I played a video for them. They were sitting in their desks and standing in the back of the room and sitting on the floor in the front.
It was a time lapse video of the northern lights. I played it to show them the wheeling stars and beauty of a cold winterscape and to watch the dancing auroral lights. I played it to talk about numbers.
The music played. Ribbons of green danced in northern skies.
“If you were a geologist,” I said, “you could use numbers to explain why those mountains in the distance are flat.”
“If you were a meteorologist,” I said, “you could use numbers to explain why those clouds are shaped like that.”
“If you were an air traffic controller,” I said just after a time-lapse jet streak flashed, “you would use numbers to explain why that jet was following that particular path.”
“If you were an astronomer, you could use numbers to explain why the stars seem to be turning in circles in the sky.”
“If you were a botanist, you could use numbers to show why those pine trees still have their needles but those other trees have dropped their leaves.”
We talked about a lot of things that morning. We only had an hour or so, but we covered a lot of ground. I told them that I was there to talk about why numbers are such a big part of our lives, whether we’re scientists or engineers or artists or musicians or politicians.
And I told them I’d be back.
Friday I’m going back. We’ll be timing our heartbeats.