes they probe the cosmos searching for a deeper understanding of the universe in which we live. Perched along the exterior of the desert, the astronomers, quite literally, surround the work of the digging women.
Isn’t that a fascinating thought? Not that women would have to search for dead bodies among the dry dirt of the land, but that we have people in search of answers regarding the past in both the concrete, the ground, and the unexplainable, the cosmos. That there are astronomers trying to define what it is that this universe is comprised of through massive telescopes that peer into a world thousands of miles away. Then simultaneously women are digging into the ground hoping to unearth answers into the mysterious disappearances of their loved ones through concrete materials such as minerals and soil.
An astronomer once said that the present moment doesn’t exist (Nostalgia for the Light). That light travels to earth too slowly for us to experience it in real time therefore by the time we see something that thing has already evolved and passed, leaving what we understand as the now allusive. Shouldn’t then, the lines of what is present become grey? I mean, this astronomer just shattered our understanding of the present moment. But even with this knowledge, astronomers still search deep into the skies for answers and we look at the past trying to make sense of the future. We want to understand even though we know that there are things, like how quickly light travels, that our human brains simply are not equipped to experience.
I think about the human experience. I think about those women trying to find their lost loved ones. The tireless hours of searching and digging with the only hope being that of uncovering a series of calcified bones. And I understand. I understand the need for closure and answers in order to move away from loss.
Then I think about the astronomers. I think about the number of times they have peered through those massive telescopes and seen glimpses of the universe that the rest of us only can imagine. The stars, cosmos, planets, all of the mysteries of this world. All of the beauty that encases us here on earth. All of the unseen. And I understand their work. I understand the need to piece together the history of the universe in order to explain the world we live in.
Then I think about the correlation, both literally and figuratively, between humans and the expansiveness of the universe. Did you know that stars are made up of calcium, the same substance that lies in our bones? Did you know that the images that those astronomers are so desperately seeking in the skies are comprised of the same materials those women are digging for in the ground? We are linked with the universe in that way. It is, literally, etched into our bones. The bones lying in the ground hold pieces of memory and the stars hold answers about the world and both are, on a molecular level, the same. We hold answers in our bodies. We need only to look to the stars to understand just how amazingly beautiful that correlation truly is because from the stars to our bones and back again we are all fundamentally the same.
All images found on google images!
Also, you should all watch Nostalgia for the Light on your own time.