Back to School By Way of the Solar System
    by John Cech

They've just done a wonderful thing in our town on what used to be a rather dull, bare street that was devoid of any real visual distinction. There's a long sidewalk, that's really a corridor between the busy road on one side, and, on the other, some scruffy woods that the power company keeps hacking back each year. The local Astronomy club commissioned a series of obelisks to be created by a sculptor, one for each of the planets in our solar system. And then, with the consent of the city government through its art in public places program, they have arranged these pillars, next to this half-mile stretch of sidewalk that leads to a local elementary. The obelisk that represents the sun is closest to the intersection by the school, and the other planetary columns stretch out in proper spatial relation to one another, all the way down the street to Pluto, which you can barely see, shimmering in the distance, if you're standing in the shade of the sun.

Each of these four-sided, planet pillars is about twelve feet tall, with a star-shaped colar and a globe representing either the sun or one of the planets on the very top. They're made from cast concrete, with bits of glass and polished stone embeddedd into the colored surface, and with the lines of orbits and trajectories etched across the sides, like the tales of comets or shooting stars. On each of the columns, there are plaques that note some basic information about the planets -- their size, density, and comparative ratios to one another. And on each side of each column, the sculptor has inscribed quotes from scientists and philosophers, poets and anonymous gazers at the heavens, the well-known and the obscure. A portion of one of the Psalms is here, and so are words from Shakespeare and Tennyson. But the words of the writer A. Hoges caught my eye -- they're all the way at the end of the solar system on one of the less visible sides of Pluto:

"We who are home on one dark grain of dust around one indistinguishable spark of star mist, lost in one feather of light, can by the strength of our own thought ascend through universe after universe. " Now that's something to ponder, all the way to home room.

Copyright 2002, John Cech

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Monday, 28-Oct-2002 21:04:15 EST

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