I made it...

Road Trip - 2004

July 22, 2004 - Road Trip 2004: The "French Market" and Delaware State Park... The Sun... Electric Aurora...

Comments: So, I started off early today. Cruised into Marion and let the doctor have a go at me. They call it PT. I think that means physical therapy, but it should mean patient torture. I can't help but wonder if they would be so willing to bend me in such ways if I were allowed to hold my knife and give response to "where does it hurt?" Apparently not... Because I wouldn't be the one hurting, thanks. ;)

Anyhow, I found myself running the road and I might just as well "tour Ohio" a bit more. My original intentions were to visit Columbus Botanical Gardens "Rose Show" on High Street, but Columbus had a downpour last night and flooded out that area. Not particularly willing to fight big city traffic only to find the gardens a mucky mess, I decided instead to head toward a haunt of my younger years, the "French Market". Once upon a time, this was a gorgeous collection of tiny specialty shops set up to look like the streets in France. Well, the streets are still there, folks. Beautiful, tidy three story buildings painted in pastel colors, the lower levels little cubicles of windows and doors. The walkways are still cobbled and the gardens tended. The statues, street lights and fountains are as I remember them...

But the vendors are all gone.

I walk around in amazement. No coffee shops. No candy corners. No candles, soaps, jewelry, odd clothing, incense, crafts, musical instruments, shoes, fresh produce, specialty foods, antiques, art, knick-knacks, or pastries. All that is left is a theatre and small offices. What on earth happened here? Big business, brothers. Big business. Who can compete with Super Wal-Mart and Giant Eagle? Who stands a chance when the strip mall has stripped away the customers from small shoppes? Instead of having a coffee late' and a fresh croissant at a wrought iron table in a garden, the big city and the big business has reduced such charm to Starbucks in a grocery store and the bakery department is a thousand yards away. I would have thought that in such a metropolitan area as Columbus, who thinks they are on the artsy, cultured edge, that such a place would have remained unchanged over the years. Ah, well... That's life in the BIG city, eh?

Keep Manhattan... Just give me the countryside.

So, forget it. I grab a couple of burgers at White Castle and battle my way back out on the highway north. Heck, the whole village I live in would fit in one of the parking lots in Columbus. I can't imagine communting in this crap anymore than I can imagine living right on top of one another. I am also amazed out just how far north Columbus has spread in recent years. What's next? Annex Delaware?? Tired of the traffic, as soon as I see Delaware State Park, I exit. At least some things have not changed. It feels good to get some fresh air and enjoy the spooky walk over the open gratings of the dam. I am happy to sit and watch the jet skis and boats over the lake, and content to turn round on the other side to watch the fishermen. It brings back old memories... A time when I used to fish here as well. Perhaps it's time to give up the scope and go back to the rod and reel, eh? Nah. I can still do both.

But it's been awhile.

By now, the Sun is starting to bite through the remainders of the storm clouds and it's getting mighty hot. Fortunately, I had dressed for hiking and a state park is a wonderful place to do so. I wandered around in the woods, seeing just how many species of wildflowers I could find and how many birds I could identify. I guess I'm just not cut out to be cultured. I love art. I love music. And occassionally I do attend theatre.... But somehow I cannot picture myself amoungst those type of people with mud on my hiking boots and my jeans knees holding up a jack-in-the-pulpit like a prize. It is a wonderful thing to dress in fancy clothes and attend a symphony concert... But is there anything wrong with just sitting on a log and listening to the wild finches chitter as they harvest their meal from a field of cosmos? I'll take watching their wonderful gold and black feathered ballet over the stage show "Cats" any day.

Heading back to my rural life, I realize there just might be an opportunity to view the Sun today. First order of business, though... Is a nap. An hour or so later, I rejoined the conscious, and happily set up the old Celestron on the deck and slid the wire inside to the VCR. Actually, this video eyepiece is kinda' fun!

I polar aligned, and the only thing that was required to be out in the heat was one arm as I'd reach out to track. Check this son-of-a-gun out! I can't believe how much AR652 has changed in a matter of days. Just look at how the major umbra portion has divided and the series of followers spread out and developed penumbral regions of their own. No wonder this baby blew its' cork! That many different structures means different magnetic fields interacting with one another and one very confusing region. It certainly has lived up to its "bad" reputation!

Wonder if I'll live up to mine? ;)

Hiding from the heat, I spent the rest of the day indoors. It feels pretty good to be lazy. I know there's programs for me to develop and I probably should actually answer some e.mail, but I'm kinda' diggin' on just creating my black bean and spinach burrittos for supper. (white castle and beans in one day? oh, lawd.... thank heavens i won't be in public tomorrow.) I fritter away the late afternoon and early evening hours watching the skies clear and certainly think about taking a scope out for the evening. As dusk fell and the Moon began to shine, the thin veil of heat haze returned. I decided I try to wait it out in the pool and keep watch for more aurora since the bulk of the proton stream will have hit by now. I watched the shadows of the swallows diving against the sky in chase of insects, and smiled quietly as the bats fluttered and dipped down to the water for a drink before they headed off to their night's work... And I wasn't disappointed.

By 9:30 or so, that red arch was back. Thanks to the haze, it was far less pronounced that last night but still there. I was enjoying watching it, but beginning to notice "flashes" that didn't belong. Again, curious to make sure this wasn't terrestrial in origin, I crawled out of the pool, wrapped up in towels, slid on a pair of sandals and headed for the shorn wheat field for a parallax view. Three seconds after I put what might possibly account for the light show in a position that did not affect the red arch, I understood. Lightning! We've got a storm headed across the northern area....

Smiling, I recall other summer nights when just such a thing occurred. I vaguely remember sitting on the deck railing admiring the aurora not knowing a storm was sneaking up behind me. But this one is not sneaking... It's right where I'm looking. I still hold firm in my opinion that a CME causes weather effects in my area, for the number of times that electrical storms accompany its' arrival to our magnetosphere far outweight simple coincidence. Remember Occam's Razor?

And so the clouds overtake the aurora, and the cool rains of a warm summer night overpower the stars. There is something nice about standing under the porch roof, listening to the grass grow and smelling the clean, fresh aroma of rain. It might be just another summer night, but how many of them do I have left now? Only God knows the answer to that one. My job is just to...

Appreciate them while I can.

"And how do we relight the flame when it's cold?"

June 21, 2004: Road Trip 2004 - Malibar Farms... The Aurora and Gettin' Messier...

Comments: Another hot, hazy and humid day here in the Heartland. Yesterday pretty much spent me and I had a difficult time motivating and even more difficult time convincing my back that I needed to get out and do something. I had thought about heading for either Cleveland or Cincinnatti to visit a planetarium, but both cities are a pretty strenuous car ride from my locale and I decided I'd be better off today sticking just a bit closer to home. The last few times I have been to Malibar, I know I've looked at the "Big House" and told myself I'd go and visit there one day again, and it looks like today is going to be it. Stuffing my little cooler with a fine lunch, I pack up and head out toward the showcase home of Louis Bromfield.

I know you've heard me speak many times of Astronomy For Youth and the programs we give in the Horseman's Area of Malibar Farms, but it's much more than just a state park. This lovely old farmhouse you see here in the distance is the perfectly preserved home of Pulitzer Prize winning author, Louis Bromfield and has a rich, rich history. The sprawling home contains more than 30 rooms that have been kept just as they were in Bromfield's day. His own handsome collection of antiquities includes two original Grandma Moses paintings and a wealth of Hollywood history. As you enter the home, the graceful, sweeping double staircase was the scene of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall's wedding. Every room you enter is perfectly appointed in its' 1940s style and everywhere you look was once the visiting place of the movie stars. Think of any actor that belonged to that era? And they were there.

Do not imagine this place to be antique by any stretch of the imagination. Politically correct, all things here are considered antique, but those who came from my generation recognize furnishings, bathroom appointments, bedspreads, appliances, entertainment equipment, and even cabinetry to belong to a time we remember. Can you imagine little Shirley Temple dancing about in these rooms and sneaking into the kitchen? I can. Can you imagine Carol Lombard taking a bubble bath? Or Clark Gable selling vegetables at the roadside stand? Of course. When you visited the Bromfield Farm, you became part of a working farmhouse. It still is to this day! Livestock is still kept and all manner of produce is grown here... From their own bees comes honey for sale, and even the herb garden bounty is dried and sold here. And maple syrup? Oh, yeah! Right down to the buckwheat ground on premise and sold in charming flour sacks for a pancake breakfast. Not only was Bromfield a prolific author, but a major contributor to area agriculture and Malibar Farm was a self-supporting community.

When I have finished the tour, I head on up the curving road and into the picnic area. It's nice to sit here in the shade and watch the bluebirds peek out of their curious houses. The woods are a quiet and wonderful place to spend time and I smile at the many different species of trees that grow here. And when I have tired?

I know the way home.

The evening gave way to balmy temperatures, and I figured some more exercise would be good for me... And what better than swimming? By the time it had started to get dark, I was out and quietly doing slow, steady laps. I watched the two day old Moon go by through the little grove of trees to one side and would float and smile up as the stars began to come out one by one. The radio was playing some quiet rock and roll and I was feeling pretty content... And then I noticed something. Where in the heck is that red light dome coming from?? It almost looks like aurora! I swam to the south edge of the pool so I could get a better look at the northern sky. I wanted to be sure what I was seeing was not low level haze reflecting light. No way, baby. I know those signature colors and low level haze here is orange and not red!! Besides... You can't see stars through haze!

And so laughing, I stayed at the south edge of the pool for at least 30 minutes watching the northern sky light up. The curve rode about 10 degrees above Polaris, went as far west as the edge of Ursa Major, and encompassed the northern portion of Cygnus. At times, what was low north would shimmer and turn a beautiful shade of light blue, but that tall arc of red held very steady. There were no tremendous spires this time, but there was no mistaking what I was seeing.

By the time it had faded, I had to go back indoors to change and check the information. Daggone right! On the 20th, mammoth spot 652 shot off an M4 class flare and resulted in a weak, earth-directed CME. And where am I? Out goofing around, huh... ;) No matter. Within minutes of finding that information, ShockSpot sent me a hit, and I knew immediately my auroral sighting was confirmed. ShockSpot, the earthbased proton detection meter was tripped at the 99% confidence level, and I can confirm it visually. We've got aurora in OHIO!

Feeling pretty good about life in general, I decided I'd take out the maps and the old Celestron and just get Messier for awhile. The skies aren't exactly what I would call great, but I don't mind hunting down the M81, M82, and M51. There might be some haze, but not enough to totally eradicate the M10 and M12. There is a little bit of distant lightning here and there... but who cares when you're looking at the M27 and M71? The mosquitoes are starting to find me... But not before I found the M11.

Smiling, I figure that's enough for tonight. I've been trying to get away from astronomy a bit, because I'm honestly starting to burn out. But just like when I was swimming? I don't find astronomy...

It finds me.

"Where do we go when we just dont know?"

July 20, 2004 - Road Trip 2004: "Piatt Castles and Starry Nights"...

Comments: It has been awhile since I have spent some time with my youngest son. My oldest is very much a man in his own rights, with a family, a job and a home... And it sometimes shocks me when I really stop and look at my youngest. Like his brother before him, he's going to be very tall and he loves to point out the fact that he's gone a couple of inches beyond me already. If you speak to him on the phone? He sounds like a man. If you put him to work? He works like a man. Yet somewhere inside he is still young enough to want to "do things" with me and I take advantage of that while there is still time. So he and his girlfriend join me in a bit of an "adventure quest"...

Our "Road Trip" destination for today? Two secluded places in southern Ohio known for their antiquities and visual charm. They are known as the Piatt Castles, and when you see these magnificent French chateaus appear in the midst of the rolling green Ohio farmland, there is no doubt that they very much appear like a fairy tale castle. The first is by far my favourite...

I have visited Mac-O-Chee many times over the years and have watched it slowly be restored from the general waste it had become. Construction on these fantasy homes was started at the end of the Civil War and economic times saw this one in particular change owners many times over the years. By the mid 60's, this piece of artwork was reduced to nothing more than storage facility for grain and farm equipment and heavily scarred by time. Can you image parking a tractor in the grand entry hall on a parquet floor made of oak, maple and cherry? Although the floor has been restored, the stains still remain to this day.

But I digress. As I have said, I have visited many times over the years and each time is to marvel anew at the restoration. You cannot imagine the loving detail that originally went into this home. The walls and ceilings were all handpainted by a French artist, Oliver Frey. Portraits captured on ceilings, designs that defy our concept of modern wall paper that were placed on the stuccoed limestone by the hand of a single artist.... And these hundreds of years later? They still are there... And still just as heartbreakingly beautiful. Words cannot described the elaborate use of wood throughout the castle. Every leaded window is a showcase of its own... Every shutter, doorframe and floor. Even the staircases were custom design and at one time no expense was spared. As the years have passed, period carpeting has been replaced and as many of the home's original furnishings recovered as possible. That which cannot be called back has been replaced with similar fixtures, such as the ornate gas lamps and peiod antiques. Rooms have been opened which I have never seen before! And rooms that I have known from the past and loved even better cared for than they once were.

It is a private endeavor, taken on by the Piatt family, this restoration. Only our tour monies and donations are all they have to call it back. But one look at the ceramic work in the many fireplaces, and the absolute granduer of a bygone era is worth such an endeavor... And I am honoured to give what I can. And so we journey to the next...

Mac-O-Cheek is smaller, but has met with greater fortune over the years. Still home to the Piatt family, this graceful chateau is no less opulent than its predecessor. It's rooms have been painstakingly restored and preserved over the years. Again, the use of wood and fresco are truly works of art on their own. From servants quarters to the master dining hall, this is one serious antiquity. Again, it is impossible for me to describe just how very graceful and grand the inside of this home is. Rich? Oh, yes. In its period, this would have been about as rich as you could get in Ohio. Now? Now it is not so much about the display of wealth as it is about preserving history and the legacy of a family. It is my hope that the Piatt family continues to restore their ancestoral homes and that they will always be open to a grateful public.

They are magnificent...

And so we picnic in the fragrant shade of the gardens, admiring the old carriage houses and stone dog kennels. Once refreshed, we head back out on the road again. About the time the car has cooled, I hear snoring from behind me and turn to smile. How I wish I could do the same! (oh, heck... it's a long straight stretch. how about if i just set the cruise control and kick back here? no? ok.... ;) We arrive back in plenty of time for a bit of relaxation and an evening meal... It's "Starry Nights" at the Observatory tonight and son Jon wishes for he and his girlfriend to also accompany me. I have no problem with that, and as the skies clear, we pack an extra scope in the car in hopes of them enjoying the stars as well.

By the time we added the miles to the day's itinerary, it sure looked like rain. Still a bit cautious of my back, I drove into the observing area and Jon helped me get set up. Hola! There is another John here as well, and I am most pleased to see another member of the RAS willing to help with the camp kids program. Once unloaded, I return my car to the parking area and away the young folks go. Can't say that I blame them. Walking hand in hand with someone you love about the beautiful grounds here would appeal to to part of me as well, eh? And as they go their own way, the set up for the night has begun.

One by one, those who care enough to be here begin to arrive despite the clouds. Here is Greg, then Dan and guests as well as Joe. Long lost RAS member, Ted, also arrives with a guest. It is not long until we are quite ready to give a program and even the skies have began to cooperate. Afraid it would be too difficult for us to chase through sucker holes with the big scope, I had done nothing more than open the dome for the evening, and when Ted offers to set it on "The Ring", I am delighted to turn on the red lights and let him have at it. We can hear the kids below us and it won't be long until they arrive.

Readying my own scope, we look at the crescent Moon for a bit and hop to what can be caught at the time. And inside? Well... Long and short of it, the lift broke. Hey. It's no problem. We have three scopes set up outside, a program ready to roll, and all we need is the kids.

But there's no kids.

We hear them gather below and I start things up. Things get quieter... And there's no kids. Fifteen minutes pass.... And there is no kids. We're ready! And there's no kids... Concerned, Joe hops in his vehicle and heads down the Hill to find out what's going on. In the meantime, we patiently starhop to a few goodies and await the word. Tonight? There will be no kids. There has been a problem with camp security and the gates will be locked at a certain hour. No kids.

Disappointed? Somewhat, but I am far from heartbroken. I show our guests what I had lined up for a program in a brief manner and we are always happy to just do a bit of starhopping for the night's sake. Joe leaves, and mindful of the time I button things up and with John's help secure everything for the night. We bid both guests and astronomers a good night, and I smile at Saggitarius, promising myself a date when I get back home. Reclaiming my car, my entourage and I head back out on the road again. Has there ever been a time when a vanilla milkshake and french fries tasted so good? Yeah. I remember "Mission"...

By the time I have delivered my human cargo to their various points around the state, I am tired. I have driven well over 300 miles today and my mind is set on traversing the light years. Alas... It is not to be. By my return in the wee hours, the clouds have veiled the stars once again. Only a few bright remainders here an there even signify there was a sky tonight. It is alright, though... My eyes have been on the M11, the M4, Brocchi's Cluster, the M27, the M57, various double stars, a handful of meteors and a dandy iridium flare tonight. I am content to sit on the park bench in my pajamas and enjoy a cold Corona while H prowls the yard. Even though all things did not turn out as planned, it has still been a terrific day and I have no complaints.

Let's find another unusual place to visit tomorrow... Eh?

"I need my serenity.... Nothing changes. Days go by."

June 14, 2002 - Lakeside...

Comments: Well, I made it. The closer I got to Lake Erie, the more and more ominous the skies became. Driving straight into a wall cloud, I could see the lightning dance straight down out of the skies somewhere out over the water. There is a kind of scary beauty to it, but thank heavens the weather fronts here pass quickly and by the time I arrived, the sun was beginning to shine again. Stowing my stuff away, I got everything turned on, unpacked (sorta'... to me unpacked is a place to open my suitcase. ;) and tucked the little Orion in an outside shed to stay close to ambient temperature. Time for me to clean up (i do it rather well, you know...) and head towards a fine restaurant for my evening meal. Dinner? Well, dinner cost almost as much as a car payment, but it was quite worth it.

Patting my full belly, I headed off towards Johnson's Island to enjoy the sunset amoungst the quiet headstones in the Confederate Cemetery.

As always, I am touched by this place, as well as the legend which surrounds it. How very young these soldiers were! I walk between the rows and rows of stones as the sun begins to set across the water. I stand at the edge of the water, where the Italian stonemasons once waited on the ferry, and I pick up a flat rock at my feet and skip it across the waves for a dear friend. You are familiar with the story, aren't you? Be in this place until the sun touches the water and you will hear "Dixie" before the last rays have quit the sky. Smiling, the only thing I intend on hearing is the new Tantric CD in my car stereo on the way back across the long causeway. Once in town, I head out on the beachfront road admiring the sunset when I get stopped by a traffic light. When I take out the CD to switch for another... What do I hear? Darn right. The sounds "Dixie" coming from a local watering hole. Legend? I don't question. I merely smile and drive on.

Switching out my "fancy attire" for something more comfortable, I set my bottle of wine to chilling and kick back and enjoy a movie. (what else? "jaws"! ;) It's time to wait on sky dark and it's still clear here. After the movie, I go in and print out a map for tonight's locations on both Comet LINEAR and NEAT. Now all I need? Dark...

I was blown away when I went out. Holy mother of mercy... I haven't seen skies this clear in forever! Consulting my maps and using the binoculars, (thanks dad, the big buschnell field was awesome!) it didn't take too long before I had viewed both comets and was ready to do some deep sky. I just can't take my eyes off Ursa Major tonight! From this location, it appears almost straight overhead and I am more than willing to enjoy what it has to offer. Thanks to the ultra dark northern vista, I was able to locate and enjoy both M97 and M108. Things I hadn't seen in a long time, like the M51... And even M101! (so big... my word! it took up two-thirds of the field of view with the 26mm!

Well, I ain't gonna' tell you it was easy, because it wasn't. It's been far too long since I've had a relaxed opportunity to enjoy the sky. It's alright though, I've got plenty of time and it just feels good to be out and on the prowl again! I kept after it, and did manage to find the M63 and M94 as well. By then, it was getting rather late and I was feeling the long hours between work and the drive. I thought about hanging it up but not until I had looked at the M81, M82 and the M3. Should I go now? Nah. There's Scorpius, and I take a spin off toward the M4 and M80 as well.

What can I say?

"I'm wastin' my time... I'm wastin' my time... Again. Whoa, oh... Again."

June 15, 2004 - Geo Safari... Rockin' With Cassiopeia...

Comments: OK! I've been frustrated. I hate to see a beautiful piece of equipment rather... oh, let say.. abused? You know the internet is as much a part of my life as writing my reports and to see a computer so overloaded with programs that I can't even...

Wait. That's frustration. Ain't no frustration here.

Time for me to head out and peruse a stack of pancakes! Usually when visiting this area, I prefer to haunt favorite places and passtimes. You know what I say? Time to make a change, brother. To quote a little REO Speedwagon? "Oh, if you're tired of the same old story... Oh, turn some pages. I'll be here when you are ready... To roll with the changes... Yeah. Roll with the changes..." So what change did I make? How about studying a little geology this time? After breakfast, I took the ferry over to Kelly's Island to enjoy the "glacial grooves". A very primative place, but Inscription Rock alone is worth the trip and to see how the glaciers that once moved over our area caused the land to terraform the way it did.

Back to the "mainland" once again, I had a terrific lunch at Mendoza's (great bean burritos! almost as good as andelita's, but not quite. ;) and headed out on the road to Seneca Caverns. Talk about an awesome tour!! Some 300 feet below ground, the "earth crack" is a twisting, mind blowing, mountain goat trek downward over mud-slippery, natural rock staircases. My guide was most pleasant, and I kept assuring him that I didn't have any problem with what we were doing, just a bit cautious of the wet, clay covered rocks. (hey! mountain goat!! i might be gettin' old... but i'm still trekkin'. ;) The last three levels of the 15 caverns were flooded thanks to yesterday's (and day's before) downpour, but the vista is absolutely stupendous. Those who know me well know I can't resist caving and the wet clay on my clothes are the least of my concerns. How grand it is to see where the ocean once covered this area! From the old fossils still buried in the walls, to the magnificent undergrond streams with the crystal clear waters that formed them.

This is true tranquility. Imagine yourself in a sunshine filled woods. The air is pure and cool. You can hear the breeze rustle in the leaves where the singing birds hide. Ahead of you, you see a dark staircase carved from the rock, leading inside the very Earth itself. You climb down these primative steps... Descending ever deeper into the cool climes. Like burrowing your way into history, you go farther and farther down until you behold an underground lake. A lake where the waters are so still... So pure.... And so clean... That you can actually see the person's face who's head your are holding under.

Ah, yes. Tranquility.

After that? Hey! Time to hit the beach. Swim, sun and rest. Another fine dinner (this time in a "treehouse"!) and now I'm ready to go back out and enjoy the stars again. Care to join me?

Well, I didn't get to those stars until quite a bit later, because Ohio is, after all, Ohio. I don't think there's any place here you can hide from the clouds for long! But it did clear up in the wee hours of the morning, and it was my great pleasure to walk through Cassiopeia once again. Ruchbah is my starting point, and this clarity off all the open clusters is just outstanding. M103, NGC659, NGC663, NGC664, NGC637, NGC609. NGC7789, NGC103 and NGC129. What a pleasant journey! I cannot adequately explain the dark here, but well enough to say that even with a small scope, I can make out two small nebula nebulae regions right around Gamma. There's also a real beauty near Alpha! I was looking in particular for NGC281, but found out it is a combination open cluster and nebula as well. Very fine.

By then, the clouds were beginning to stray in again, here and there. It won't be long until the skies begin to brighten with the first rays of dawn, and I am happy to put things away and cradle a cup of tea while I watch the early fishing boats make their way out across the waters. I think I will go visit the Marblehead Lighthouse before I go, for rain is in the forecast again. It has been a wonderful couple of days, but it would be rather tedious to be pinned here only to watch it rain again.

Maybe we should try south next time??

"Well, this is not for real. Afraid to feel. I just had to fall... To lose it all. And I'm wastin' my time. Yes, I'm wastin' my time again.... Oh, oh... Again."