Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who returned to Earth yesterday after five months in the International Space Station, is a great communicator and entertainer who has almost singlehandedly, it is said, stirred up people’s interest in space exploration again. He tweeted and sang from space and made videos about living at the station that have garnered some 22 million views.
But here’s what strikes me as I look at Hadfield’s amazing photographs and their accompanying twitter-length commentary: the man is a poet.
It could be argued that Hadfield’s photographs are the stunning feature of his twitter communication, presenting as they do new ways of seeing places on Earth. Yet the accompanying words are hugely important and interesting too, sometimes as a matter of information about a location or phenomenon, sometimes as humor (re. photo of the Galapagos — “just far enough apart to give Darwin something to think about”), and often as poetry, by which I mean the use of images or language that brings unlike things together and/or creates or intensifies understanding.
There are so many examples I could cite. “A springtime haze laps on the evening shore of the Alps.” “This lake looks like it’s burrowing its way across the landscape.” “Clouds swoop in on Crimea, a white bird on the Black Sea.” “The first light of the rising sun turns our solar arrays to woven gold.” “The dry folded skin of the Sahara desert, looking like the crust of a pie.” “Brussels gleams like a lace jewel.” “A blackness like endless velvet.” “Clouds over western Europe, rippled like water over a stone.” Wouldn’t you agree that even the words on their own offer insights into Earth from space?
For me, viewing the photographs and reading the commentary is one Praise Be! after the other. (See a collection of “best”photographs here, the twitter feed here). Chris Hadfields’s legacy may be an awakened interest in space exploration but the gift he gives me is Earth (“I’m still in love with what the Earth shows me each day”). Or maybe I should say, his translation of space’s perspective on Earth as put into words.