Smalltown, USA.

I graduated high school in a small town in Southwest Michigan. It was rural compared to my upbringing outside of Chicago, but it had charm. I would often walk out to the Lakeshore where we had a beautiful red lighthouse, and I remember feeling like I was on the edge of the world.

At the end of the pier, I would lean back against the cold red, steel of the lighthouse and watch the wind whip across the wave tops and listen to it howl around the trunk, stinging my eyes, and blushing my cheeks. I loved that spot, but even better was when I took shelter on the leeward side. I was protected from the wind there, so I could spend hours sitting back and admiring my quaint town on the hill.

From that spot, you could just make out the pizza parlor, and the ice cream shop. I imagine if you had climbed the lighthouse catwalk, you could have seen the high school, the library, and maybe even the old factory. They couldn’t be more than a couple miles away, but they stood tall over the small houses of the old residential town.

And perhaps if you had one of those remote-controlled drones, you could have sent it up a little bit higher and seen the Big Boy restaurant on the far edge of town. Out there, the Big Boy mascot was the last vestige of city fabric before the blueberry farms and cornfields opened up in all directions.

But why stop there?

If you continued to ascend in that drone, you could spin back around to the West and look out across the water again, this time knowing for certain that it wasn’t the edge of the world. In fact, you would see the great city of Chicago rising up from the haze. A buzzing world of 10 million people there – just out of earshot!

Higher still, in your stratosphere-capable drone, you would be able make out the whole outline of the Great Lakes, just puddles on the surface of North America. As the sun starts to set, the lights of Chicago would demand your attention, and the rest of the Great Plains would fade to black.

The light pollution would reveal the endless activities of that great city, but would soon pale as the bright streak across the eastern seaboard reveals itself. A steady hum of life would fill the viewfinder as you start to make out the shift of the surface beneath you. You witness 400 million people’s lives condense into a subtle luminescence, like a binary reading of life on earth.

Fade Out

At this altitude, the earth’s three dimensions come into focus and its rotation creates a carousel of imagery; from East Coast to Best Coast, all of it slowly drifts away to the right. You notice that the green landmass appears contiguous – no borders or distinctions, just an uninterrupted tract of geography. Plains become mountains, and mountains become valleys, until the shore crashes into the surf of the perceptibly larger swath of the mighty, blue ocean.

Propelling you higher still, on your tiny spacecraft, you reach the threshold of the infinite. Nations dissolve into geology, and societies into details, as the blackness of space begins to frame the Earth before you. All the world you’ve ever known pulls on you like gravity, but you push onward and upward. Your interstellar trajectory is unknown, but in the endless possibilities of the universe, nearly every path will lead to an entirely uneventful, and unlimited shot in to the dark.

The earth fades away, reducing in size and complexity until all you can make out is the faint hue of the oceans. And we, humanity, will remain behind here, together but distant, and altogether insignificant, on this pale blue dot.

Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles).

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