January Shorts

What’s the Matter?

Our sun and all the planets, all the stars and all the galaxies, every speck of dust in the universe, every thing that is made of solid matter for as far as we can see through telescopes and beyond, reaching back in time to the Big Bang, is but 5% of the calculated mass of the universe.  5%!  This, scientists call baryonic matter.  There is also an invisible world of Dark Matter that we cannot see and have not been able to detect other than the fact that it exerts gravity on the things that we can see.  However, without the presence of the unseen mass of Dark Matter, the movement, the cohesion of our galaxy and other galaxies would not make sense.  Dark Matter makes up another 25% of the mass of the universe.  The remaining 70% of the mass-energy of the universe is called Dark Energy and it is a force that is propelling the galaxies away from each other at a faster and faster pace except for the Andromeda Galaxy, our neighbor,  that destined to eventually collide with our own Milky Way galaxy.  And no one has any idea what this is so or how it acts.  So–everything that we can touch, see, taste, hear is but a tiny fraction of what makes up our universe, just 5%.  All around us, and maybe through us, is Dark Matter—5 times more massive than our detectable, visible universe—that we cannot see or touch but that exerts the pull of gravity on our regular matter.


The “Outward Bound” group of older teens and instructors was two days into their weeklong experience, and camped in a Rocky Mountain national forest in Colorado.  It was an early August dawn, and it would be another glorious, clear, hot day.  The campers were just rousing. 

“How can a smart guy like you even begin to believe in ghosts?” asked one of the older teens named David, of his tent mate, Tim.  David was entering a “highly selective” college in the fall. 

“I didn’t say I believe in them.  I only said that I couldn’t explain what I saw and felt.  Don’t put words in my mouth,” retorted Tim, hotly, defensively.  Tim was two years younger and would be a high school junior in September.  They had not known each other before assembling as a group.

“Things that go bump in the night, the Loch Ness monster, the ‘here thyre be tygers’ on old maps, what next?” needled David smugly.

“The only reason I told you was because I was so—so surprised by what I saw that I had to tell somebody.  Look, I know what I saw and felt.  I can’t explain it.  I don’t expect you to explain it, but I don’t expect you to mock me either.”

“Okay, okay, don’t get upset.  At least you didn’t see a flying saucer.”

“Huh!” snorted Tim.

The lead instructor, Olivia, who had been quietly listening up till now, asked, “Could you describe again what you saw and felt?”  Olivia had graduated herself from the Outward Bound program  three years before and was now working part-time while going to college.

“Not if you’re going to make fun of me too.”

“No, I won’t, I promise.  Start from the beginning.”

“Okay.  I woke up because I had to pee.  Everyone else was still asleep and the sky was just getting brighter with a long orange streak on the horizon.  The crescent moon was beautiful just above it.”

“Go on.”

“I took my flashlight but I didn’t turn it on because I didn’t want to wake up anyone else.    And anyway it was bright enough for me to see.  I walked down the trail towards the latrine.  The first thing I noticed was the cold.  It was chilly when I woke up, when suddenly it became a lot colder but there was no wind blowing.”

“Where did you feel that?  Was it by the big old ponderosa that’s scarred by lightning?”

“Yes!  How did you know that?”

“Just a guess.  Please go on.”

“Even though I didn’t know why, I felt the hair on my neck start to rise.  And that’s when I saw it.    The air seemed to get kind of shimmery and then sort of gelled into this figure standing by the tree.  But you could see through it.  Kind of blurry.”

“Sure sounds like a ghost story to me,” said David with a laugh.

“Go on, Tim,” said the instructor, ignoring David.  “What did it look like?”

“I couldn’t really tell, but it looked like a person.”

“Anyone that you recognized?”

Tim hesitated before answering, glancing at David who had a smirk on his face, “If it was anyone, it could have looked like my Uncle Tommy when he was young, but that’s impossible.”

“I knew it, a ghost story!” crowed David.

“David, could you just let Tim tell his story,” said the instructor.  Then turning back to Tim, “Why is that impossible, Tim?”

“Because I just went to his funeral two weeks before I came here, and that was back in Chicago.”

“Was he very close to you?”

“My favorite uncle, Dad’s youngest brother, and it was so sudden.  An accident.”

“I think you were having a waking dream, still half asleep,”  said David.  “Learned about that in an AP psych course I took at our Community college.  You were still mourning his loss, thinking about him and only half awake.  Think so, Olivia?”

“I think that’s certainly possible, David,” said Olivia. 

“But how did you know about the ponderosa pine?” asked Tim.

“There’ve been a few-ah-incidents reported by other groups over the years, around that pine.”

“What kind of incidents?”

“Somewhat similar to yours, Tim, figures seen, briefly.  But what happened next? What did you do?”

“I froze when I saw it.  But then the figure got blurry again after maybe three or four seconds and it faded away and so did the shimmering air and coldness.”

“The haunted ponderosa,” said David with a laugh.

“Maybe or maybe not,” said Olivia.  “Read a book this year for a cosmology course I took, called “The Universe in Your Hand.”  You might want to take a look at it, both of you.  It talks about how far out, how unbelievable, our universe really is.”

“What’s that got to do with what I saw?”

“It explains that the universe as we know it is only 5% of the actual universe.  That there has to be a Dark Matter universe that coexists with ours that we cannot see or touch.”

“And you think Tim’s ghost is part of that?”  asked David.

“I just wonder if occasionally we overlap and then we experience things that we cannot explain.”

“Wait a minute!  You’re not suggesting that our souls go to this other universe?” exclaimed David.

“No, I’m not suggesting that.  No way to know.  But what might happen is that our minds interpret what we experience or see in terms that we can understand,” said Olivia.

“Far out.  So maybe what I saw was not really Uncle Tommy but something that my mind turned into him,” said Tim, relieved that someone else was taking him seriously.  “But you said others—and by the pine too?”

“When you’ve been out a while in this vast quiet land, you get to thinking, said Olivia.  “The Native Americans have sacred sites in this country.  I’m not saying their beliefs are true, but perhaps there are places where the worlds of Dark Matter and ours rub against each other once in a while.  Where our photons and Dark photons collide and we get a glimpse into that world, and maybe they into ours.”

“Wow,” said Tim.

“You sure you didn’t try out some of that peyote, Tim?” said David.

“The camp’s stirring.  We’d better join the others for breakfast,” said Olivia.  “But I’ll put this into my report later.”

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