Among the sky wonders we can’t see in Western Oregon, due to the cloud cover that always shows up when the state forgets to pay its celestial cable bill, are a green comet, a pair of super-bright planets, and a Chinese spy balloon. I thought the same thing most people thought when I first heard about the balloon: Aww! That’s adorable!

Seems like at a time when a satellite can see your phone screen from a thousand miles up, and either send you ads for fuzzy slippers or have you fired from the school district for pornography, the balloon is an anachronism. A drone can find a man in a spider hole and pop him in the nose-hairs with a missile. A balloon is a round friendly soft-sided object with Professor Marvel and his dimples in it.

And, not to belabor the obvious, he is floating off to God knows where, yelling “I don’t know how it works!”

The U.S. Military was all over it, but initially declined to shoot it down, lest its shredded remains endanger civilians below, or make their way to the ocean and land on a blue whale’s blowhole, which is totally the kind of thing balloons like to do.

To be fair, we might not have been able to see the balloon here even in the clearest of skies. It was hanging out over Montana, they say, ominously adding that there are nuclear warheads there. This might not be as targeted as it seems. We’ve probably got military installations just about everywhere. They might be under your house. They’re secret.

But that’s what seems so weird about a spy balloon. Did they poink that thing up in the air from China and hope it drifted over to Montana? I’ve been in a ballooning crew before. The balloonist is doing her best to sort out the layers of air to find one going in more or less the desired direction, and turn the burners on or off as needed. There’s an art to it, but it’s an abstract art. Meanwhile the crew is down below in a station-wagon trying to figure out where the thing is liable to come down. They’re rocketing along the roads and hanging abrupt Roscoes and Louies and U-eys with abandon, and everyone including the driver has their head out the window staring at the sky. Do not follow this car. It’s worse than a van full of birders.

There are about four billion spy satellites in near-Earth orbit right now that seem perfectly capable of snoopage, but presumably the spy balloon has the advantage of being in a relatively unoccupied layer of air. The satellites are clogging up the freeways up there and if some of them start losing oomph and can’t make it to the slow lane, things could get pretty noisy. The spy balloon, however, is ambling about, high enough to avoid being jet plane snarge but low enough that you can read MADE IN CHINA stamped on the bottom.

Since it is easily enough detected, speculation is that its main point is to stick it to the Yanks. It’s a big Nanner-Nanner in the sky. “Look what we can do,” says Mr. Spy Balloon. Not that replicating eighteenth-century technology seems all that impressive. Apparently spy balloons were first used during the French Revolution, and others were reporting on Confederate troop movements during the Civil War, employing human operators who sent down scribbled information tied to a rock, while the ground crew in a horse-drawn Studebaker wagon galloped around and ran into things.

I think it’s a hopeful sign. Maybe this will usher in a new era in warfare, employing spy balloons, cap pistols, and a hobby-horse cavalry. “BANG! BANG!” the enemy will holler. “KAPOW! KAPOW!” we’ll holler back. Everyone will get a lot of fresh air and Mommy will make baloney sandwiches for lunch.