Tag Archives: space

Just Another Night at the Office

29 May

My office is ten feet from the edge of a cinder ridge on the west side of the summit of Mauna Kea, 13,522 feet above sea level and forty miles from the nearest town. I can see that town, Kamuela, my home, from where I sit, for my office is outside, exposed to the elements. When there are no clouds blocking the view the orange lights of the main street are plainly visible. I can even make out the softer green lights of the observatory headquarters building where the astronomers I serve work.  My hours start when the sun goes down and end just before it rises again many hours later.

The only piece of furniture in my office is a sturdy reclining beach chair securely mounted to the top of a motorized revolving turntable. From this spot I have seen the canvas of the atmosphere painted by the master in sunlight and wind and cloud. I have watched Maui floating on a silver sea of cumulus that turns to red and fades in glory as the earth rotates eastward into darkness. One by one the stars appear as dusk gives way and the curtain rises on the night. The constellation’s brighter stars tell me time and date and allow me to place myself in the grand scheme of things. Full dark comes in an hour and the night is revealed to be not truly dark at all. The sky is alive with stars and their light fills the air with radiance.

My office.

Scorpius rises around an hour before midnight, its curved tail hoisting with it the thickest part of the Milky Way and the Galactic Center. During the next five hours it will climb to zenith, skim the top of the dome of Keck-1 and the Subaru telescope and then dive into the Pacific just before dawn. In the darkness before sunrise I will see satellites and shooting stars and watch the eastern sky begin to brighten as the terminator races west.

I wear a special suit of clothes to hold the cold at bay and sit holding a pair of 25×100 astronomical binoculars in my thick gloved hands. As the hours pass I imagine myself a Mayan priest or a Druid studying the skies for signs and portents, when in fact I am only there to watch for airplanes overflying the summit. If I see any my job is to press a button, shuttering our adaptive optics laser and then reset it after the plane is gone. In the long course of many nights I have slowly come to see the night sky as though there were no Earth rotating in space and me upon it. I am beginning to become conscious of our place in the Universe.

In the deepest night I talk to my father who is two years dead but by no means gone. I talk to his new companions, the ancients who have gone before and who still listen if you but speak. I talk to myself and imagine beauty and I think of Haiku. Life is grand and the view grander.

I am not bored. I am not cold.

I am grateful.

Just another night at the office.



Last of the First

10 May

Can you imagine how it felt? And what it must be like to see your fellow countrymen throw it all away over the years?

Here is my 100 word (on the nose this week) story for Madison Woods’ FridayFictioneers. It’s about an old man alone with his thoughts after hearing a friend has died and realizing he’s the last of his kind still standing.

I’m posting it early because by the time Madison kicks things off it’s midnight on Thursday here and I get hammered trying to keep up. WordPress starts counting hits on its own schedule and I’m trying to beat 180 views. Have to utilize the full 24 hours. There, I’ve gone and exposed myself as a greedy stat monkey. Oh, well. I’m going to try to rock the Casbah anyway. Thanks for reading. Tonight at midnight I’ll add the link for all the other stories by changing the color of the word ‘here‘ to red. Check in and read, comment and post your own story. (I think we’re going to be long on werewolves and such, but hey, there’s a full moon out so what do you expect?)



I remember skip-hopping, my charcoal smudged white boots raising silent dust fans that fall in perfect slow motion parabolic arcs. Shadows deep and dark contrast with the harsh glare of the sun in a starless sky. My suit ventilation system hums in the background of distant and excited radio transmissions.

Even now when I think of her I smell burnt gunpowder and feel the grit on my teeth.

The memory helps this old pilot write and when I see her riding high she reminds me that I once walked on her surface. The vibrations thrum through her core yet..…and mine.