In the midst of these exciting events another incident occurred which, while it lasted, held Carsten Niebuhr’s attention completely. On 6th June 1761, the planet Venus appeared in its orbit in front of the sun. In order to observe and measure this rare phenomenon, Niebuhr set up his astrolabe and telescope on deck while all the sailors were rushing round getting the ship ready for battle. Unfortunately he had to complain that, despite the calm weather, the shaking of the boat prevented him from taking his readings with the desired accuracy. Nevertheless, there is something very engaging in the picture of the earnest astronomer standing on the foredeck busy with his instruments while the sailors make ready for battle all around him and the English warships lie waiting a little way off on the shining sea. One of the reasons why the world has not yet gone under is perhaps that even at the most dramatic moments there is always someone who unconcernedly looks the other way. At circles in the sand. At a gable in Delft. So on the ship on which guns are being got ready for their murderous debate, a man is completely absorbed in observing the path of Venus.
—from Arabia Felix: The Danish Expedition of 1761-1767 by Thorkild Hansen
Carsten Niebuhr, hero for our time? I acknowledge it can be frustrating to deal with someone who’s continually distracted, but in the main I think this passage is describing a man with admirable qualities. The people who notice things that no one else does point us toward possibilities we haven’t imagined. Sometimes those previously unseen details lead to monumental discoveries and groundbreaking inventions, but even the smallest observations bring unexpected color and joy to our lives.
Which is why we’ve invited one of our favorite writers to lead us on a journey through our own backyard. David Williams is the author of one of our bestselling titles in any genre and one of those people with an admirably keen eye. We’ve interviewed him about the ways in which humans have transformed our local landscape, we’ve field-tested his road maps, and now we’re finally hosting him in person. Join us on Thursday, July 19th as he takes us on an exclusive tour of our Mercer Island environs! ... continued