Showing posts with label History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History. Show all posts

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Meaning in Accident

There is a piece of clay in my house. About the size of a Kiwi fruit, and shaped vaguely like one that's been a bit squashed. It is dingy-white and red, a natural clay found not far from here, and harder than stone. Never having seen a fire, it was age that hardened it. Being worked, at a nearby clay works, it was one day dropped and never again picked up.
In its surface, indented a small depth, is a perfect human thumbprint, its whorls and ridges as hard as the hubs of hell. A thousand years and change, and the thumbprint is perfect to the touch, not mating with my own but rough against it. A human presence, physical, warm if left in the sun, cold if left in the shade. To touch the dead, all I have to do is turn to the cabinets and take down this artifact. To touch the living, all the dead have to do is wait. What meaning exists, must exist in accident. Nothing with purpose could carry so much weight.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Those Who Are About to Die

"Burn the Land, and Boil the Sea - You Can't Take the Sky from Me." Firefly

Fortuna Audaces Iuvat - "Fortune Favors the Bold"

Twenty four years ago today, in the Florida sunshine the space shuttle Challenger roared to the cold sky, its solid rocket boosters burning rapidly towards a failing joint and O-Ring seal that had cracked in the cold. Seventy-three seconds into the flight when the fire reached the joint it blew out the side, and hit the fuel tanks - A fiery blow as if from an angry and fearful god, selfish of his skies. The explosion and resultant fall to sea took the lives of the seven crewmembers, six astronauts and one civilian, who were daring to follow mankind's dream of the stars. Astronauts Ellison Onizuka, Mike Smith, Dick Scobee, Greg Jarvis, Ron McNair and Judy Resnick, and schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe experienced one minute and thirteen seconds of the dream before their lives were cut short in a fireball and they took the bigger journey into the greater unknown. They were not the first to die, finger tips brushing at the black, and they would not be the last.

On January 27th 1967 Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee died aboard Apollo 1, still on the launch pad, when a spark ignited the pure oxygen atmosphere of the sealed capsule during pre-flight tests.
On April 24th 1964 Vladimir Komarov reentered the earths atmosphere in the malfunctioning Soyuz 1 capsule and died when the parachute lines tangled plummeting Soyuz 1 into the earth at two hundred miles an hour.
In May of 1967 the crew of Soyuz 11, Georgi Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patsayev, and Vladislav Volkov, died when a malfunctioning valve caused the capsule to depressurize just prior to reentry.

Between then and the morning of January 28th 1986 no astronaut or cosmonaut would die engaged in a mission. Then following that cold January, it would be fifteen years before sacrifice was once more demanded. On February 1st 2003 the crew of the space shuttle Columbia - Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Dr. Kalpana Chawla, Laurel B. Clark and Ilan Ramon - died when the shuttle, suffering damage to its protective tiles, blew up over the western United States during reentry. It is quite possible that these seven people knew or at least suspected they were going to die and proceeded ahead, chasing the dream to infinity.
This is not taking account of, but in no way to discount, the sacrifices of test pilots, engineers and others who have died in explosions, plane crashes or as a result of other accidents associated with the various space programs. They are many, and their sacrifice is as great.

We live in a world of sports heroes, movie stars and rock gods. People who, on whole, are shallow, fatuous, and often as not disgusting and disagreeable individuals, more concerned with image, money and whatever “cause of the month” will get them the most attention. Among them are rapists, thieves, murderers, and narcissists of the highest order who have no greater dream or vision. No desire to live for something greater, and certainly, perhaps most certainly of all, no strength to die for something greater.
While those people are made heroes, there are quieter, smarter, stronger men and women who dare to brave the unknown, the unknowable, and the dangerous to chase down what may be the greatest dream of the human race: The secrets of the heavens - The glittering and shimmering unknowns of that great expanse of possibility and hope.
In the end, it will not be the movie gods and rock stars who will carry mankind into the future, into new hope, new worlds. It will not be the sports heroes who open the doors for us all. It will be such quiet people willing to serve a dream, and if necessary, die for it.
It is my prayer, whispered desperately to those heavens, that we will hold on long enough, that they may deliver that dream to us before it is lost to the murky depths of forgotten consciousness.
”Go! at throttle up” the stars are ahead.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Santa Fe Super Chief and Albuquerque Depot, Circa 1943

This is a photo of the Santa Fe line's Super Chief, that ran between Chicago and Los Angeles. It was taken in 1943, at the Albuquerque depot, by Jack Delano.
This was posted on a military forum I hang out on earlier this evening. There are quite a few history buffs, train geeks and Americana junkies there, understandably, but I was still surprised to see something so close to home getting attention. Credit for bringing it to the forum posters attention goes to A Continuous Lean, where the photo is included in a neat look at the Super Chief.

I am kind of a geek for New Mexico rail history. My great-grandfather was the head machinist at the Belen, NM yards when the roundhouse was there. I grew up with pieces of steam locomotives in my backyard. I am not a huge train nut, but there is still something about them. Trains are cool. Trains are industrial, and mechanical and engineering-in-action and magic. The history and stories surrounding the railroad industry are equally magic. If you can't see it in this photo, you're lost and will never understand.
There are so many cool things going on in this picture, I'm sort of overwhelmed by it. It is a collection of some of the most iconic American images, all together as functional elements in a piece of reality. A reality long gone, before my time.
There is, of course, that fantastic engine. Its bright red and yellow preserved in perfect Kodachrome by Mr. Delano. There are men in denim work wear, carrying lunch, pumping diesel - Working and living a hard, earned, life. Men in suits, and hats (what happened to hats?). Those fantastic automobiles when cars really looked like, and were built like, something to be valued and appreciated.
Behind all this, in Mission-Revival glory are the old Albuquerque depot and the Alvarado Hotel, both gone and replaced by a tacky facsimile. Built in 1902, the Alvarado was one of the Harvey House hotels, and among the largest and most beautiful. It was demolished in 1970 and replaced with a parking lot. The rest of the original depot burned in the late Eighties or early Nineties. The reproduction buildings were put up later, a supposed tribute to the original.

A truly great photograph. An ordinary moment, frozen on film, that has in the passage of time become an amazing moment.