Out of This World.

A long time ago, my dad bought me an army surplus tent and I slept a lot of nights outdoors behind my house. It was really the beginning of my fascination for the universe and the solar system that is highly visible on a clear night. Many nights I looked up and thought how small we are in the grand scheme of things seeing that what I saw was a fraction of the Milky Way, which is a fraction of the Galaxy, which is a fraction of the Universe. I could not even contemplate but was highly satisfied with what I saw. There is something about the smell of the night air when you are awake at 3:00 AM and you look up in the stillness and see the absolute beauty of the sky. God’s amazing celestial creation. Years later in my dome tent, during many backpacking trips, I looked up from my sleeping bag, through the ceiling screen, and had the same feelings that I had as a kid in my backyard, thanks to my dad and his creative entertainment for Molly and me.

Fast forward, I bought myself a telescope. It was so interesting to see the craters of the moon, the moons around Jupiter and the ring around Saturn. Of course, aside from our moon, the details are not as defined as a professional telescope, but for me, it was pretty cool to zone in on it and see it “live.” I remember the first night I was up in the field behind our old house and called my son to come up and see it. He said, ” Dad- I can see it 50 times better on the Internet.” Millenials! Oh well, my wife came up and said, ” Well- that is nice dear. I am glad you are enjoying it.” Always the supportive wife even though it was not her thing.

Eventually, I bought a pair of high powered binoculars and a tripod. I really went to town then, exploring with the Sky Walk app on my phone to look up new planets and stars and see the constellations. The binoculars and tripod are a little more mobile than the telescope and easier to use. Lately, these clear nights this summer have been spectacular viewing. Once again, I tested my wife’s patience the other night looking for the Comet Neowise. I had the poor thing sitting in a field getting bit by insects waiting for the sunset and looking right under the Big Dipper in the northern sky. No dice initially until I moved her up to the golf course where she patiently waited for me as I made my way to a really dark place and finally saw a small version of what I had seen by the professional photographers on the Internet. Again, not real clear but I felt like I had hit my target for the night. Again, my patient wife said, ” I am so happy for you dear.” After all these years she is still supportive of my quest to see what is in the sky. Well, it won’t be around for another 6800 years so I figured I better see it now. LOL!!

Logging on the ” Spot the Station” and entering my email, I get notices from NASA when the Space Station is overhead. Even thought I can’t pick it up too well with my binoculars because of the speed at which it moves, it is still the brightest thing in the sky and travels at amazing velocity. My neighbors all get a kick out of me, out in the street at night with the binoculars and I give them all a view. And again, they kind of give me a ” well, that’s nice Pat. Glad you are enjoying it.” Although a lot of them are now watching and waiting for the Space Station. I kind of got them hooked.

The other day, I watched the astronauts installing the high definition camera on the outside of the Space Shuttle and thought to myself how cool it would be to see the earth from their perspective. Azure blue oceans, puffy white clouds and the continents rotating in their view so clearly. I thought, what they see is so pristine. They don’t see the conflict, the division, the problems that we are faced with globally in today’s world. They just see the creation in its finest position like a fine painting on a celestial easel. They are “out of this world” for a little while and doing great work high above the earth. Like the little boy in the tent so many years ago, I am still fascinated by what I see in the sky. A great hobby recommendation for all of you. Especially in this time of social distance. Buy a pair of binoculars from Celestron and begin exploring the galaxy. It gives you some great perspective on how small we really are. Thanks for reading.

Virtual Reality. Really?

One of the more enjoyable evenings that I ever had was when I was in Yosemite a few years back and went to the evening star gazing event. As I reclined on the huge tarp that was laid on the ground, I looked up and saw the most amazing celestial show that I had ever witnessed. It was so dark, which allowed the visual of millions of stars and planets accompanied by shooting stars that rocketed across the sky every couple of seconds. The ooohs and the ahhhs eclipsed the park ranger narrative. But he was used to it as he remarked that the spectacular night sky was way more interesting than him.

Along with a suggestion by my star gazing friend, Viola Christy, I purchased an entry level telescope and began searching the heavens back home for planets and stars. I can remember texting my son to come and look because I had Saturn in the the view finder as well as a full moon another night, and his response was,” Dad- I can see it 50 times better on the Internet.” But I replied, ” Yes Jack- but this is real. It is small and barely detectable, but it is the real thing and not a picture.” It was kind of lost on him.

I must say that with the younger generation, there is an attraction to virtual reality and many millenials today would rather play a video game like Madden, than actually participate in the ┬ásport itself. My son calls it “E-Sports” and no doubt it is gaining huge notoriety and millions and millions of dollars as a business. But is it really a sport? We have this debate all the time and my point is that it is important to get out and do something physical rather than spending all your spare time in a virtual physical activity world. At the risk of sounding like the old guy in his bathrobe yelling at kids to get off his lawn, ( as my friend Jeff Mihalsky laughingly says), it is a generational thing I guess. But at least my son plays sports and is active, even though the virtual world is still in his wheelhouse in his college years.

Personally, I think that there is a time and place for everything and relaxing with a video game is ok as long as it does not take over your life. I think it is really important for parents to expose their kids to all kinds of activities, whether they be hobbies, or individual or team sports. The outdoors are a wonderful education. Whether it is hiking, riding a bike, skiing, skating, the fresh air is great and the outdoor vision of the change of the seasons and activities has always attracted me. I never played Pac Man – I just did things outdoors. But that is me. But I do regret hearing that local grade schools sometimes cannot field a football team because no one tried out. Maybe the concussion concern is more apparent today, but more likely it is that the kids would rather play a video game than practice and play ball. Just a different attraction, I suppose.

For me, there is nothing like that night in Yosemite. I also like the occasional camping trip where I can smell the night air from my dome tent. Deep powder skiing days with brilliant sunshine. Mountain vistas. Riding an epic trail with friends. The camaraderie is real and you can actually enjoy it with others who value the outdoors like you do.

It is interesting to hear that video gaming is social. People actually make friends on X-Box Live even though they have never physically met them. But for me, the value of friends is to interact with them and see their emotions, their joy, their disappointments, their efforts in climbing a hill, making a three point shot, hitting a great fairway wood, skiing a great line and witnessing the event live.

Nothing wrong with gaming mind you, but for me, virtual reality is not really…..real. The real thing is that moon in the view finder, that wicked crash that I had last night on the mountain bike, the executed carved ski turn,that beautiful model airplane and how it flies, the chess match, breathing the salt air at the beach. Life is to be lived. Not virtually lived. Just my two cents. Thanks for reading.