Clouds Made of Sand

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Sometimes I feel really guilty about not getting this next Mission’s End book out in a timely manner. Then I see articles like this one from the Atlantic detailing one of the discoveries of the newly launched Webb telescope. After I tell myself a little joke about how Anakin would hate this planet with a vengeance matched only by his hatred of… sand people, I realize how these kinds of discoveries affect me. Maybe you’ve seen those dehydrated flower teas, the kind you drop in hot water and slowly a bloom forms; hot water fills the shrunken cells of the plant and briefly gives it life again. That’s how my brain feels when I read stuff like this. The knowledge is a warm soup that brings my thoughts to life for a while.

I am now imagining what a person, or being, on a planet like this might think of water vapor. Perhaps to them, it is as mystifying as sand vapor. After all, on a planet with this much pressure and heat, could water even create clouds? I remember when I was in 6th grade there was a contest to be a part of a two-week science camp. All the 6th-grade kids in all the schools where I lived were asked to speculate about what knowledge space travel might bring to us. We had to write an essay on a sheet of paper with the prompt. I still vaguely remember what I wrote because at that time I had just learned about absolute zero. So I wrote that we may find new viruses that we didn’t know could exist because we only know what absolute zero does here. Maybe, somewhere out there, there were things that could live, cells that could move, in absolute zero.

I won the contest and was sent to the two-week-long science camp. I saw things during that time that even if I described them to you, you might not believe me. It’s not that what I experienced was so cutting edge or mysterious, more that the group that created this contest felt that 10 and 11-year-olds should be exposed to some of the things we were exposed to. Every day we did something different, and some of the things were what you would expect. We made paper from wood pulp. We dissected a lamb’s brain. But some of the other things, the field trips we took, exposed me to science I would not be allowed to see again until I was in college. We went to two separate hospitals and met with doctors and surgeons. I still vividly remember the surgeon who had saved up buckets of organs to show us. I saw a lung that had been removed from a patient because it had a large cancerous spot. He let us touch the cancer. It was actually black, something I’d always thought was just a dramatization, and through the glove, it felt hard, like a piece of rubber had somehow fused with the flesh. He showed us a placenta, and it was huge. I never realized more than a baby took up space inside a pregnant woman’s belly. I had always just thought it was the baby. When he showed us that the placenta still could bleed by cutting it, a couple of the other students had to leave the room. I was mesmerized. The human body is amazing, and I’ve carried that with me all my life. I hope the students who left weren’t put off science, and maybe some readers might think the surgeon had gone too far. But most of us in the room thought it was awesome. I bet some of us even went on to become surgeons ourselves.

Which brings me back to clouds made of sand. I’m glad Webb is out there finding new things. And I’m glad I’m reading about it. It might be selfish of me to lust after these tidbits of scientific discovery just to stir my thoughts from their slumber, but with everything going on in the world, it allows me to imagine a place where beings made of dense substances drink Sandarita’s (a sand margarita of course!) with stone umbrellas alongside the diamond lakes. And I am, for a time, transported to a world where sandstone pebbles fall from the sky instead of rain made of water, and maybe the beings open their mouths to catch them. And that puts me in the mood to write again, a mood that has proven elusive in recent years. So if my tardiness in publishing allows for greater inspiration in the stories I tell because I get the chance to see these amazing discoveries and incorporate those ideas, then maybe, just maybe, it was worth the wait.

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