Loving The Blue Dot

by Maria Theresa Maggi on December 20, 2017

"Blue Dot" chalk pastel by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Blue Dot” chalk pastel by Maria Theresa Maggi

Of late I’ve noticed a pattern in my memory sketches. They are increasingly focused on how small our man- made structures and objects look against the vastness of the sky and the ocean. And yet, as toy-like as they seem in the moments I’ve tried to capture them,  it’s the light from that vastness that bring them a gem-like sparkle, or, as Victorian Walter Pater once wrote “a gem-like flame.”

The whole of his exhortation goes like this:

“To burn always with this hard gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.”


Alas, this ecstasy is fleeting, I would argue; it is not always available. It might not even be desirable, let alone possible. And yet, although I’d be hard pressed to say exactly how to cultivate it, to be able to notice when a door into it has opened, to stop and look and let myself be lifted out of whatever tangled train of thought I’ve derailed,  does indeed make me feel successful at being alive. To look, and then feel that ecstasy at what I’m seeing, that I am a part of it as the observer who honors, and then to go home and try to let that somehow come out of my hands into a drawing–it does really make me feel like I’ve earned my right to breathe that day. There’s nothing else quite like it for me, not even writing these words about it.

Here’s  a couple of the recent drawings I’m referring to:

“Driving By Sunset and Ocean with Christmas Lights,” chalk pastel memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

Last Saturday on the way to the grocery store for weekly shopping with the friends who take me, I was looking out at the sunset over the ocean through the car window from the back seat when this house with  lights suddenly came into view in the cove below. We were speeding along on the highway, so I only saw it for a few seconds before the trees swallowed it up, but it spontaneously lifted me into enchantment. I still marvel at how it can be that this is literally what it’s possible to see here on the way to the grocery store. To capture it is this memory sketch is like being able to hold it in my hands. I was happy to hear my friends say when they saw the drawing, even though they didn’t see the house from the front seat, that I got the colors of the ocean and sunset “just right.” I’m not really sending out Christmas cards this year, but if I was, this would probably be it.

A few days ago the dogs and I were on the beach in late afternoon at low tide, about a half mile or so north of our beach access. I was playing with Cotton and Romeo, and throwing a stuffed toy that Cotton absolutely loves to catch and shake and make squeak when I turned around after picking it up and hurling it into the air for him once again, to see this:

“Sunset in Beach House Windows,” pastel memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

Up until this point the sunset had not promised to be anything spectacular. But the sight of it shining in these little windows with such amazing brightness and complexity literally took my breath away. I couldn’t stop looking at it. The windows were capturing a level of detail from an angle that wasn’t yet visible from where I stood looking at the horizon, but was nonetheless evidently there.

My receptivity to being positioned to notice such things, even if they only occur for a flash, seems to have bubbled over into the mundane activity of browsing Netflix; I like to think it’s why The Farthest: Voyager in Space caught my eye. Besides that, the images of Saturn from Voyager and I go way back. Some of them published in National Geographic in the early 80’s helped me finish what would become the title poem of my first book of poems, The Rings Around Saturn.  I can still see myself in the UCI library, pouring over the photographs and their descriptions, which sent me into that place where I heard what would become the voice of “The Scientist” in that poem. I’ve watched The Farthest twice now, enthralled with the narrative of discovery, and the amazing photographs of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. But most resonant for me are the descriptions  two women who were imaging scientists on the Voyager team gave about seeing the final “looking back” shots of the solar system before Voyager entered interstellar space, the “blue dot” photos that Carl Sagan would make famous.

One imaging scientist recalls that she was the first to see the images come through after they did the portrait of the planets. She was familiar at identifying blemishes on the images and she thought to herself “where’s the earth?”

“There were a lot of streaks of light in that image,” she goes on to say. “And then I realized, finally, that the earth was sitting in one of those rays of light. I just say there for a while, kind of realizing, wow, that’s the earth, that’s Voyager looking back at the earth.” Once she “recovered,” she said, she started calling people–the Project Manager, Carl Sagan (who had pushed for this portrait to take place, despite some scientists on the project who were against it, claming there was “absolutely zero science in it) and–my favorite–her Dad.

Another imaging scientist recalls she first thought “oh this didn’t turn out the way we thought it was going to turn out and my first impulse is to take my hand and wipe away the dust because there was some dust on it. Well, one of the pieces of dust that I wanted to wipe away was the Earth.”

The light that comes into the faces of these women as they remember what it was like to first identify the Earth in these photos reminds me of how I feel when I see something that surprises me with its beauty, usually predicated on its unexpected showcasing of jaw-dropping scale. In the serendipity of that moment of apprehension, the tiny becomes magnificent; the vast settles into the palm of my hand.

In honor of my affinity with this thrill of recognition and discovery, I decided to draw my own version of the famous “blue dot in a sunbeam” photograph of our Earth, taken as Voyager looks back on our solar system for the last time before heading out into interstellar space. As Winter Solstice approaches in the northern hemisphere, it’s meaningful to me to meditate on our world from this perspective. For me, even in trying times, if there is space allowed for epiphany, there is hope. We can look up in wonder, look back with love, and look forward with vision.

What and who is little or big is absolutely a matter of perspective. I love the seemingly little things,  and seemingly big things shown to be little, like these surfers I watched  in the swells from up above the beach:

“Surfers November High Tide memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

Those little things that catch my eye, the little blue dot we spin on; they literally make a” world” of difference. This little blue dot of a planet needs all the love and care we can possibly give it, and all the fight we’ve got in us. The golden record we made of our breath-taking diverse beauty and humanity that went out into interstellar space with Voyager is a story about us, whether or not any potential aliens ever hear or see any of it. I’m going to honor that story, by apprehending beauty, by acting with as much compassion and courage I can muster, and by honoring this little blue dot in my art, for as many days as I am given the grace to do so.

Happy Solstice, Friends. May the force of a sunbeam lighting up the dark be with you all.

Maria (moonwatcher)






Leave a Comment

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 kay mixon December 21, 2017 at 8:03 am

Dear Maria, Thanks SO much for your comments on the Blue Dot and The Farthest: Voyager in Space. I’ve watched it 3 times and never tire of it. So inspiring to see ourselves from afar and realize our place in the universe (and how we are not the center in spite of what it feels like here on earth). Love your art work. Kay


2 Maria Theresa Maggi December 22, 2017 at 11:33 am

Thank you Kay! Love knowing you watched it 3 times! I appreciate your insight too, about it, and the kind words about my art work.


3 Gloria December 22, 2017 at 8:57 am

Your pieces are Beautiful. I particularly like the reflections of sunset in the windows. Merry Christmas Maria.


4 Maria Theresa Maggi December 22, 2017 at 11:33 am

Thank you so much Gloria! Merry Christmas back to you. 🙂


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