Thursday, February 21, 2008


Last night’s eclipse got me thinking about a trip up to the Kneeland Airport to star gaze. The astronomy club was having a gathering and posted a public invite in the paper. I took Hope and Glo, Hope’s friend Ashley Cooper and Ashley’s mom, Shirley. Truth be told, I don’t drive much at night and had only been up Kneeland once or twice, always in daylight. I figured that with Shirley’s help, we’d find the airport without a problem so we piled the kids in my van and headed up the mountain.
I cautiously plodded along, high beams on, alert to any form of wildlife or ax-murderer that may bound across my path. (women ALWAYS worry about ax-murderers). About halfway up, my headlights go out. Yes…OUT! Pitch effing dark it is on that road with no headlights. I pull over, turn off the switch, breathe, switch them back on, all good. WTF? Oh, well, back on the road, a few miles later, they go out again. “Mom, I’m scared”. “Of course you’re scared honey, I’M SCARED and I’M DRIVING!” Luckily Shirley and I shared the same odd sense of humor and we got through with dark humor mixed with panic. She offered to sit on the hood with the mag-light. “It’s a van, Shirley…no hood. How `bout the roof?”. The lights continued going out then back on, all the way to the airport.
We pulled into the dark parking lot of the isolated Kneeland Airport to find it full of cars. In order to maintain big fat dilated pupils required to see in the dark, there are NO lights ANYWHERE. We made our way towards voices and find this odd world of legs, tripods and disjointed voices. At the first cluster of voices, we have the opportunity to see Saturn. If you’ve never seen Saturn through a proper telescope, it is a truly surreal experience when you realize it really does have rings just like those pictures..... The five of us take turns looking through the lens, oohing and aahing appropriately, then wandered to an adjacent pod of voices. “…and you’ll see a green nebula…it looks like a green Cheerio”. What?! Sure enough, taking turns at the lens we see what looks like a fuzzy green Cheerio floating in space. I was almost doubted it was real, it was that cool. We wandered around for more than an hour looking into a variety of telescopes, each with their own human voice telling us what we would be seeing. No faces. Just the reverent voices because the dark always makes you whisper, doesn’t it? As we went from scope to scope, we were sure to tell everyone about the problem with the van lights and to “please watch for us as you head down the mountain”. (Now we’re telling strangers who we couldn’t describe on a BET that two women and their children will be vulnerable on a dark mountain road.)
Mark was a tech inspector at Redwood Acres at the time and couldn’t be reached at the races so we nervously headed out of the dark gravel lot and make our way back down the mountain, hoping that the trouble with the lights was over. A few miles down, out go the lights. I finally got into a rhythm of turning off the switch then back on again every time the lights went out. "If we can just get down to Three-Corners, we can WALK if we have to". Once I was out of panic mode- it took me half way down the mountain before the light dawned…this only happens when the high beams are on. Hmmmm..coincidence? I turn off the high beams and had no more problems for the rest of the trip. Damn, why didn’t I think of that a half a mountain ago!?
My mechanic (that would be Mark) tells me later that, “Yep, Ford van light switches are prone to overheating” “Of course the high beams made it hotter”. Probably if I drove more at night where high beams can be left on for miles on end, I would have discovered the problem sooner in a more convenient location.
So it was an adventure. One for the memory books but somehow none of the kids have ever taken me up on the offer of a star gazing trip up Kneeland.


HopeyT said...

Thanks for reminding me of that awful time...:(

I nearly peed the seat. We almost died. That poor old brown van... I may never face astronomy because of that trip... *sigh* Good times *hand wavey thing* :-)


Fred said...

"If you’ve never seen Saturn through a proper telescope,".

I can actually see the rings of Saturn with my 60x spotting scope. They seem to be pretty much in black and white, though, not like the photos you see in magazines.

You can also see the stripes on planet Jupiter. I can see most of Jupiter's moons with my 7x35 binoculars. Under the right conditions you can see the moons with the naked eye.

Kym said...

Great story! I'm glad you lived to tell it.