There is a square in Krakow, Poland, a place I have never been and likely will never have the opportunity to go. Late on an October morning in that square several years ago, the sun slashed in low between cathedral and town hall and onto the intricate patterns of the pavement. It illuminated a statue of a nationalist poet, positioned high on a plinth in the center of the square. Groups of people, dozens of them, milled around the statue, talking, laughing, strolling, sitting, basking in the sunshine that occasionally arrives, novel and surprising, late in the season to stave off winter. Cafe tables, maybe still populated with drinkers of strong coffee, stood umbrella-covered along the edges of the square, perhaps with the expectation that beer would soon arrive on the trays of the striding waiters. A hundred pigeons flocked, and a line of horse-drawn carriages waited.

I know these things without being there, on that day, because the Polish Cadastral and Geodetic Bureau commissioned aerial photography of much of the country at the extremely-high spatial resolution of 5cm per pixel, and the government of Poland released it to the global public under an open-source license. My job as a particular type of cartographer gives me the privilege of obtaining those photographs, resampling them, color-correcting them, and distributing them, and I relish it. The 5cm level of detail in particular affords me in my faraway office the ability to see the positions of streetlamps, the faded hues of tile and copper on roofs, and the very expressions of the people in the square, cast in the body language of their long shadows on that October morning. That detail brings me close - in what I hope is a curious, humanistic way - to a place I’ve only ever read about.

2 Carriages at Rynek Główny, Krakow, Poland. Imagery by Biuro Geodezji i Katastru

The value of a pixel is debateable. The Earth is circled by satellites, the atmosphere dotted with drones and planes, constantly collecting new pixels. Some of these will be sold, others given away, many analyzed in aggregate for news on the position of a cargo ship, or the concentrations of aerosols near a power plant, or the progress of a slashed-and-burnt incursion into a tropical forest. But I appreciate other values as well. On a Spring day at home, as I’m newly-surprised like every year to the find sunshine bringing emotional as well as physical warmth, I’m reminded that - by design - there are almost never any clouds in the imagery that crosses my desk. It is usually - again by design - Springtime or Autumn in that imagery. The people I see in Krakow and elsewhere are experiencing what may feel like the best day of their lives. They may also be quietly weeping as they sit on a bench in a plaza; sunshine is only one of the factors that impact our lives, but it is abundant in my overview of the world.

I’m grateful to share - distant, attenuated, but present - in the experience of these days.

1 Statue of Adam Mickiewicz, Rynek Główny, Krakow, Poland. Imagery by Biuro Geodezji i Katastru