On Friday afternoon I was walking down the hill from the dry cleaner, thinking as one does about Aquinas and his five arguments for the existence of God. Naturally enough I rolled around the idea of first cause, which led to thinking about the originating moment of existence, which in turn led to an attempt to imagine the moment before the Creation. At that point, dear reader, my eyes crossed and my head began to swim because I found it impossible and greatly disorienting to try imagining nothingness, the complete absence of the natural universe. It felt like a very lonely place, because in order to imagine Nothing, I had to also imagine myself attempting to observe this Nothing, so there we were: Nothing and me. Which is not, of course, Nothing, because in Nothing there is neither observer nor observed, and trying to imagine that gave me a bitch of a headache. Luckily, by then I'd reached my front door and was able to hang up my dry cleaning and brew a pot of coffee, which I drank in the garden while the cat sat on the arm of a nearby Adirondack chair and ignored me as best as she could.
Yesterday morning I was walking from the train station to my office and I looked up at the sky, noting with some satisfaction that the clouds were behaving in a less threatening manner, retreating upward from my fair city and breaking apart here and there to display a deep blue heaven edged with sunlit cumulus fluff, very pretty indeed. Lower down, near the horizon, all was still a mix of gray and silver, layer upon layer of nimbus and wet. Not for the first time I thought that if the sky were fixed, like a landscape, like a mountain range or an archipelago, we'd long ago have given names to the geography of the sky and written myths about the gods and mortals suspended up there. There's Bartleby's Wall, we'd think, or The Medusa's Hair, and when the moon passed behind a cloud bank we'd remember the stories of the inhabitants of the far side of those clouds, people who dance in moonlight, wisps of cloud raised by their rhythmic feet. The development of high-altitude aircraft would mean detailed maps of these unseen regions and subsequent disappointment over the absence of floating palaces and villages. "There's nothing up there," we'd say.