Color Therapy

Our sleeping quarters and common rooms are painted green at the Mars base.

When working days are spent wandering the parched, icy deserts, coping with blowing orange dust and at every moment taking in the stark and terrible grandeur of the red planet, green is not just a luxury, it is a psychological necessity.

As we four travellersGraham, Conniston, Tamur and Owendeapproach Earth on the return leg, the blue marble growing against the magnificent solitude of the stars, we think back and remember the transitional momentthe thrill of deep and profound satisfaction when our eyes, long used to red, were treated to green. We rarely spoke of it during the surface phase, but none was immune; when we returned from EVA, blew our suits clear of the iron-red soils and wearily climbed from their protective embrace, we each silently longed for that visual reminder of the world, the life, of our birth.

Now we are almost home we ponder this, and are thankful the psychologists foresaw the problem. Simple plastic ferns were a reminder of the life we were born among and long for; no matter our training or enthusiasm, the sterility of space is unnatural.

Commander Graham is the first to weep at the sight of Earth, the magnified crescent on every screen in the ship, the lighted portion blazing blue as the sun strikes the oceans. Accepted theory tells us life came from the waters, and to see the ocean from two million kilometers is a gift to our souls. Earth is still just a bright star, the Moon not yet visible, but our deceleration maneuver to inject into high orbit will be tomorrow, and we are busy with system checks. Technical matters occupy our thoughts, but whenever we drift by the graphical displays we gaze longingly at Earth.

Little by little, the crescent swells as the relative angle between planet, ship and sun changes, and we make out more detail. Here a sea, there a cloudmass, occasionally a continent. Deserts are the familiar ochre, but it is forest we long for.

All we know and love is before us. We have each spoken to family as the signal lag grows shorter, and we know we will soon transition to full gravity, the first our bodies have known in many months; but it is to color we look forward the most. The clean whites and chromes of the ship are like a hospital, a laboratory, and we spend much of our time in the common room with its comforting green.

As a mission specialist my job on Mars was prospecting, working with the satellites and planetary scans to locate potential resources for future exploitation. We have over a long-ton of mineralogical samples aboard. The grays, ochres and reds of Martian soils and ores have been my stock in trade for all the years of my technical training, but it is only now, as Earth grows before us, I realize my first allegiance is to the world of my birth.

Would I be a colonist? Until recently I would have said yes, but absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Only upon homecoming do I find I appreciate the lonely blue marble in the way I perhaps always should have. I linger over-long at the screens, savoring the delicate detail, catching first sight of snow-capped mountains distinct from cloud banks, and, a day later, I am also first to make out the Nile reaching toward the dark forests of Africa’s great lakes region. At my side, Owende weeps as she makes out her homelands.

I call the cool pine woods of New Brunswick home, and as the planet turns on our screens I watch for it rising. At the direct vision ports each of us performs the time-honored tradition of raising a thumb to obscure the whole world, a perspective which never fails to drive home how insignificant a single race, a single biome, is at the galactic scale. For all the teeming multitudes of nature, we are a flyspeck, a single instance of life in a whirlpool of stars of which we are still largely ignorant. I know I share a sentiment with my shipmates when I find it outrageous that down on our precious sphere so many fellow humans view life--any life--as a competitor, an enemy to be defeated, or simply an inconvenience.

We return as explorers, pioneers, early voyagers of the solar system, but travel broadens one’s perspective and home never looks quite as it did when leaving. As we inject into high orbit, meet first shuttles and make our correction burns to snug in at the lower transfer station, we go through our end-of-mission procedures with a sense of deep expectancy. For to take the final step, that last plummet through burning air, is to commune with life once more.

Family and friends await, the media and a world eager for our stories. Most of all, for me, homecoming’s true gift will be to walk alone into those woodlands with their infinite shades of green, heavy with the scent of pine resin and the song of birds, to sit alone with my thoughts between the waters and the sky, and process my place in the universe. A dust mote, contemplating creation; to journey between worlds is to be profoundly humbled, but also to bring back new impressions.

Though the icy red deserts of our closest neighbor will haunt my dreams forever, it is into the green arms of terrestrial forests I sink for solace, comfort and familiarity; and to recognize myself in all the myriad forms of the vulnerable, kindred life of Earth.

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