Holed up in memory

August 2, 2008

Big news about the definitive confirmation of water’s presence on Mars dispatches my mind not to the Red Planet but back in time. Back to a dark hole at the edge of a Florida orange grove.

When we were kids growing up in Maitland, my two brothers and I dug down five feet through the sandy soil. It was behind a hedge in back of our house. We put plywood over the hole, left a small opening beneath the hedge as a door, and covered the plywood with dirt. Instant underground fort.

What will the Phoenix Lander find next?We’d lounge inside, resting on a bed of Spanish moss and bathed in candlelight. One evening our father whistled for us to come home. He was nearby. Sand trickled down a wall. He was walking across the “roof.” We held our breath. Then we realized he had no clue we were beneath his feet.

Looking back, I remember rubbing between my fingers bits of seashell we’d unearthed, pondering how they got there fifty miles from the Atlantic.

Now I wonder whether millions of years ago skinny barefoot boys dug underground forts on Mars, far from oceans that had had begun receding, oceans that eventually vanished. Maybe a big announcement NASA plans to make next month regarding a super-secret discovery at the Phoenix Lander site is about strange depressions in the Martian soil.