August 29, 2013

Going to the Moon

I've been thinking a lot about the moon lately. The full moon was last week. I've been planning two upcoming moon-centered programs with a naturalist at the Wellington Reservation: one in November about observing the first-quarter moon, and one in December about observing under a new-moon sky (so that one's really about the absence of the moon...but still). I went to the library and checked out a stack of books dealing with lunar observation, mythology, exploration...and one that asks the question "What if there were two moons in our sky?" 

A couple nights ago I watched a charming documentary, Lunarcy, that profiles various moon enthusiasts operating on the fringes. One character that stood out in particular to me was Christopher Carson: a man obsessed with mounting a grass-roots effort to colonize the moon. Perhaps his ideas are a bit outside the norm, but I confess that I was still inspired by his resolve, persistence, and unfailing hope in the face of monumental challenges. Toward the end of the documentary, Carson is given the opportunity to meet Alan Bean, a former astronaut turned painter, and one of his special heroes.

Here is how the scene plays out.
Carson (driving a car): Today, I am heading over to have a little chat with the great Alan Bean. The path that he took to get to the moon is not anything like the path I'm taking, and it's not a path which is open to me....Alan is kind of interesting because in a sense here's one guy from my town who went to the how many more?  
In Bean's Studio: Carson: You can't accomplish anything just by talking about it, you've gotta go out there and get actual experience. 
Bean: You do. If something's gonna happen, people are gonna hafta actually do it. 
Carson: I suppose the question is, do you have any advice for another hometown boy who never thought of himself as being the most special person in the world, but really would like to do those great things? If you have anything, you know, you could suggest...? 
Bean: Well, I can suggest that moving history forward, which is what you're talking about, a very worthy endeavor, is difficult. Don't lose your spirit. And you've gotta get other people. And all of you working together MAY be able to achieve the dream you're talking about.  
Carson: Well, Thank you! Thank you... 
Carson (speaking excitedly soon after his visit): Every time I have contact with somebody who really has done these things, it serves, I guess, as a kind of a pick-me-up, or a booster...or just a reminder, you know, that this is not (as one in the dark of the night thinks) "is this really just a dream, is this really just a fantasy, is this truly realistic?" And I can say "NO! Look! This guy! Right here! This guy who's got his arm around my shoulder. This is a guy who's actually gone...Clop, Clop, Clop, ACROSS THE SURFACE OF THE MOON! SO, if somebody says, "Oh, that's crazy." What crazy?! What crazy?! It's not crazy. It's as real as the living flesh of the man who's hand I am shaking." 
So when you think about it, the moon, once a symbol of the utterly unattainable...of the pie-in-the-sky impossible dreams that we can only reach for and miss...might now most reasonably serve as a symbol of what IS possible...the pie-in-the-sky we could actually touch, and taste, and feel under our moon boots as we bound across its surface at a fraction of our Earthly weight.

Well...I don't know if I'll actually ever be so lucky. But some have been. And who's to say that Carson, and others like him, won't make it either? 

Anyway. As I said at the beginning of this post: I've been thinking a lot about the moon lately...and so I made this collage...

As with my last one, it's assembled from torn pieces of black construction paper, spattered and brushed with varying levels of white paint. I've enjoyed exploring this new (for me) mode of creativity. My past work hasn't always had such a prominent textural aspect. I almost feel I could come in for a landing on this surface...

August 15, 2013


When Rob and I moved into our new rental earlier this month, we were faced with a whole house-full of empty walls. In order to encourage tenants to preserve all this open plaster, our landlords had strategically drilled screws into the walls they felt were best suited for picture hanging...a fine enough idea in my opinion. So, while in Utah a few weeks ago, I gathered up a whole box full of artwork I hoped to hang and sent it out to our new Oberlin home. None of it is my own work, but mostly just a bunch of random pieces I'd purchased from New York City street artists during my student years at Juilliard.

From an African American man who painstakingly pieced together butterfly wings into beautiful figures... an anonymous spray-paint artist who created sci-fi flavored landscapes in a matter of minutes using a toolkit of surprisingly simple household items...

9-11 happened soon after I began my second year at Juilliard. Though I didn't personally know anyone who'd been at the Trade Center, the experience affected me deeply. I purchased this painting a few months after the tragedy. I remember liking the portrayal of the towers beneath a sort of mythic bubble.  
...and intricately serene land and waterscapes from Chinese woodcut artist Sun Yin Sheng...

...among others.

The problem, I soon discovered, was that all the screws are located high up on the walls, while most of my artwork is fairly small and horizontally oriented. To properly fill the open space I'd instead need some large vertical pieces.

Because my funds are quite limited these days, I decided to try making something entirely new.

First off, I wanted my piece to be able to hang without needing a frame (another cost-saver) would have to look good rough edges and all. Second, I wanted to keep to the astronomy theme I've been exploring lately...and I'd recently bought a whole ream of black construction paper...perfect! I went downstairs to take stock of other creative supplies I already had that might prove useful. A barely-used bottle of mod-podge...some old ratty paint inky toothbrush...and a bottle of white paint might just cost a dollar or two...hmmm...

I'd seen a beautiful origami exhibit a few weeks ago at the Oberlin Arts Center, and had recently thought a lot about collages. An idea began to take shape. It would involve folding, cutting, tearing, and flicking of white paint onto a black background.

After a few days of experimentation, here's what I came up with...

At first I tried to do a somewhat accurate star field. You might recognize a hint of Sagittarius...and a bit of Aquila...but then I messed up on Scorpius and sort of figured I'd fill in the rest at random. In the future I think I'll plan out that aspect a little better. Still, I rather like the piece. It measures roughly 14 x 33 inches and takes up a nice chunk of open wall right in the front room. It's the texture (which doesn't really come out well in the photo) that features most aspect I haven't explored much in the past, but may do so more in the future.

August 12, 2013

Perseids on Killdeer Mound

On the night of August 11th atop the Killdeer Observation Mound at the Wellington Reservation, a large group gathered last to watch for Perseid meteors.

Earlier in the week I'd volunteered to do a night sky program for the occasion and had been studying up in preparation. When Rob and I arrived at the mound around 9:45 pm, four early birds had already claimed their prime blanket spots and were eagerly watching the sky. I introduced myself and offered to give them a preview tour of the constellations. It was great fun! The four were attentive, asked a lot of questions, and perhaps spurred on by their interest and enthusiasm, I performed with confidence and excitement. We also saw what ended up being the best meteor of the night...a brilliant green Earthgrazer that streaked through Hercules and left behind a trail visible even in the darkness and (unfortunately) gathering haze.

The rest of the group--33 in all--arrived a little after 10:00 pm. Led to the mound by park naturalist Becky Bode, most carried blankets or lawn chairs and hurriedly scuffled around for the best observation spots. Once settled, Becky asked everyone to shut off ALL light-producing devices and introduced me as a representative of the Black River Astronomical Society. I jumped in to an explanation of the Perseids' origin and advice about how best to observe them. By this point, more and more of the sky was becoming obscured by thin clouds, so I stressed that even if we didn't end up seeing many tonight, there were likely to be Perseids visible for the next few days. And even if worse came to worse (this is Ohio after all), and the whole rest of the shower ended up entirely clouded out, I advised them to check out and listen to the radar echoes of meteors shooting through the upper atmosphere high above the clouds.

The night's second constellation tour was a little less successful. In the thickening haze, even the Big Dipper and the normally striking Summer Triangle were starting to look a little washed out. Still, there were moments of clarity, and toward the end of the night's observation it was possible to discern the glowing clouds of the Milky Way from their earthbound counterparts.

The majority of our group picked up at 11:30 and headed back, but Rob and I hung around for a few extra minutes chatting with Becky and watching the sky with another young BRAS member who'd brought his camera and tripod up the mound to try for some meteor photos. On our way back to park headquarters (about a mile from Killdeer Mound), Becky pulled out a bat detector and we stopped to listen to the low fluttering of wings whirring softly through the night air.

Another Perseid program is scheduled for tonight at the Wellington Reservation. I really hope the forecasted scattered thundershowers will scatter elsewhere!

August 8, 2013


On tuesday night we went out looking for Perseids. The shower doesn't peak until late this weekend, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't expect to catch a few early birds. We doused ourselves in bug spray, sneaked over to one of the college's unlit athletic fields, and lay down atop a blanket spread out over the damp grass. Though my engagement with amateur astronomy has continued to grow over the past few years, and I can find my way around the sky a whole lot better than I was ever able to as a kid, it seems like ages since I'd gone out to simply look at the stars equipped with no technology beyond my indiglo wristwatch, and no agenda beyond counting (and maybe wishing upon) shooting stars. It's really something I should do more often.

Oberlin is a small enough town that the Milky Way is faintly visible on clear nights...even within city limits...well...not on Main Street of course...or around the Science Center...and you usually have to shade your eyes from the glare of a street light or two...but it's there! When Rob and I first visited Oberlin together in the spring of 2012, I remember stepping out of the car and being dazzled by the relative darkness. I was an NU student at the time and all too accustomed to Chicago's limited palette of half-a-dozen stars. Goosebumps lit up my arms as I imagined having so many stars in our regular backyard sky.

Back to our secret campout: we did see a few or two likely Perseids...traced some constellations, and marveled at the number of satellites milling around overhead. Though the current forecast is not exactly encouraging, I've got my fingers crossed for at least one more good clear night for meteor watching over the next several days.