Joanne Palmer: Things that make me go, ‘hmm’
January 5, 2011
Steamboat Springs — The next time someone asks me what I do for a living, I'm going to reply, "I'm a professional wonderer." Wonderer is a hard word to pronounce, right up there with "rural," which always wobbles around inside my mouth like a handful of marbles.
I am certainly not the only one who wonders about things. While I obsess about why I can never remember to check the pockets of clothes before I toss them in the washing machine, scientists wonder about big, weighty things that might actually rock our world. According to the new book "The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality" by Richard Panek, we understand only four percent of the universe. As Panek puts it: "Four hundred years ago, Galileo turned a telescope to the night sky and discovered that there's more out there than the five planets and couple of thousand stars that meet the eye. Now astronomers are saying that there's more out there, period — whether or not it meets the eye or not. Lots more: the vast majority of the universe, in fact."
Holy Star Wars, Batman!
Martians may be only the start. The moon may be only the tip of the iceberg, the first sliver of a big universal pie. We know nothing. We think we understand the world we live in, but we understand only a teeny, tiny piece of it. The sun, moon, Earth and galaxies are a mere speck, a drop in the proverbial bucket. The great beyond, everything else out there, is a big mystery waiting to be solved.
What could be out there? Maybe an animal planet where our departed pets are playing. A thin planet where inhabitants can eat without gaining weight. A cell phone-free planet. I have no idea, but I am going to add it to my list of things to wonder about it, along with some other humdrum stuff like: If we learn from our mistakes, why does history repeat itself? And if telephone calls are really monitored for quality assurance, why don't they improve?
During the holidays, I wondered a lot about Christmas trees. Why is there no politically correct way to have a tree? All year, we yammer about saving trees. We encourage others to consider the environment before printing e-mails. We recycle. We print on both sides of a piece of paper. Yet at Christmas, we rush into the forest to chop down a helpless tree, buy one from a tree farm or drag a fake tree out of storage and decorate it.
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I got to wondering about the origin of fake trees and here's what I found on the National Christmas Tree Association website: "Fake trees were invented by a company who made toilet bowl brushes, the Addis Brush Company. Regardless of how far the technology has come, it's still interesting to know the first fake Christmas trees were really just big green toilet bowl brushes."
That's the beauty of wondering. It leads me to discover something I didn't know. It might be funny, it might change the way I navigate the world or it simply might make me check the pockets of clothes before I toss them into the washing machine. Don't worry. Wonder. It may open up a new universe for you.