Sunday, October 27, 2013

Star Gazing

Lava Beds National Monument, California, USA

This post is mostly about current events, but I’ll start with a clear morning over twenty years ago.  Dale and I were canoeing on Tokatee Reservoir, Oregon, fishing brown trout.  I cast my grasshopper over the clear, cold water and was startled to see a searing white light cut through the sky and disappear behind the nearby mountain.  What was that!  

Later, back at Dale’s office I described my sighting to his Forest Service office mates.  The sighting was very close to the Fourth of July, and promptly dismissed as someone’s fancy fireworks.  I didn’t buy that explanation.  Fortunately I didn’t have to.  I soon learned a meteorite had fallen into the Cascades Mountains.  I wasn’t the only person to have seen it.  

Now, fast forward to last Tuesday night.  This time it was pitch dark. Dale and I had already reached Lava Beds National Monument and were about 5 miles from camp.  Wow!  A blaze of bright tore through the sky and fell behind the nearest ridge -- way brighter than any shooting star.  It seemed as bright as the meteorite I’d seen years ago, but I assume the dark sky was misleading.  I couldn’t help but wonder if it was another meteorite, but I would have to wait until we got home to find out more.

We camped three nights.  Lava Beds is the best place I know to peer far, far into the heavens.  The monument is a treasure of sage, bunch grasses, juniper, and lava tucked at a relatively high elevation and far from any ranch lights.  The moon was well past full and rising after total darkness.  In those few hours between total darkness and moonrise, the Milky Way stretches above -- a faint avenue of brightness caused by zillions of stars.  When I gaze into those depths I feel I’m part of the Universe, not just a spot on Earth.  I never see that clear, crisp sky when I am in town or in most places for that matter.  
While at Lava Beds I pay extra attention to the stars above.  We saw several shooting stars while snuggled in our sleeping bag.  I noticed the top of the big dipper was parallel with earth when darkness fell and just starting to tip when we went to bed.  I always make an outhouse run in the middle of the night.  Part of the run is checking on where the big dipper is.  Has it tipped far enough to tell me I probably won’t have to get up again during the night, or is it traveling all too slowly as it pivots around the North Star?  I know by morning it will have rotated a little more than 120 degrees (Each day it rotates full circle, 360 degrees; so it’ll move about 120 degrees during my night).  

Once home I checked the internet to see if there was any news of a meteorite falling --  No.  But I did learn we had camped during the Orionids meteor shower -- a time when earth passes through debris left by Halley’s Comet.  This happens twice a year!  It has been a good year with lots of ‘fireballs’ sighted.  When the meteoroids enter earth’s atmosphere, 30 to 80 miles above ground, the friction of their intense speed literally burns them.  Most are destroyed in the process, but a few meteorites survive and hit the ground.  

Did I see another meteorite?  I don’t know.  It wouldn’t surprise me if a little dab of outer space now lies in the Medicine Lake area if northern California.  Its an unpopulated area.  Perhaps we were the only ones to see it fall.  

If anyone is interested in learning more about meteor showers, there is a wealth of information on the web.  Each year we have half a dozen showers of significance.  A lot of ‘shooting stars’ and small and far away.  The closer ones, ones that blaze as they enter our atmosphere are often referred to as ‘fireballs.’  Each one is named for a constellation in the sky and that gives a clue as to where to look. If you plan to go star gazing be sure to check on the phase of the moon.  Even just a half moon in the sky at Lava Beds means we see far fewer stars in the sky.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Lulu, Daisy Mae, and Darth Vader

Cris, a friend of my just lost a pet chicken, Suzi ... the little hen that never was quite healthy and died before she was a year old.  Fortunately Cris has four others, all best buddies and a big joy in her life.  Not only do I get to enjoy the chickens on her blog ( ), but I have even visited them.  

Right now I ache for Cris.  I also have been very attached to a pet chicken.  Actually I had a series of pet chickens when I was a little girl.  Cris’s loss has brought back fond memories of my pets.  

The first was a white leghorn, Lulu.  By the time I realized Lulu was a dashing rooster it was too late to change his name.  He didn’t mind.  He was very self assured.  Remember that Johnny Cash song where the guy is named “Sue?”  Well, the guy named Sue turned out just fine and so did my Lulu.  

I was too young to know the consequences of having just one chicken during a Wisconsin winter.  Poor Lulu froze the tips of his toes off.  Even that didn’t bother him.  He fluffed and strutted and crowed.  It was the crowing that ended my wonderful time with Lulu.  At home in rural Wisconsin the crowing was a joy to wake up to, but I was allowed to take Lulu when I went to visit my grandmother for the summer -- in a residential community outside Boston.  Crowing definitely was not on the agenda!  Poor Lulu was given to a chicken farm.  I had no choice.  I was just a little girl.  I can still see the farm.  Hundreds of white chickens pecking about and long low sheds for egg laying.  I had no choice in the decision but it seemed all right.  I wonder how he managed with all those ladies? 

Daisey Mae in Her Chicken House

Next spring I had another chick, this time a little red one, a New Hampshire Red.  Daisy Mae was a doll.  She soon grew into a handful of fat, egg-laying joy.  She rode the handle bars of my bicycle and laid her eggs in a box in our outhouse.  We tried other spots but she knew what she wanted.  I know she liked grabbing the tail of toilet paper that hung down and would run with it until the paper tore.  My father always sputtered, reminded us not to leave a tail hanging, and put up with this nonsense.  Meanwhile my mother made sure Daisy Mae wasn’t going to freeze her toes off.  She built a tiny double walled, insulated, chicken house complete with a window and a solid door.  At most the chicken house could have held three small chickens or two big ones.  I could reach in and feel that Daisy Mae’s body heat was warming the interior.  When it got bitter cold, we could put a light in there for warmth.  At sunset the door was closed, and the first person heading out to the outhouse in the morning opened the door.  

All went well until I read a paragraph in “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” about a chicken that could swim.  Could Daisy Mae swim?  I often kicked about in an inner tube with her on my lap, but I never put her in the water.  Remember ...... I’m only about ten years ago and no one is paying attention to what I’m doing.  I put Daisy into the water, just for a moment.  Immediately I knew she wasn’t going to make it into Ripley’s, but the damage was done.  A few days later my dear Daisy died of pneumonia.  I was devastated.  Not only had I lost my pet, but I was responsible.  

My next chicken was too old when I got it -- probably just two or three weeks.  Nina was a pretty bantam hen, but she didn’t tame down.  She happily pecked about the yard and always knocked on the kitchen window when she wanted to lay an egg.  Her choice of place for egg laying was a Quaker basket in the living room.  Nina would go straight to the basket, make a big fuss over the small plastic jar of Elmer’s Glue in the basket, and then sit tight until the egg was laid.  But she wasn’t a pet ..... so off to a farm she went.  

My fourth, and last chicken was a disaster.  As usual we didn’t know the sex the little chick, but I named it Pinocchio.  He should have been named Darth Vader or the Terminator.  I only had my chick a few days when I was shipped off to my grandmother again -- without Pinocchio.  My parents assured me they would take good care of Pinocchio.  They did.  He had plenty of food and safe harbor, but no bike rides, inner-tube swims, and never got dressed up in doll cloths.  By the time I came home in the fall he was an aggressive monster with spurs an inch long.  One of our dear friends was attacked when she got out of her car.  Ruth had to have stitches to mend her leg.  Needles to say, Pinocchio got farmed out to another farm.  But this time I didn’t mind.  Pinocchio and I never had enough time together to bond.  

My chicken days were over, but I had learned several important lessons, the most important being they can be wonderful pets, but they need lots of care and attention to include humans in their flock.  I look back fondly at the time when I was a member of a chicken family.