Livin' It Up At The

Hotel California...


Hey now... You didn't think I was going to spend all my life in Ohio now, did you?



"Checkin' In At The Hotel California"

"Of Monte Bello and Omega Centauri"

"Lick Observatory And Standing In The Shadows Of Greatness..."

"Fremont Peak Observatory"

"Bonny Doon And The SCAC Star Party"

"Backyard Boulder Creek and Comet Ikeya/Zhang"

"Kickin' Back At Monte Bello"

"La Tourista"

"On The Rocks At Lake Erie"


May 8, 2002 - "Checkin' In At The Hotel California"...

So I liked the raw power of jet engines. Sure, I have been on small airplaines before, and there are certain similarities between them and large jets, but similarities are where it ends. When one of these bad boys pushes you back in the seat, it's for keeps...

In my mind, gravity has never been so fully demonstrated. I imagine the flight crew was perhaps a bit leery of the one dressed in black occupying the wing seat, for I am sure that the grin that was pasted on my face the moment those engines began to wind approached manaical. "Speed", you see, is my middle name.... And to place me 45,000 feet above terra firma travelling at 550 mph is like offering me a place in Valhalla.

One curious thing I noticed is that sleep wants to take over as soon as the jet begins cruising. Why is that? All around me, the other passengers have floated into the land of Nod, and I feel myself wishing to join them. Brief moments of unreality follow as I do just that... Why?! Is it pressure? Is it altitude? Is it the comforting whine of the engines? Or perhaps the rush of air over the aircraft? No matter... For everyone else is quite welcome to be away. I am delighted to sit here with my face pressed up against the portal...

Just watchin' the world go by... ;)

"I'm still livin' with your ghost... Lonely and dreamin' of the West Coast..."

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May 8, 2002 - Of Monte Bello and Omega Centauri...

Comments: I hit the ground running... Knowing it was you in my heart when I walked by, but also knowing half my life was in a suitcase and a precious Vixen telescope was going round and round in the luggage terminal. Priorities? Sure. What was in the suitcase could be replaced... But the telescope could not be.

"And there you come to take me away." And far away is where we went. Away from everything I know as familiar... People, places and things. Can I handle this new world? Damn, Skippy. I might trip over my feet, be totally unable to articulate more than four words in a meaningful way, and be incapable of using your telescope, but I operate on a wicked learning curve...

So, teach me.

First stop? Monte Bello and the Wednesday Night Star Party. What a fascinating place this is! All these turns and twists up mountain roads... We "flat-landers" do find that a bit unusual. But what I do understand are places and people. And I can think of no finer way to start than a "Star Party".

All around us, telescopes are being set up. Each as unique and wonderful as their owners. I can hardly wait for the darkness to descend!

Monte Bello is truly a beautiful place. Around us stretches the countryside, high mountains and deep valleys. Seeking a bit of "alone" time, I walk some of the nature trails to discover overlooks where towns lay nestled in the valleys below. Airplanes circle below, like busy bees awaiting their chance at the hive...

"And if I, decide to waiver my chance to be one of the hive? Will I chose water over wine and hold my own and drive?"

Walking from scope to scope, meeting new people and viewing old favourites, takes me to a new level. Why, these are friendly folk! And about them is enough money invested in equipment to feed a small country for a year... ;) From truss-tube dobsonians to expensive APOs, they are all here. Each scope offering a different view... Unique and ubiquitous. We walk to the planets, whose bright presence illuminate the dusky sky. And, as the night deepens, the galaxies and clusters come out to play.

Offered a chance to use Argo, I can hardly refuse.... But, oh my. This is not the scope my hands are so familiar with! I feel like a "shoobie" Unable to navigate in the ways that I know... And just barely able to find the controls! Relinquishing myself to Mr. Wizard, I find contentment in letting someone else "drive" for a change...

"It's driven me before, and it seems to be the way that everyone else gets around."

Actually, it's rather pleasant. I could just stand here all night watching Jupiter flung to the far left corner of the scene, with Mars, then Venus, the Saturn, and at the right, tiny Mercury decorating the twilight. But, view I did. Titan sitting above the glory of Saturn, the four galieans flung to one side of the might Jove, the boiling mass of Mercury, and the bright beauty of Venus. Splendid, I tell you. But I want to walk deep sky... And you comply.

And so we galaxy hop together. (A bit of a dream come true if you ask me...) To this one and that... First at one scope, then at another. From viewing the world stereoscopically in bino viewers to walking the cosmos through flourite. Mr. Wizard describes them well in his own reports.And all the while, the stars turn overhead, bringing closer and closer my own personal quest.

Omega Centauri...

The time has come, and Mr. Wizard hands it to me. I am glad that I am upon my knees, for I would have fallen there. Before me in the eyepiece is the globular cluster I have waiting so very long, and travelled so many miles to see. At last, eh? Was it what I was expecting? Yes. It was all that... And much more. A globular cluster unafraid to be touched... And touch back.

How did Sir Percevail feel when he first beheld the Grail? As I knelt there in the gravel, the world slipped away from me. Each moment of clarity left the perfection of crystalline stars spangling across the face of the most beautiful globular cluster in the sky. Undisturbed, I was left with a variety of magnifications at my fingertips, and my heart and soul became transported as I walked the fields of my Quest. How long I knelt there, I do not know. When one's Spirit is being fulfilled, one does not ask "How long?". I was offered many opportunities to view Omega through other scopes, but I decline. Why? I came to this place and this time for you. You have given me something that all the voices in the night could not. I take the word "yours" not lightly... In my book, there is no other phrase that expresses my feelings more completely. And tonight you have given me what is "yours"...

I need nothing more.

image by: P. Seitzer

The night of exploration continued on, for the Centaurus Galaxy is yet another I have never seen. Such wonders to behold! From place to place and scope to scope, I wander. Eyes and heart filled with all the mysteries of the Universe. These fine people haven taken me, a stranger, into their midst, and accepted me for what I am. No finer welcome could I ask for. And I walk to be alone, for I do not always understand myself, and my "breaks" are part of my peace. A moment to contemplate and absorb...

One by one, scopes are stowed away, and the Star Party thins in a natural way. It won't be long until the dawn of a new day kisses the sky...

And tomorrow? Brings new adventures...

"What ever tomorrow brings, I'll be there. With open arms and open eyes, yeah..."


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photo by: Ansel Adams

May 9, 2002 - Lick Observatory and Standing In The Shadows Of Greatness...

Comments: Just another beautiful day in California, eh? (What them crazy Californians aren't tell you is just how cold it gets at night! Ohio would be so proud... ;) We started off with coffee and sustainance at a local shop, Jeff worked on his reports from the night before while I played with his many guitars and scrawled my own notes in my books. Today's plans? The prestigious Lick Observatory...

We start by taking on fuel... In many forms. Mr. Wizard fasts today, so a cup of chai and a bottle of water suits him just fine. Me? Give me trail mix, crackers and a Coke. ;) Handed a map of the local territory, I try to navigate us through the streets of Santa Cruz rather unsucessfully. (I must admit at this point there is a rather naughty smile on my face as I recount this. Shall we call it a personality test? For this is the first person I have ever been with that didn't freak and peak when we took a wrong turn. And I'm damn proud of 'ya...) Being testy aside, I did go back to map reading skills and it wasn't long before we began the twisting, grueling switchback turns up Mount Hamilton toward the Lick Observatory.

I know Jeff was a bit worried about the time of our arrival and ability to catch a tour of the facility, and now he's confronted with a person who is a bit opposite. I was just happy to be there. Just a glimpse of that famous "Observatory On The Hill" was enough for me. But, East meets West... And something is about to happen.

Funny thing, that. I suppose a sense of "antiquation" holds true for almost all major observatories. In my mind, I suppose I had venerated the Lick Observatory just short of a state of grace. What I found there was not divine inspiration...

It was rather a bit of magic...

We had made the tortuous, twisting drive up the mountain. For once, I was quite happy to relinquish the wheel to more experienced hands. This was not flat-land Ohio. with its' long straightaways meant to build speed and banked turns to test gravity. Gravity, actually, would have been rather foremost in my mind, as the drop-offs made the scenes in "Cliffhanger" look rather mild! But, you know what? I trusted the skills of the one who took me there, and each bend in the road was an opportunity to look upon the landscape, and gaze at the many domes of Lick Observatory as it came closer and closer....

How to describe how impressive this facility is?! One of the few things I remember best about coming in for a landing at San Jose Airport was the sight of these sterile while domes crowning the mountain peaks. And so we have traded one form of altitude for another...

The major dome reached at last, scenery shearing away on all sides, inspired reverance. It was here, with only the sky above, that so many astronomer had spent countless hous under their own starry nights, in honest study. Stepping across the high-arched threshold between amateur and professional.

To be sure, it was done in the opulent style and grace of the past. Stucco over stone in true Spanish style, and well maintained. Oak inlay, carved woodwork, imposing chandeliers and marble tile... Our footsteps and voices echoed down the cavernous hallways in hushed tones. Tour time? Oh yeah, baby... I'm ready.

First destination? The original dome. I had to stifle a bit of a giggle as we walked through the double inlaid doors, for my first impression was that of a roller skating rink set in a palatial atmosphere! For, you see, the huge refractor telescope was set on a rotating, elevating platform of blonde oak. But, the smiles turned into awe as we followed the latticed panels upward, toward the brass framework of the dome proper. Not only was this the original observatory, but the final resting place of James Lick himself... Earthly remains forever entombed below this magnficent scope. A fitting monument to the observatory's founder, and astronomy itself...

Our guide, Lotus, gave us the history lesson and patiently answered questions. She, in herself, was a fascinating woman. Dedicating a substantial portion of her life in the transcription of the Observatory's written history.

Given free reign to explore the grounds, we did. Prowling about the remnants of the once opulent gardens... peering through the dusty windows of the hacienda-style dormatories, and admiring the scenery through the wind-scrubbed pines.

I think what preyed upon the minds of Jeff and I both was what seemed to be a monumental waste of a prime research facility. The time, energies and monies now diverted to the worthy progression of Keck Observatory, leaving the one magnificent facility of Lick to slide toward genteel retirement.

Driving toward, and exploring the other domes through time and grime encrusted windows, gave a sense of quiet desperation. Why were these fine telescopes covered in drop cloth and dust? Left to the cobwebs of time... Do you not know what I would give for the very least of these? I would give it my all... Heart and soul, baby. Heart and soul.

But, like the Phoenix, out of the ashes of despair rises hope. On one of our many mountain goat sojourns, we made the acquaintance of a lovely young woman still involved in active research. Her smiling face, filled with the freshness of youth, told us of the spectroscopic ccd imaging study of globular clusters. A progam that was still an ongoing part of a "not yet deceased" Lick Observatory. A smile, and words to another young man, whose fuzzy ponytail and odd accent bespoke of research. They came here to find a magic of their own...

But, would we?

Attaining permission to set up scopes directly on the walkway of an unused dome could not be... But these were friendly, "real" people; the caretakers. Although we could not observe directly from Lick itself, we were quiet welcome to stand in its' Shadow.

And I like the shadows...

Ever the perfectionist, Jeff found us a place to set up shop long before darkness arrived. A circle of iron, we were. Argo, Jeff, the Pup and myself... Perciptiously poised at of a southern exposed cliff, ready to brave both the wind and the night.

As we rested, I found myself walking up the incline to the west. A magnificent sunset behind the mountains and observatory graced my eyes The trees were filled with the warms hues, and the sky changed tone as the very last of Sol's edge dipped below high horizons. And then it happened for me...

I suddenly realized the valley below was filled with a golden, iridescent glow... The sea of a city, contained by the dark mountains surrounding it... With intense Venus rivaling its' place in the night.

"So I walked up on high, and stepped to the edge... To see my world below. And I laughed to myself, as the tears rolled down. Cuz' it's the world I know.... The world I know."

Let the observing begin...

If there were a way to package a night sky from Backyard Ohio across the United States, this would be one. Our access area faces south, leaving west to the right and east to the left... A vista spread before us. You don't accidentally step off the cliff in the Backyard, but what you get are skies like these. Now, let's rock the night together!

Jeff trains Argo on Jupiter, and what a treat! We have a dark barge in transit, and the view through the Mak is impeccable. There lay the Giant in the eyepiece, displaying steady perfection. Hustling to put the Pup onto the same target, we were rewarded yet again by crisp detail. Laughing with one another, we switched back and forth between the two scopes and the watch... Timing the transit.

And we venture to the other planets as well, low Saturn, the aching brilliance of green Venus, the flat orb of ruddy Mars, and finally Mercury.

And magic happens again...

As Jeff trains Argo in the direction of the "Winged Messenger", I hear his sharp intake of breath, and see his smile in the dark. He calls me to the eyepiece, and I see why...

Never have I seen Mercury more perfect.

In the field of view resided the "cutting edge" of the elusive Mercury. Unfiltered, untouched... the hard-edge detail of a planet in phase. Absolutely incredible. (We don't seem 'em in the Backyard like that!) Neither one of us could believe the sheer luck of such a view. Lack of oxygen? Or lack of atmosphere? It doesn't matter, does it? For that one view alone was worth it all...

And we danced across the cosmos. Visiting with old favourites brought to fresh, new life by this time and place. Laughing like kids, we shivered from the cold driven into us by the relentless wind. Retreating to the car to wrap up in sleeping bags until the chill subsided. Then braving each other to go back out again.

I have only the utmost admiration for Jeff's navigational skills... Given each our own scopes, the man would match me mark for mark on locating DSOs. (Perhaps the cold was a bit of a motivator, eh... Mr. Wizard? ;) He called each object from each constellation in the sky with practiced ease, and the performance of both Argo and the Pup are truly worthy. But the wind! And the cold...

Having exhausted the majority of spring targets, we retreated once again to the warmth of shelter. He meditating and resting... With me trying quietly to munch my trail mix and tea, and pretending I do not hear the lean growl of a prophet's empty stomach. Sleep comes for me, too... With the promise of beautiful pre-dawn skies ahead.

Reluctant to leave the warmth, we banter each other once again into stepping up on the cliffside to train scopes on the southern skyline. The sky had remained transparent, and all the riches straight to the heart of our own galaxy lay before us. Tag teaming the sky between Scorpius and Saggitarius... First one scope, then the next, I learn. They may not be what I'm used to, but I know the "Morning Walk" in my soul.

As the inexorable hues of dawn color the east, we step up the pace. (Let's see now... just where WAS the M27? Ah... Right where you left it, huh? Brat. ;) Fulfilled by the beauty of the night, exhausted by the elements, and supercharged by the photons, it was time to come down from the mountain. Stowing away the gear, and listening to the wildlife greet a new day.

We make the winding descent down the mountain, filled with quiet conversation between two partners. It has been a great night, a we find ourselves far less faded and jaded as when the day began. Caught in the headlights, an animal claims the centerline on the run. What animal is this?! At first I thought it to be a fox... But, no... It runs wrong. Could it be a very young deer, perhaps? No... Oh my starz! It's a jackrabbit!! Jeff proclaims that we are going to give the animal a heart attack by chasing it so far down the road, and slows the car to let it veer off. Hahahhaa! It stands at the edge of the road, looking over its' shoulder at us, shooting a laughng challenge with its' eyes.... Come on! Let's race... And so we took up the gauntlet, and allow the rabbit to run ahead of us for as long as it liked. Race won, it finally took another trail.

Hey, Mr. Wizard? It looks like you just pulled a rabbit out of your hat... ;)

"Oh, oh, oh.... It's magic, you know. Never believe it's not so. It's magic..."

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May 10, 2002 - Fremont Peak Observatory...

Comments: Again, the daylight is filled with laughter and companionship. Jeff sits down to write his reports from the night before, his lean prophet's belly filled with fine food from one of Boulder Creek's exquisite coffee shops. There is more adventure in the making here...

And we both eagerly await the night.

Our destination? Fremont Peak Observatory... For a chance to view Venus and Mars less than one degree apart. A rare conjunction, and a pleasant treat. A stop by Taco Bell, a bag of fortification from San Juan Bautista's "Mission Burger", and once again, we climb the mountains. These are different from the day before, for they are part of a deep redwood forest, strong on shadows, and redolent of sense. And what a view!

--from FPOA website

Again, I am learning to become part mountain goat as we make the walk to the observatory proper. The fog lays in the valley below us like a smokey sea. The air is damp and crisp. Along the way we meet smiling faces of the young folk, and above us we hear the chattering laughter and bustle of many more. Sounds like a party! My kinda' place...

And truly a "Party" is what we have found. Groups of children mill happily about inside the observatory, waiting for the sky to clear and a look through the FPOA's terrific scope. Like kids ourselves, we join the merry throng... Talking to this one and that, inspiring a love of astronomy and respect for equipment as much as we can. The skies clear and the show begins. Just how many times DID we run back around in line? As many as it took... ;) What a present to see Venus and Mars in the same eyepiece! Detail? Oh, heck no. Any astronomer worth his salt knows even aperature won't do that. But, wow... Just to see them together is enough! Slowly, but steadily the crowd dwindled down until all that were left was FPOA members Pat and Paul...

What a pleasure it was to make their acquaintence. The Fremont Peak facility is very well maintained, and appears to be much loved by its' members. Of course, having them to ourselves meant perhaps.... a bit of request? Bwhahahhaha. Once again, we were off to explore the night...

First object up? The "Intergalactic Wanderer". This is perhaps one of the toughest targets to hit with an amateur scope, and Paul makes it look easy. And when we climb the ladder to the eyepiece? The FPOA scope makes it look incredible... I struggle to see just a bit of resolution in the dob on this one, now you can hold it direct. What a fine scope this is!! Slowly, but surely the conversation turns toward politics, and exit T. Time for me to take a walk...

"And yea though I walk through the shadow of the redwoods, I will fear no coyote. My pocket knife and lighter comfort me. Thou annointest my nostrils with the scent of trees... My cup runneth over with coffee..."

Yeah, I was gone for awhile. My sense of direction is perfect even on the darkest of nights in unfamiliar territory. I walked straight back to the area that we came to first. And traced my way back down to where we actually parked. It was actually quite pleasant being alone in the dark woods. The smell of the redwoods is facinating to me. And I found 'ya again, didn't I? ;)

Upon my return, I passed a man locking the gate to the observatory drive. His long white braid charmed me in the dark, and I carried his message up the hill. I stood quietly below the observatory for some time, just listening. But I was ready to use that scope again when called!

The "Eskimo Nebula" was in the eyepiece, and finer than I have ever saw it. Detail crowded the eyepiece in ways that only photographs present. And there was more! So much more to explore... Our new friend, Paul displayed such proficiency between computer and navigating the telescope, that I felt quite humble. Having taken more than one turn at aiming an observatory scope myself, I appreciated the practiced ease with which he found his marks. No hangin' off the truss tubes here! This scope rocks...

You want to see just how good this guy was? Then check this out:


Object Type Mag Altitude Time Eyepiece FOV Magnification Aperture Focal Ratio ------------- M 92 Globular cluster 6.40 56.4 11 May 2002 07:13 TV N TIV 22 0 29' 166x 762mm 4.8 C/2002 C1 Ikeya-Zhang Comet 6.17 57.1 11 May 2002 07:08 TV N TIV 22 0 29' 166x 762mm 4.8 NGC 6207 Galaxy 12.10 59.5 11 May 2002 07:00 TV N TIV 22 0 29' 166x 762mm 4.8 M 13 Globular cluster 5.80 58.4 11 May 2002 06:53 TV N TIV 22 0 29' 166x 762mm 4.8 M 104 Galaxy 9.20 39.1 11 May 2002 06:37 TV N TIV 22 0 29' 166x 762mm 4.8 NGC 5139 Globular cluster 3.70 5.9 11 May 2002 06:14 TV N TIV 22 0 29' 166x 762mm 4.8 NGC 2392 Planetary nebula 9.90 21.1 11 May 2002 05:34 TV N TIV 12 0 16' 305x 762mm 4.8 NGC 2419 Globular cluster 10.40 37.1 11 May 2002 05:03 TV Pan 22 (FPOA) 0 24' 166x 762mm 4.8 From my SkyMap log. Best to use fixed width font to view it. Time is UTC.


Mr. Bradshaw? You're incredible...

As we walked upon his journey, Centaurus came to grace the night. By now I have learned to recognize the stars, and I could find it in my dreams... So, why not make a dream come true? And so the scope was aimed at Omega...

--David Malin (SEDS database)

It was like being transported. I could not help but be transfixed. So very long I've waited, so many miles travelled... And once again, it is with you that I find what I seek. Splendid resolution, each moment of clarity a glimpse of unreality. I cannot express with words, this moment... It shook me to the center of my being. A true epoch...

"I'm right behind you, partner."

I know now that I am forever changed. Just recounting the tale has pointed that out to me. But the views of the rest were no less spectacular, with the mighty "Sombrero Galaxy" sending off incredible detail... And every target from familiar galaxies to the visiting Ikeya/Zhang a splendid celebration. Of all the presents that I have ever recieved on this day of the year, this one is truly remarkable.

I shall never forget it, Paul. I thank you.

Reluctantly, but happily, the equipment is once again stowed for the night. The Fremont Peak Observatory has been my great privilege to have visited!

And we hit the downhill trail once again. When we reach the car, we find that a cold burger as never tasted so good in our lives.

Rejuvination...

"Smiling just to see the smile upon your face. These are the moments I thank the stars that I'm alive.These are the moments I'll remember all my life. I found all I've waited for. And I could not ask for more. Looking in your eyes, seeing all I need. Everything you are is everything to me. These are the moments I know heaven must exist. These are the moments I know all I need is this. I have all I've waited for... And I could not ask for more. I could not ask for more than this time together. I could not ask for more than this time with you. Every thought has been answered...Every dream I have's come true. And right here in this moment is right where I'm meant to be. Here with you here with me..."

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May 11, 2002 - Bonny Doon...

Comments: "Wanna' go to the toy store?" Now which of the kids in us can refuse an offer like that?! So off we go to raid the Orion shop. What a pleasure it is to have such a facility close to hand. The things I would normally order and wait for are right here... And now it's time to outfit "Ms. Vicki" and take AstroTalk's project scope out to show her stuff. And where might that be?

Bonny Doon and the SCAC "Star Party"...

Although it was still quite light when we arrived, I got so excited meeting some of the people whom I knew so well from Jeff's reports, I almost forgot that I had a camera with me! Here was the famous "El Marko" and his 12.5 dob, Dan and the Tak, and Ralf with his soft german accent. What a great pleasure to meet these gentlemen! And to at last be at the infamous "Bonny Doon"...

"Vicki" was set up for its' public debut, and as the other astronomer's gathered round to admire this fine piece of equipment, darkness descended, and the real "stars" came out to play...

All eyes and scopes are trained toward the western horizon as the nightly "Dance of the Planets" begins in earnest. Each of us intensely watching the sky to see who could spot them as they made their appearance.

As they waltzed their way into the night, the scopes fixated on Jupiter, watching the Great Red Spot transit quietly across the face, while all four galieans angled away to the side. We moved from scope to scope, admiring the view...

"Now that she's back in the atmosphere, with drops of Jupiter in her hair, hey, hey... She acts like summer and walks like rain. Reminds me that there's time to change, hey, hey. Since the return from her stay on the moon, she listens like spring and she talks like June, hey, hey..."

And drops of Jupiter is indeed what we found... These fine telescopes offering up fantastic detail of the planet's surface as the GRS hit the center line at 9:00 p.m. The "shoot out" had begun, and "Vicki" was in the line of fire...

Continuing along the line of the bright planets, and sharing the view with the curious people who have come to see through the telescopes. Venus was blazing up the night, holding high court in the sky.

"And tell me, did Venus blow your mind? Was it everything you wanted to find? And did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there?"

Telescope comparison began in earnest then... with Jeff and Dan assessing the Vixen's optics in only ways a scopist can. Forever the star-gazer, I find I take a "shine" to Ralf. He fetches his binoculars, and we sit upon the warm grass together, in search of Comet Ikeya/Zhang. He makes me smile! For he somehow gets the impression that I am somebody special because I know my way around the sky without "Go To"... Hey, my friend. Let me teach you?

And so we commandeer the Pup... And starhopping lessons begin. You know what, Ralf? You're a natural at it! Within moments he had the M44 in the eyepieces and we enjoyed it. The M67 came next... A bit harder, yes? But, oh my... What a wonderful feeling when you found it, eh? Now let's rock to the M81 and M82... All right! You're catching on... and catching on FAST! Those are not the easiest of targets when you're learning. Ready to go for the M65 and M66? Then let's rock and roll... Because I'm having a wonderful time with you.

And so Ralf and I danced across the Cosmos together. And here I thought I was the only one with a wicked learning curve... ;) It was my pleasure, Ralf. Klare Nacht, mein Freund... I hope we meet again.

By now, full sky dark was upon us. Most of the curious crowd had wandered away, leaving only the die hards to play. Hey, hey! That's the way we like it...

Scopes trained themselves on this DSO and that, limiting magnitudes checked, sky assessed, comparisons made... And through it all? A quiet sense of kids at play. And what a game! Once again, the Omega Centauri globular cluster graced the night, and I am compelled to look again. This time it is through "El Marko's" 12.5 dob. Oh, yeah... A taste of the Backyard. Standin' up on the job with a dob!! His earlier lessons on collimation, showing Jeff how it's done with a Chesire eyepiece has paid off. Omega rocks in the eyepiece, and the resolvable stars roll welcome photons across the eyes.

The hours progress and the field thins even more. Bright meteors continue to scratch the face of the night, like welcome fireworks at a celestial gathering. The target hop continues, and we all move from scope to scope to enjoy each other's finds. From 7 to 5... from 4 to 3... It's an "All Nighter" in the making, and only Mark, Jeff and I are left.

So, what to do when only three people and three scopes are still hanging around a star party? Why.... PLAY, of course! And the game? Musical scopes...

My hands itched to sneak over there and snatch the dob away. For days now, I've had to learn to use different mounts and different scopes, and just yards away from me is familiar ground. Do I? (hehehehe... yeah, when nobody is looking, ok? ;) We start playing with obscure DSOs, and the strange and unusual. I know that Jeff's reports will accurately document what we did, so I just relax. The targets and the time simply fly by as we call to one another to come switch. But when the "Eagle Nebula" is turned up in the dob? Gentlemen, it's time to stop for a bit, and let me show you what I know.

Like the "Cone Nebula" and the "Horsehead Nebula", the "Pillars Of Creation" are most certainly visible in the large dobsonian telescope... You just have to know where to look! Yeah, it's not "Hubble Vision", but right here is where you find them. And after a bit of eyepiece/asterism, which star chain looks like this, and what dark notch is what.... I think I finally steered them into the right direction. (Dang! You can't miss it! It's the thin ribbon of nebulosity across the top of the open cup... when you look at the little Klingon Bird of Prey cluster in the center, your averted vision will pick out two tiny stars and a dark notch in the ribbon.... THAT is where!! ;)

All in all, we had a wonderful time. The hours passed as quickly as the meteors that blazed overhead. Dawn was coming to call once again.

Time to head back down the mountain...

"Tell me did you sail across the sun? Did you make it to the Milky Way to see the lights all faded, and that heaven is overrated? Tell me, did you fall for a shooting star? One without a permanent scar? And did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there?

Now that she's back from that soul vacation... Tracing her way through the constellation, hey, hey... She checks out Mozart while she does tae-bo. Reminds you that there's room to grow, hey, hey... Now that she's back in the atmosphere, I'm afraid that he might think of me as plain ol' Jane, who told a story about a man who is too afraid to fly so he never did land. Tell me did the wind sweep you off your feet? Did you finally get the chance to dance along the light of day?

And head back to the Milky Way..."


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May 12, 2002 - Backyard Boulder Creek and Comet Ikeya/Zhang...

Comments: The astronomical pace has been demanding, but we take it in stride. So many things we've done over the last few days have left me dizzy... Jeff is anxious to get to his reports, and this is a thing I understand more than anyone. For me, reporting what I see and do is a part of the astronomy I practice, and I do not feel complete without it. The scopes have been set up here in the Backyard Boulder Creek, awaiting the night. While Jeff types, I sneak away to find a six-pack of Corona, for if I can't write? Hey! I can drink a cold one and sky watch... ;)

And so we started the evening checking out the planets. No great shakes here, folks. Low sky position and high mountains against them make for less than desirable views. No matter... To me? Any night spent under the stars is a good night.

Jeff put Argo away and left the Vixen at my disposal. While he busied himself at the keyboard, I broke out my favourite CD's and the Walkman... And went to the eyepiece to spend some "real" time with Comet Ikeya/Zhang.

"Never made it as a wise man... Couldn't cut it as a poor man stealin'... Tired of livin' like a blind man... Sick of cybering without a sense of feeling... And this is how you remind me... Of what I really am. This is how you remind me... Of what I really am."

photo by: Francois Emond

For 90 solid minutes I watched Comet I/Z fly across the starfield. You find comets boring?! Oh, my... Then sit a spell, and watch one truly move across the night sky. Starting at one side at the lower corner of a set of wide doubles, I/Z slowly, and silently cruised between them and beyond... It eventually occulted a minor star and still it moved. The night was quiet, I was alone, the beer was cold, the rock played in my head, and a comet danced before my eyes...

"Now why do I hide myself from you some days? Now why do I keep it bottled inside me? You came along and tore these walls down around me... Looks like you found me."

Taking Jeff away for a moment, I had him come to the eyepiece to help determine from the field just exactly HOW fast this bad boy cruises the sky. And the results we came up with? Four degrees in a 24 hour period... WOW! No wonder you can sit quietly at the eyepiece a see it streak across the sky!

The over-indulgence of a neighboring light source kept us from further study that evening, but rest is a welcome thing. For there are days to go yet...

And miles before I sleep...

"I left without saying goodbye... Although you know I tried. Cuz' you were there... Right when I needed you the most. Now I still dream about it... And I hurt so bad, so bad, so bad... It's so bad, its so stupid, it's so wrong. It's too bad we had no time to rewind and change it all...."


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May 13, 2002 - Kickin' Back At Monte Bello...

Comments: Just another gorgeous day in sunny California. Required rest put in, coffee and food at one of Boulder Creek's finest... And plans made for observing tonight at Monte Bello.

Anxious to help, Jeff dictates while I sit at the keyboard... (Wanna' know something wicked, eh? He looks at his hands when he types. OW! OUCH! Ok, and he's pretty good at kicking and pulling my hair, too! ;) Just teasing. He's a wonderful guitar player... leaves me in the dirt. And I'm a fast typist... So it all works out. (Cuz' I look at my fingers sometimes when I play... ;)

When plans finalize, we prep for trip... Packing the Pup and the Vixen in the car. Warm clothes and notes gathered together, it's time to head out...

"You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant...."

So make mine a steak, eh? Alice's Restaurant is on the way to Monte Bello... Wonderful food and a sense of permanency that make it a unique place to eat. Thermos and belly filled, it's time to head toward the mountain before the darkness creeps up on us.

We set up on arrival, greeted by Phil who was ready for a photo workout. The Pup came first, with the solar filter firmly in place.... Just in time to enjoy the last rays of sunshine!

Quietly, Phil sets up his superfine FS102 scope... Never knowing this is going to be the "gathering" spot for the night!

While Jeff and James shoot the breeze after some solar observance, I wander happily about filming the countryside. Climbing the nature trails (and thank you, paul, for letting me know after the fact that the rattlesnake warning signs are quiet accurate! ;) and watching the Sun set. I see another person go into the parking area, so I know we have more company to enjoy.

Quite by accident, I'm afraid I rather scared a passing motorist. I was on the road, when I first heard the car... I'll admit that. I was looking for just the right camera angle to capture the planets. I know he wasn't expecting to be on a lonely mountain road and have a black vampyre with long hair step out from behind the trees. He didn't go far before he stoppped. (Oh, good lord... What have I done now?!) The car stayed there for a bit, and came back to the entry of the Monte Bello observing site. That is how we met Hugh.

photo by: Stan Richard

Hugh had come, like the rest of us, to watch the Solar System put on an incredible display that night. And since he was here? Might as well give him "The Nickle Tour", eh? And so our new found friend was transported across space and time... Hopefully to be inspired by what he has seen tonight, and join the rest of us kooks with telescopes.

After some intial serious viewing, such as ZLUM 5.0, Stability 6/10, Jupiter displaying two bands, and a possible transit of a Moon, we visited with Lynn, who brought her excellent sky shots to share, and the park ranger who seemed to enjoy our company. Next thing you know, we set the only two scopes there side by side... The incomparable Vixen and Phil's most excellent FS102 refractor. It was there we found a certain ease with one another.... Like kids around a campfire. Swapping stories, and sipping brandy... Just kickin' back.

"Old man, take a look at my life. I'm forty-four and there's so much more. I live alone in a paradise, and it makes me think of you. Love lost, such a cost... You give me things that don't get lost. Like a coin that won't get tossed... Rollin' home to you."

Time for a bit of fun. Just taking on the M81/82, NGC3077, NGC2976 complex just for the heck of it. Playing with double stars and who could see what. Running amok in the "Field Of Dreams" , M84/86 galaxy complex. Listening to stories about people whose names I know... And lovin' every minute of it. About that time I stood u from the observing chair and almost tripped over my own feet! From the darkness comes a voice... "Whoa! Did you feel that? Quake!!" And sure enough, the radio playing the ball game reports it. My starz... Is that what an earthquake feels like? Here I thought it was a mix of the brandy and sitting too long!

Laughingly, we continue our voyages. Jeff drives the scope, and I about fell off the chair laughing when one of our compadres referred to him as a "Wizard".... able to wave his "wand" and make the stars appear! LOL! If only they knew, eh? For I have referred to Jeff as Mr. Wizard for almost as long as I've known him. A taste a de'ja vu....

On we go, to Cor Caroli, and off the the M65/66 to see which of us could spot the curl at the edge of the galaxy. Still more? Mr. Wizard complies as he calls the M98 from the sky... Edge on, baby. Edge-on...

"Lullabye look in your eyes. We run around the same old towns. It's doesn't mean that much to me... Does it mean that much to you? I've been first and last. Look at how the time goes past. And I'm all alone at last. Rollin' home to you...."

And our happy group tires. The time has indeed passed, and what a wonderful way to spend it. I thank you, my friends in the dark, for making me feel welcome in your circle. I shall remember this time always.

And once again, we travel the winding roads back to Boulder Creek. The night is still beautiful and young. Time for some much needed rest now, clocks set for a couple of hours into the future for some study time. Currently working on another article, some of the DSOs that belong to that study need to be viewed and documented. Now THAT sounds like some serious fun! Give me a cup of tea and a cherry danish... Put a notebook and pen in one hand, a red flashlight and a map in the other, and I'm one happy camper!

So, when the hour approached? Out we went for some true teamwork. It only took a few minutes to get used to each other's study styles, for we do things very much alike. These tiny globular clusters are not easy targets, and I am quite proud of Jeff and Argo as he takes on what I have studied with twice the aperature. Once again, I am impressed with the integrity of the Mak.

Studies complete for now, it's time for rest once again. A new day has come. And we'll be back in black....

Maybe we'll have another earthquake, huh?!

"And you.... You shook me all night long. Yes, you... You shook me."


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May 16, 2002 - La Tourista...

Comments: This is my last full day here in California. The time has passed much too quickly, but I have had so many great experiences and met so many terrific people that it will take me a week just to assimilate it all. Only one thing remains undone... Just a tiny thing, really. Perhaps a peek at the Pacific Ocean just once before I go?

And Mr. Wizard grants me my wish...

"Just a song, before I go. Another lesson learned.... Travelling twice the speed of sound, it's easy to get burned..."

All of this... And more. Before I leave, I have seen the sealions upon the rocks, and flown with the pelican. I have stood at the Lighthouse and watched the surfers. I have waded in the Pacific Ocean, and walked across the sands. I have stolen a shoe and picked wildflowers. I have seen the Brookdale Lodge and peered over the railings at a rushing river far below...

I have seen Omega Centauri... and I have been fulfilled.

There will be no telescoping tonight. Only companionship. Let me fix you a fine dinner and ply you with chocolate cake. Let me just be close one last time...

"Because we may never pass this way, again...."

I wish to thank the many people who have made my stay here in California so memorable. The Barbour Family, the lady at the gas station who wouldn't let me pay for my coffee, the young man at the laundrymat, the smiling faces at the coffee shops, Tony, the many amateur astronomers I have met, and the people whom I have nodded and waved to over the last week. All of you are so very special...

And Mr. Wizard? The magic could have never happened without you... I'll never forget.

"All my bags are packed and I'm ready to go. I'm standing here, outside of your door. I hate to wake you up to say goodbye. But the dawn is breakin'..."


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May 17-18, 2002 - On The Rocks At Lake Erie...

Comments: I needed my space. I wanted the companionship of the Celestron 4.5 and the night sky. Need and want... Two words theAstronomer would do well without. Have you not gotten everything you "needed"? Has every "want" not been met? Then look into the telescope, ~T... and it will give you the answers you seek.

Reflection...


"The soul shall find itself alone
'Mid dark thoughts of the gray tomb-stone--
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy..."

So very many wonderful experiences I've had over the last week. I have flown above the world. Far above the clouds that now cover the night sky....


"The night -- tho' not clear -- shall frown--
And the stars shall look not down.
From their high thrones in the heaven,
With light like Hope to mortals given--
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever."

I have been to Omega Centauri. It touched my heart and my soul. It found it's way into my head... And there it stays. So long a quest... a "dream"... And what happens to one when dreams become reality? You change inside. This is not something that can be seen, nor can others tell. It is personal. A vision given in light and stardust...


"Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish--
Now are visions ne'er to vanish--
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more -- Like the dew-drop from the grass."

I have walked in the shadow of Lick Observatory.... Been in the very halls and rooms where history has been made. How many hands have touched this doorknob? How many great minds have looked across these mountains? How many true astronomers have dreamed upon these stars?

You see, there are many fine moments in life. One should not reduce all things to numbers and words. There is still magic left in this world,... if only you seek it.

And so I sit upon the rocks, as the lake sings a song to my soul. The winds lifts my hair and drys my cheeks.... The gulls send me their mournful cry.

Like these brave creatures, so resilient against the power that Nature throws against them, I face the Sea. The relentless wind running cold fingers through my mind.... What a beautiful gift I have been given!

When I walk away from this place, I return to my world. Numbers and study... Work and play. Ah, but what I keep tucked inside? That, that is mine...


"The breeze -- the breath of the sky -- is still --
And the mist upon the hill
Shadowy -- shadowy -- yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token --
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!"

--Edgar Alan Poe


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And so I end this chapter, with fond "fare thee well"...

And I will always remember.


"And still those voices are calling from far away... They wake me up in the middle of the night, just to hear them say... Welcome to the Hotel California..."

~theAstronomer

Hotel California...