by Theodore R. Frimet
of mice and bears
Needless to say, do not look directly at the Sun. Do not put filters on an eyepiece and look thru it. In either of these cases, you will be permanently blinded. Let’s take a dip, in the transit of Mercury.
It is a day before the Mercury Transit. For those not inclined to follow the lore of Astronomy, a transit is when a planet appears to move across the sphere of the sun. We, here on Earth, see a planet between our line of sight, and the Sun. It will appear as a small black dot, moving across old Sol. The ‘morrow will be Mercury.
I put away the 8 inch Celestron, and closed up the observatory. I made a few trips. One back to the car, to store the astro chair, and a sky guide. The other, twice to the Jenny Jump house, to store my eyepiece collection. 57 percent clouds were never defined as chaos or waves. The entire sky was blotted out. Thin white wisps turned vaping thick.
About an hour, or few earlier, I had the moon in my sights. Clouds be damned. In the beginning there was hope. Then there were 17 percent clouds. The moon perversely shined thru the thick veil. The newly purchased 2 inch 82 degree 30mm Explore Scientific (ES) eyepiece, performed stellarly. The 99 percent reflective ES star diagonal performed flawlessly. Both gobbled up the moon light, and delivered performance to my satisfaction. I will leave a good review.
Bringing in clothing was a busy business. Always overpacking, it took at least three trips from the car, to the house. Right. Sign in sheet. Ok. Check all the doors, and make sure they are locked – windows too. Water on. Lights. Check. Homework. Yes, there is always homework to be done. This time it was preparation for my American Sign Language Class. I’d send you a link to my latest assignment – however I need to continue to work on it. Janet has volunteered to help when I return home.
She watched me as I had anxiety, during packing. Caught me on the back end, after returning from shopping, she did. The generalized panic was well intended by my brain, as I did not want to forget anything. I thought I did. I went back into the house to look for my black bag. Only to realize that it was well packed in the back of the car. Off to Burger King, and order two Impossible Burgers, with fries. Went back home to Janet’s surprise. I quickly gestured to the coffee maker, and expressed that two 20 cent containers outbid several dollar worth of custom coffee on the road. Gas is expensive to Jenny Jump. I needed to economize. Not complaining you see. There is plenty of free, old soda, at no cost, waiting in our club kitchen. Slurp. Fizz. Pop.
Bears. There is too much quiet when you observe alone. No takers, you see, other than the tried and true. Most others, who would volunteer, were off to their native clubs for the transit. Quiet, now. There is no noise. What was that? I hear something in the distance. Barking dogs. Dog, why do you bark? Is it a bear? When do bears hibernate in New Jersey? I’m from Pennsylvania, so these NJ bears might have a different disposition. Google it. Oh bother! Black Bears do not hibernate. As long as there is a ready food source, they stay up like teenagers into the night! What is that I hear, now? Ok. Time go get a hold on my imagination. Play Steely Dan on my iPhone. Ahhhh….Bears don’t like Steely Dan, do they?
The Celestron refuses to yield and align. A few attempts later I realize that I need to adjust the date time group. After repeating this process, a few times, I get jazzed up and proficient. The moon stays put in the center of the eyepiece. Yes. I like that 2 inch ES.
I fire off one email to UACNJ members. I was going to send them a picture of the moon. Really? How exciting would that be for the membership? Probably not too much of an event. They struggle to accept my long invitations to read these essays. Rambling about, some time and some where. Most of the time, writing about themes that wouldn’t stir the milk in your coffee. Too thick for thieves, that is. Very tough stuff. Even I slug thru the re-reads.
I telegraph the thin veil of clouds, and how the moon is visually appealing. Too late to conjure up visitors to the Jump. Remember, tomorrow is the Transit of Mercury. And there are few takers for parking or telescope operations for the public view. Why would one bother to reply to a veiled attempt to attract another club member, in situ?
The operating instructions for the extra observatory are sublime. They are quite literally the handwriting on the wall. Chris thought of everything. And I am most grateful. That is, until I try to push open the roof to the observatory. Stuck after 20 inches, or so. I try again. Doesn’t budge a bit. I wish I had a second pair of hands. I didn’t curse much, or make much ado over it. Moving to the back of the shed – I leaned into it. Nothing. Time to wander among the Bears.
Outside, I grab hold of the overhang. I press the backside of my body against the shed. Push. Push, I do. It moves with ease, and extends well beyond the mark. I reverse course, and set it aligned with the overhang. Perfection. No Bears. Shush!
It’s cold outside. No so cold if you were walking about. However any amateur knows that sitting silent in the cold can take its toll. I thought a jacket would suffice. My hands on metal spoke volumes for me. Lock the shed, and head for the house.
I brought cold weather gear. My go bag has all my clothing ready for me, at a moments notice. Last year we introduced extreme cold weather boots. Lovely things, they are. This year the investment was furthered to a cold weather coverall. Blessing be. Club members chimed in to assist to establish their favorite retail haunts. At the end of the day, however, I went shopping for an Atlanta Georgia company. Clothing made in U.S.A. Refrigiwear. Iron-Tuff Coveralls with Hood keep me protected down to -50 F.
I was thinking that maybe they were Bear proof, too? Perhaps that was asking too much. I took the iPhone out of my pocket, and laid it down on the wooden shelf. Playing more Steely Dan, I calmed my nerves. What was that? Probably just a raccoon, or a groundhog. I coughed up loudly, telling the outside world to stay outside. I turned the lock on the door. Didn’t want the bear to think that he was welcome. Click. I heard a grunt. I grunted back. No more grunts to be heard.
The boots were warm. I only had one sock layer on this evening. So the boots were a little wobbly. Not too much, though. I used to wear Army surplus Muk Luks and several layers of socks. They were unstable to walk in. After a year or few in those, that instability prompted my investment in Baffins. Good boots. I remembered to buy them one size too large. They would accommodate many layers of socks. One layer is not enough. Yet tonight, they were only slightly wobbly, as I moved from shed to house.
The old free cola in the kitchen isn’t too bad, this evening. I take another slug. Swish. Tasty. I look back into the refrigerator and spy my dinner. Microwave is here, so why not? I don’t feel very hungry. Two vegetarian whoppers were enough it would seem.
Shut in against the cold. Moon obscured by clouds. What to do? I think. Yes, tomorrow is the Transit of Mercury. I didn’t see it the last time. I knew who did, though. I wasn’t an Amateur yet. I complained to Janet that our backyard had too much light pollution. I couldn’t see the stars that I wanted to. Go to Washington Crossing Park, she said. We took a day trip.
Outside the fence, I parked the car. Janet said she would stay, and play the radio. She was comfortable there. I walked, and walked. Down the broken ground, gravel strewn about. Another fence, and then to the right. A sign. A house. No. An observatory. The roof open, and a telescope pointed skyward. I saw the unmistakable solar filter. Pretty big for a 14 inch telescope. There he was.
His grandson was in a small room, vetted just outside of the telescope’s reach. Later I would learn that it was the control room. Gene stopped, and started to talk to me. Nice guy. I thought I’d come across many nice guys, like Gene. No. As it turns out, I learned from second hand reports that Gene was kind of special. There was only one Gene.
Gene said that he would welcome me into the club. He was kind of excited when he said that we needed more husband and wife teams. He really liked that idea. Gene, it turned out, was fond of some very special people. At the time, I didn’t appreciate how indebted the art and science of amateur astronomy would be to Gene, and to those he treasured. That was the Mercury Transit, a few years back. It was Gene’s last.
Tomorrow will be my first. We may cloud in. That’s OK. Chris is technically proficient and will summon up websites that will produce for the public. I will have some reflective guard gear on. If no clouds, I will have a 6 inch Celestron on a German Equatorial mount at the ready, with white light filter.
The public will be here, tomorrow. I told Janet that those who are interested, know. And those that don’t – might have the day off and would like to visit an open observatory. We will be open. It’s a good way to spend Veterans day. I’m a veteran, by the way. I thought that you should know that, now. It’s on my drivers license, so it must be true.
I had visions of spying Andromeda Galaxy this evening. And would wait for the two o’clock showing of the Great Orion Nebula. Both are my friends, and this is their time of year to visit. Clouds, it would seem, were not the bane of Steinbeck. If it were, he might have written:The best laid plans of bears and astronomers often go astray. Well, it wasn’t Steinbeck. Truth be told, it was Robert Burns. And it wasn’t “astray” it was “awry”. Did either of them pick up a telescope to watch the Mercury Transit? I fear not. Probably never with a bear.