The Apollo 8 “earthrise” photo was taken by astronaut Bill Anders almost exactly 50 years ago — 12.24.68. Joni Mitchell wrote her “marbled bowling ball” line for “Refuge of the Road” seven or eight years later.
The moon has never seemed all that far off. A good distance, of course, but not crazy-far. As a kid my calculations told me it was maybe 50,000 miles away. I would look up, gauge the moon’s size, consider the fact that lunar gravitation has something to do with ocean waves and calculate that with the earth’s diameter being 8000 miles the moon was maybe eight earth-sizes away. Okay, make it ten or 80,000 miles. The NY-to-LA drive is a little less than 3K so a flight to the moon, I figured, was the equivalent of 26 coast-to-coast drives.
It’s nothing like that, of course. The actual earth-to-moon distance averages 238,555 miles, which works out to 79 NY-to-LA road trips.** Or, if you prefer, the earth’s diameter times 29. If the earth is a basketball and the moon is a small apple or cherry tomato, the distance between them is 24 feet. Which strikes me, no offense, as a bit much.
In fact, between the earth and the moon you could fit all of the planets in our solar system end to end — Mercury, Venus, Mars, disappointing non-planet Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. (Pluto was demoted from planetary status in 2006, just like Hollywood Elsewhere was demoted this year by the Sundance Film Festival.)
In a highway service station
Over the month of June
Was a photograph of the earth
Taken coming back from the moon
And you couldn’t see a city
On that marbled bowling ball
Or a forest or a highway
Or me here least of all
You couldn’t see these cold water restrooms
Or this baggage overload
Westbound and rolling taking refuge in the roads