Launch — in the blackest starriest sky, with Leonids streaking down on the Chesapeake, and ol’ UD thrilled speechless. On a little bluff beyond the oyster-cage-strewn Chincoteague harbor, with twenty or so other excited people, we gazed at the meteors and the galaxies and the high-lit Wallops blast-off site across the water. Even the dogs people brought were quiet; we held our binoculars and steadied our tripods and except for the occasional goose all was still.
A clustering of white clouds at the base suddenly; then a gold lozenge lifting into the ether, arching over our heads and disappearing as it shed its segments. Only when this stage was accomplished, when the invisibility trick worked, did everyone applaud and cheer.
We felt our ways back to our cars, to the honk of hundreds of indignant geese.
Photo: UD‘s sister.
I can see the pulsing red yellow and white lights of Wallops Flight Facility from my bed; I can also see miles of marsh and bay.
Sand kicked by the storm lies on the pier below me. The wind’s still way up.
Above, whenever the clouds part, astonishingly clear stars emerge, and it occurs to me that tomorrow’s dark clear early morning skies (we’ll be freezing under them along with a crowd of other people to see Antares lift off) might yield not merely a shattering rocket blast, but Leonids!
This cosmic amazement will happen with the Chesapeake flowing at our feet. If UD can for once in her life actually dress warmly enough to stand around for awhile in cold weather, she might be in for the sight of her life.
At tea yesterday, we talked to a disappointed scientist. Her muscle-growth experiment, part of Antares’ cargo, has been compromised by the delays.
I called the tearoom Thursday morning, fully expecting to be told that – in all this offseason chill – they were closed.
“Are we holding tea,” said a very British voice. “Now that’s a question.” I loved her voice; I loved the way she said Now that’s a question.
“Hold on. Let me ask the breakfast guests. Anyone here coming to tea at three? … Okay, enough guests are returning for tea, so yes, we’ll do it.”
In driving wind and rain, we walked through a half-English, half-Japanese garden to the inn’s front door and were greeted at the tea table by a young woman wearing a gray t-shirt with dripping black letters that read Walking Dead. The four-course meal was strictly British and just the thing for the bleak winter setting. Talking to the scientist and her colleagues made Antares much more real.
On our way out, as we readied ourselves for the tree-bending storm, I congratulated the innkeeper on her gardens, which shined through the gloom. “I love to garden,” she said, with the same flat, casually disclosing tone I’d loved on the phone, “but I can’t do it anymore. Can’t bend.” She lifted one of her pant legs slightly. “I call her Edna. Prosthetic. Cartilage cancer. I knew something was wrong and went to a local idiot here who dismissed it as arthritis. So I went to Johns Hopkins and they knew right away and did the surgery right away.”
“I always say,” replied UD, “that it’s very much worth living within reasonable range of a major metropolitan center.”
“If I lived here, I’d help with the garden.”
… lots of experimental aircraft circling the Wallops Flight Facility. The Antares launch has been moved to tomorrow morning, so we’ll spend an extra day here. Our desk clerk told us exactly where to go to get the best view – past the harbor, up a little knoll…
UD has so far walked the length of Chincoteague’s chilly desolate main street, sat on her hotel’s dock (from which she chatted with various people floating by in motorboats), and made a reservation for dinner.
… and ready for takeoff the day after tomorrow. Assuming the launch happens, UD will drive from her nearby hotel room in Chincoteague, Virginia, to Wallops Flight Facility so that she can watch real close-up.
It ain’t that UD‘s a space maven or anything – in fact, as I’ve noted on this blog in the past, UD has trouble believing in the reality of the solar system, much less the cosmos.
It’s clear that whoever created her gave UD one hell of a parochial mind… As in: The earth will do. Even the earth is a bit on the bulky side for UD… The east coast she finds intellectually manageable… As in the famous New Yorker cover…
But as you can tell from her trip to Shenandoah National Park/Big Meadow to watch meteors at 2 AM while freezing her ass off, she’s definitely up for fireworks, definitely interested in what nature can do, and what we can do, by way of celestial effects.
…this Thursday on Wallops Island, Chincoteague. Will she and her sister have the whatever to leave their hotel at one AM, when the NASA facility opens, and wait there until 5:00 AM for the launch? Or will they simply watch the launch from their balcony? Will the launch be canceled (weather is supposed to be perfect, though)? Will (this is her sister’s question) the rocket explode?
Of course I’ll blog the experience…
… which is now one of America’s Coolest Small Towns. They must have lived there because of its proximity to Ocean City, where the Rapoport family (Joseph Rapoport was my father’s father) had a boardwalk amusement store (scroll down for news of it burning down in suspicious circumstances in 1954).
Les UDs stopped at Berlin for lunch on their way back from Assateague on Monday, eating at this diner, which turns out to be famous because it was featured (along with the rest of the town) in Runaway Bride.
The Atlantic Hotel (1895) dominates the town and has sitting rooms like this.
… Wild Life Trail hike
on Assateague Island.
An amazing, bird-filled walk,
during most of which we had
the whole place to ourselves.
… boat trip along the
marshes, channels, and inlets
between Chincoteague and Assateague.