“Equilateral” by Ken Kalfus

PattyRecommended by PattyEquilateral

In June, I paddled under the strawberry moon.

Sounds like the lyrics to an old-fashioned song, right? But in this case it is actually true; I did that very thing, as part of my mindful campaign to be more intentional about enjoying life. (Wow, you’re probably rolling your eyes, she’s both “mindful” and also “intentional”. I know, I know but there really are times when what’s trending is also good!)

Anyway, I was lucky enough to kayak one evening on the Vermilion River as the strawberry moon was rising. This is the full moon that appears in June. It may have gotten its name from Native Americans because it appears at the same time that strawberry season peaks. Or, some say, it was named for the reddish tint it takes on when it is so close to the horizon.

I was paddling with some school-teacher friends who are smart enough to know that we had to be heading in this direction at this specific time in order to get the best view of the rising moon. We looked and looked until suddenly, ahead in the silhouette of tree branches, there it was, bright and rosy, beautiful and oh so mysterious.

People on earth have long been fascinated by our celestial neighbors, ever since we first were able to lift our eyes up from the rigors of daily existence to peer heavenward and consider them. The sight of the strawberry moon glowing above the waters of the river made me think of a book I highly recommend, “Equilateral” by Ken Kalfus.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Kalfus imagines, a British astronomer believes he sees activity on Mars and devises a plan to communicate with whoever might be out there. Kalfus’ story is inspired by the real-life “discovery” (which was later proved erroneous) of canals on Mars in 1877. At that time, some people went so far as to propose these were irrigation canals being built by an intelligent civilization.

Kalfus’ astronomer has a grandiose scheme – to construct an enormous, triangular trench in the Egyptian desert, flood it with oil and set it afire to send a blazing signal to the engineers on Mars that intelligent life also exists here.

But alas (of course), our earthly scientist is yet a man – beset by human passions: he’s driven by his hunger for power, his need to control and his instinctual desire to assert his primacy, enflamed by the threat of potential rivals, on earth and elsewhere.

Kalfus is a National Book Award finalist for a previous novel, and three of his works have been named New York Times Notable Books of the Year. He earned tons of acclaim for “Equilateral” too. I recommend you read it. It’ll give you something to think about next time you’re looking up into the night sky and you begin to imagine who else might be out there.

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