Japanese artist Makoto Azuma lets his imagination soar in the most uplifting way. Last week the acclaimed Japanese botanical sculptor took off from his high-end Ginza flower shop and headed for the Nevada desert to send flowers up into the stratosphere.
Why? ”I wanted to see the movement and beauty of plants and flowers suspended in space,” he said. It's as good a reason as any for his project, called Exobotanica. See more info in a New York Times story.
A 50-year-old white pine bonsai tree from his own collection was first to head for the heavens under a helium balloon supplied by JP Aerospace, a volunteer outfit that describes itself as 'America's Other Space Program'.
Next up was a bouquet of bright blooms from all around the world chosen specially to stand out against the blackness of space at high altitude. Naturally there were cameras aplenty to record both beautiful ascents.
After the balloons burst (at around 90,000 feet) the devices that held the plants parachuted back to Earth and were retrieved, but not the plants… they were lost up there or presumably fluttered back down in fragments.
You might say, what's the point? Aren't there better things to do in the world? Well, in a time when the world is awash with horrific images, I think pictures like this do us a great service. To see such beauty - the ground beneath and its fruits flying above - does the heart good.
As usual the world’s current major crises are about borders. Where they lie. Who lives on either side of them. Who believes they deserve to own a chunk of land on the other side.
People would not be being blasted by bombs in Gaza or lying dead in the sunflower fields of Ukraine, were it not for men fighting over borders.
We often hear that religion has been the cause of most of the world’s wars. Sure, hard to argue with that. But there's also the business of borders, first invented way back in ancient history by tribes who liked their valley or plain or hillside or slice of seashore, and wanted it to keep it for themselves.
The thinking is that the land I stand on is mine and that bit over there is yours. We’ve worked hard to stake our claim and survive here and this place is now embedded in our stories and our hearts. We may trade and even intermarry with you, but if you make a move to invade us or take what we see as ours, then sharpen your weapons – for we shall fight you for it.
Of course, borders have changed over time – a map showing just how much Europe and Central Asia have altered is now doing the rounds on social media. Armies have rampaged back and forth, men and women have been slaughtered by the million… all because chiefs and kings decided what they really, really wanted was to own and control more territory.
Humans should have seen the insanity of that proposition when the space race began half a century ago. For the first time ever, we could get far enough away to see that there was just one blue world for us all to live on. And that from out there, no borders were detectable at all.
In our heads we see dotted lines separating nations, and washes of colour denoting different countries sitting side by side. Old school atlases matter-of-factly presented these images to generations of children. The 19th century Japanese plate above shows how universal was the idea of division.
These things all said, this is the way the world is.
Not so. They are figments of our imagination. They are no more real than dreams. They are a story we tell ourselves. They are a story we need to reframe if we are ever to put a stop to the bloodshed.
We can look to the European Union as a hopeful sign. Fighting the people next door was once a way of life. But since World War II there's been a remarkable degree of peace and you can now drive over most borders in that part of the world without even showing ID, let alone sharpening your sword.
As with everything that matters, borders have their good and bad sides. Countering the negative stuff is the other truth – that people living within their own enclaves have developed art, language, music, rituals and imagery that is precious to every nation.
We don’t want a world so bland that we lose those things. Working out how to stop the conflicts while still retaining the best of the heritage is one of the biggest challenges for the 21st century.
Some gutsy pioneers are already leading the way by working without bias or preference, regardless of where on Earth they are or who they’re with.
For example, think of the world's many international charities. And the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, and Reporters Without Borders, made up of people willing to risk their lives to follow their calling.
And there’s more – Speakers Without Borders, Mathematics Without Borders, Sports Without Borders, Engineers Without Borders, Retirement Without Borders, and – inevitably – Apps Without Borders.
Some of these aren’t humanitarian movements at all but titles of conferences and products – but ‘without borders’ is tag-line that’s spreading. We seem to be liking the concept of a world without divisions. There's much to do but it's an idea whose time has surely come.
Popping back into Europe again for the first time in about five years reminded me all over again of how universal some ideas are.
Such as this - the blue ceilings in corners of 800-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, scattered with golden stars.
The first time I saw this idea was in Egyptian temples - thousands of years old - painted in a time when the ancients believed that stars winking in the heavens were the souls of the dead.
In Rome a few weeks ago I gazed up at Michelangelo's stunning ceiling in the Sistine Chapel and learnt for the first time that before he started his mammoth four-year paint job in 1508, it too was simply a blue ceiling covered with gold stars.
Deep blue sky and stars - it's the one thing every person in every nation on Earth shares as a canopy. And before electric light, how familiar it must have been. Gazing skywards, by night or day, can give us time to dream and plan and, as we so often call it, 'reach for the stars'.
All these years later it still looks wonderful and still works perfectly as inspiration for anyone who's dreamed big.
Hi, I'm Lindsey Dawson.