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The Moon is a symbol of hope, romance, achievement,
wonder, and mysticism…. You can look into the night sky and say,
“I own a piece of that!”
— from the website of LunarLandOwner.com

Vedanta, the Hindu spiritual philosophy, maintains that the root of ownership lies in a feeling of separateness—from one another, from the life force of the universe, from God.  This profound alienation of spirit causes us to cling and grasp.  When we remember our connection to the Oneness, we no longer need to possess anything.

***

Before most of us imagined it possible, Dennis Hope had staked his claim to the Moon.  That is the way with explorers, with pioneers, entrepreneurs, with colonists—they get there first, or claim to, then believe this entitles them to acquire the place where they’ve just arrived.  As in the case of the Americas, this entitlement is asserted even when civilizations have been living in that place for centuries. In western culture, both the “first-ness” and the acquisition are considered laudable qualities. Dennis Hope has been lauded.  His website touts him as co-chairman of the Republican Congressional Business Advisory Council and notes that he has been awarded the Republican Gold Medal, the most prestigious honor the National Republican Congressional Committee can bestow.

***

It was Erica who first showed me the Rabbit Waiter in the moon.  My first year living in Los Angeles, I shared the third floor of a ramshackle wood frame house in Echo Park with two other women.  We’d all come from different regions of the U.S. to participate in the Feminist Studio Workshop, an arts education program at the Woman’s Building.

The room I rented in the house was mostly windows, and a vine of morning glories trailed up the railing of the precarious stairs to our entrance.  Having moved from Detroit, I was amazed to find myself awakened each morning by roosters crowing from the nearby hills.

Erica, a sculptor from New Mexico, was one of my roommates.  She drove a beat-up International Scout, left wood shavings all over the living room from her sculpture, and, incongruous to her tomboy image, had brought to our household a high-strung Afghan hound named Lilac.

The night she showed me the Rabbit Waiter there was a full moon.  We were in the parking lot of the Woman’s Building, in the industrial part of downtown by the railroad tracks.  She pointed upward.  I squinted, couldn’t see it at first, but she was patient, and eventually I did.

The Rabbit Waiter is best observed at the Full Moon, where you can clearly distinguish in profile his large feet, the ears that stream behind him to the right, and the tray he carries in front of him with an elegant flair, all backlit silver.  Until someone points him out, you might look at the moon and see a face, a ridge of craters, or nothing recognizable at all.  But once the Rabbit Waiter has revealed himself to you, gazing at the moon will never be the same.

***

Of course, Dennis Hope did not “discover” the moon, nor has he been there; nevertheless, he has claimed it.  He noticed that while the United Nations Outer Space Treaty of 1967 specified that no government might lay claim to any extra-terrestrial property, the treaty did not specifically restrict individuals or corporations from doing so.  Acting upon a U.S. law—left over from the Gold Rush—that allows an individual to claim any land that had been surveyed but is not owned by someone else, Dennis Hope registered a claim to the moon with the US Government Office of Claim Registries in 1980.  He then went on to found the Lunar Embassy and through this entity began to sell acreage.

***

Among many indigenous peoples of the earth, there was no concept of land ownership.  In most native cultures, people see themselves as children of Mother Earth—she nurtures them and in turn they protect her.  They—and it is a collective, not an individual sense—belong to Her.  Most often there exists no legal title to the land, because such a concept is inconceivable.  The history of indigenous peoples is, primarily, a record of their futile efforts to defend land against invaders.

***

By 2007, deeds for more than three hundred million acres on the moon had been issued to individuals and corporations. Over two million people from one hundred seventy-six countries currently own lunar property.  The Lunar Embassy has asserted claims not only to the Moon, but to the eight other planets in the solar system.  The website for lunarlandowner.com announces that soon property will be available on Venus, Mars, and Io, the moon of Jupiter.

***

The current leading scientific theory about the origin of earth’s moon, advanced by Dr. William K. Hartmann and Dr. Donald R. Davis in a 1975 paper published in Icarus, is this: About 4.5 billion years ago, the earth was struck by another planetary body, one roughly the size of Mars.  So forceful was the impact, it is believed to have created an immense gorge and melted the earth’s crust, tearing chunks of molten rock from the earth’s “body” and casting them into space.  The debris was retained in this planet’s orbit and eventually condensed and consolidated into the moon.  Borne of our flesh, this lunar body continues to exert its gravitational pull, creating the tidal rhythms of earth’s oceans.

***

The names of the Moon Goddess are many: A, Annit, 
Arianrod, 
Artemis, 
Artimpaasa, 
Asdar, Astar, Athenesic, Auchimalgen, Beltis, Britomartis, Candi, Caotlicue, 
Chang-E, Chia, Dae-Soon, 
Diana, 
Europa, Gnatoo, 
Gwaten, Hanwi, Hecate, Hina, Huitaca, Ina, Inanna, 
Ishtar, Istar, Istaru, Isis, Ix Chel, Juno,
 Lalal, Losna, Lucna, 
Luna, Mah, Mama Quilla, 
Mawa,
 Mene, Metztli.

***

On July 16, 1969, the world watched as two astronauts from the United States walked upon the surface of the moon.

Launched by President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s, the Apollo Project had as its goal to land a man on the moon before the end of that decade.  Documents show the President did not regard this aim as one of “wonder and mysticism” but as a way to one-up the Soviet Union, who’d launched the first manned rocket into space.

As a second grader, I watched televised broadcasts of rockets being launched from Cape Canaveral at my babysitter’s.  I liked staying with Grace Bowen, a neighbor, because she made her own hard candy in flavors like root beer and chocolate, and because she grew rhubarb in her garden, and that was the first time I’d ever tasted its sour crunch.  I watched those early launches on her black and white television as I sucked lozenges of butterscotch or cinnamon.

By the time Apollo 11 landed on the moon, I was fourteen.  National interest in the space race had waned with the assassinations of President Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King; the country was focused instead on race riots, the Viet Nam War and the anti-war movement.  Still, along with millions of people around the globe, I watched the eerie figures of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bounce around on the lunar surface as I sat in the TV room of my friend Marilyn Gage’s house with her dad, Allen.  Over a staticky microphone, Neil Armstrong claimed it “a giant leap for mankind,” but I doubted it.

The previous fall, Allen Gage had taken Marilyn and me to the Grande Ballroom to see Janis Joplin; he’d boasted afterward that, in his business suit, he was the only man the security guards hadn’t frisked.  By January 1970, Allen would be dead of a heart attack.  In the early sixties, I’d felt awe at the possibility of space exploration, had felt pride in this country’s greatness, but now I winced when the American flag pierced the surface of the moon.

In 1972, Gil-Scott Heron would record “Whitey on the Moon.”  Two years later, Joni Mitchell would wonder to whom to pray “with heaven full of astronauts and the Lord on death row” in her song, “The Same Situation.”  Around this same time, numerous conspiracy theories were circulated that the moon landing had all been a hoax, the television footage faked in a Hollywood studio or in the California desert.

***

George: What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary.

Mary: I’ll take it. Then what?

George: Well, then you could swallow it, and it’d all dissolve, see? And the moonbeams’d shoot out of your fingers and your toes, and the ends of your hair… Am I talking too much?

Old Man: Yes! Why don’t you kiss her instead of talking her to death?

—   dialogue from It’s a Wonderful Life, screenplay by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Frank Capra

***

She is worshipped on every continent, by many of the world’s religions, in ancient times and today: Pandia, 
Perse, Persea, Persels, 
Pheraia, 
Rabie, Re, Ri, Sardarnuna, Selene, Selena, Sirrida, 
Teczistecatal,
 Titania, Tlaculteutl, 
Tlazolteotl, Yellow Woman,
 Yemanja, 
Yohuatliceti, 
Yolkai Estsan, Yokalikaiason, 
Zarpandit, Zerbanit, Zerbanitu, Zerpanitum, Zirna.

***

JERUSALEM — According to figures released this month,
Israelis are buying up lunar land faster than anyone else on the planet.
One thousand Israelis have bought land in the past month alone.
“It’s become a frenzy over here,” [one] said.
—Sonia Verma, globeandmail.com, 01/15/07

The particular interest of Israelis in lunar real estate—Israelis are reported to own ten percent of all the land currently available on the moon—is a subject of some speculation.  While these parcels costing $60US for a half acre are sold as novelty gifts, some owners seem to regard them as a promising investment.  After all, NASA plans to establish an international base camp on the moon by 2020, and a permanent colony by 2024.  Might there come a time when NASA is forced to buy back the land from individuals who had the foresight to purchase it now?

The U.S.-based Space Adventures has announced plans to fly tourists to the moon within the next decade.  One could presumably visit one’s property, although the cost of the trip is slated to be $100,000,000.

Some have suggested this hunger for lunar land is an expression of frustration Israelis feel with the bitter, bloody, intractable opposition to a Jewish homeland in the Middle East; one wag on the internet said that any day he expected Hamas to claim the lunar territory for its own.

***

This story originates in India, and versions of it are told throughout Asia: the incarnated Buddha is traveling the earth, and encounters a monkey, a fox, and a hare.  Seeking to test their devotion, Buddha disguises himself as a Brahmin, and goes to each one, begging for alms.  The monkey immediately brings him a cluster of mangoes from a nearby tree and presents it to him.  The Brahmin then goes to the fox, who excuses himself, returning a short time later with a pot of milk that had been left on a plain by a herdsman. Finally the Brahmin approaches the hare, who apologizes, “I eat nothing but grass, which will not help you.”  Then the hare kindles a fire and jumps into it, offering its own flesh to be eaten.  Buddha is so moved by the sacrifice that he extinguishes the blaze, takes the hare into his arms, and places it in the moon, so that every living being in every part of the world can see it for all time.

***

The term pareidolia, first used in 1994 by Steven Goldstein, describes a psychological phenomenon in which a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) is perceived as having meaning. Common examples include images of animals or faces in clouds, hidden messages on records played in reverse, and the Man in the Moon (or, presumably, the Rabbit). The word comes from the Greek para- — amiss, faulty, wrong — and eidolon — image. Pareidolia is a type of apophenia, the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.

***

Before Rose and I became lovers, we went on little dates—to dinner, to the theater, to the Huntington Gardens.  We didn’t call them dates.  I was in fact determined not to get involved with her.  She reminded me—or my response to her reminded me—of some other lovers I’d had.  I didn’t want to repeat the pattern.  I knew how it would play out.  I could see how luminous it would be in the beginning, then how there would be a shift in the middle, an irreparable breach I would keep trying to mend, and how I would be left feeling at the end, as if chunks of my own flesh had been torn from me.

On our excursions, I would talk about how happy I was to be by myself, to do whatever I wanted.  I held out for more than a year.

My resolve began crumbling on a trip to New Mexico I took by myself that June.  Driving alone under the big sky, I wanted someone to turn to in the passenger seat and say, “Look at that hawk.”  Returning home, I’d find myself calling her name late into the night, like a dog baying at the moon.

Near the end of August I showed her the Rabbit Waiter.  It was a full moon night and we were standing under it and I was wearing a skirt and I showed her.  She hadn’t seen the Rabbit Waiter before.

So it was I came into her orbit, felt her pull upon my own tidal rhythms.

So it was the inevitable cycle of waxing and waning had begun.

***

LunarLandowner.com is partnering with Transorbit, a company that is planning commercial flights to the moon.  Its first flight, The Trailblazer, will deposit copies of landowner’s deeds, including their names and the parcel of land they own, onto the surface of the moon.  It will be similar to planting millions of miniature flags.

***

And what do we own once we’ve bought a piece of the moon?

An escape from the turmoil of our used-up world?

Pride of ownership of what cannot be possessed?

A lasso around the Rabbit Waiter’s neck?

A reminder of our connection to something that was once transcendent?

Our name on a scrap of paper, buried in galactic dust?

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