Voyage to infinity

Spacecraft mirrors the struggles of Canada's early pioneers

I could carry, paddle, walk and sing with any man I ever saw … No portage was ever too long for me, fifty songs I could sing.  I have had twelve wives and six running dogs.  I spent all my money on pleasure.  Were I young again, I would spend my life the same way over.

There is no life so happy as a voyageur’s life.

— Old voyageur, circa 1825

 

 

I think ‘voyageur’ is one of the most galvanic words in Canadian history.  Imagine those guys!  Fourteen-hour days squatting in birch bark shells, shoulders knotted, sweat popping off their brows, paddling a stroke a second, smashing through rapids, bogs and Great Lakes cloudbursts, sleeping under their canoes when the blackflies and mosquitoes allowed them to.  And doing it from the top of the Lachine rapids to the nethermost snout of Lake Superior.

And back.  Every year between spring break-up and the autumn freeze.

The voyageurs’ exploits defined this country for nearly two centuries, and then faded from the scene as the beaver that drew them west grew sparse.

In the end they left no more mark than a paddle swirl on the water.  And even less of a record, being mostly illiterate.

Voyageur. In English, ‘voyager’: one who goes on a long and sometimes dangerous journey.

There is another voyager — called, in fact, Voyager 2.

It is a NASA spacecraft in the 36th year of a profoundly perilous journey. It has traveled through our entire solar system, beyond Mars, Saturn, even Pluto.

Voyager 2 doesn’t present anything close to the noble silhouette of a Voyageur canot du nord.

It looks like a collision of giant kitchen utensils, an ungainly mashup of antennae and probes attached to a dog’s breakfast of scientific instruments.  But it can fly.  Voyager 2 has been moving away from Earth for nearly four decades now and is doubtless dented and scarred by its (so far) 16-billion mile voyage.

But get this.  In the belly of Voyager 2 there is a golden disc. It is a recording of earth sounds destined for the ears of … well who knows?  Whoever or whatever is Out There. Any sentient being that can figure out how to access that disc will hear the sound of:

A gust of wind, the patter of rain, human footsteps, the chitter of a chimpanzee, a baby’s heartbeat, a mother’s kiss, and a burst of belly laughter.

Also, the music of Bach and Mozart.  Plus Chuck Berry’s Johnny Be Good.

It was a galactic leap of faith.  When Voyager 2 launched, the planet was knotted in a Cold War, famine and disease stalked huge swathes of Asia and Africa.  A spectre called AIDS was just beginning to cast its shadow.  The world, as it usually is, was a mess.

But out of the chaos, this:  a cry to the universe that says: We’re good.  We can do beautiful things.  We matter.

Carl Sagan, who helped choose the sound bites on the golden disc, said “The launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.”

Indeed it does.  It’s a message any Canadian voyageur would understand in his bones.

 

 

 

Arthur Black is a regular columnist. He lives on Salt Spring Island.

 

 

Just Posted

Parksville residents hear compelling tales from recovering young addicts

Speakers emphasize need for detox and treatment centre, shelter in the area

REVIEW: ‘Grace and Glorie’ a moving tale of death and friendship

Two women convey characters convincingly and with humour

Jordie Lunn, world-renowned mountain biker from Parksville, dies in accident

The 36-year-old was with friends trail riding in Cabo San Lucas when the accident happened

Island man restores 1962 Qualicum Beach fire truck he bought for $1

Vintage vehicle in working order and ready to hit the road

B.C.’s rural paramedic program expands, with home support

Advanced care ambulance staff added for six communities

BC Ferries sees steady traffic of post-Thanksgiving weekend travellers

Ferries filling up fast, sailing waits at some terminals

Canadian Snowbirds plane crashes before air show in Atlanta

Pilot lands safely after ejecting from jet

Singh says NDP would form coalition with the Liberals to stop Tories

Singh was in a Liberal-held riding Sunday afternoon in Surrey where he was pressed about his post-election intentions

‘My heart goes out to the mother’: B.C. dad reacts to stabbing death of Ontario boy

Carson Crimeni, who was also 14, was bullied relentlessly, his dad says

BC Ferries filling up fast with post-Thanksgiving weekend travellers

Monday anticipated to be busiest day of the weekend

‘Save the kids!’ Dorian survivor tells the harrowing story of his Canadian wife’s death

Family held a funeral and placed Alishia Liolli’s remains in a niche at a cemetery in Windsor, Ont.

Okanagan woman, 91, votes at advance polls despite broken hip, shoulder and wrist

Angela Maynard has voted in almost every election during her lifetime

Heiltsuk Nation open first Big House in 120 years in northern B.C.

Opening means the community now has an appropriate space for spiritual and ceremonial events

Most Read