Arcing to Arcturus

On July 13, 1977, at 8:37 p.m., a lightning strike at the Buchanan South electrical substation on New York’s Hudson River tripped two circuit breakers.  At the time, Buchanan South was meant to be converting 345,000 volts of electricity from the Indian Point nuclear plant to lower voltage, but a loose locking nut, combined with a faulty upgrade cycle, meant that the breaker wasn’t able to reclose and allow power to resume flowing.

When a second lightning strike caused two more 345,000 volt transmission lines to fail, only one reclosed properly, resulting in a loss of power from Indian Point and the over-loading of two more major transmission lines.  Con Edison tried to initiate fast-start generation at 8:45 p.m., but no one was overseeing the station, and the remote start failed. Continue reading

The Sirius Season

If you needed a poster child for the dog days of summer, Jake would do just fine. Jake lives on a boat tied up to a dock that I frequent, and it’s clear that he hates July.  He doesn’t like the heat, he doesn’t like the humidity, and he especially doesn’t like the fact that he’s not allowed to spend his entire day inside the boat.

I know what he’s thinking. With access to air conditioning, he could take over the settee in the main salon, chew on his bone and nap away the afternoon in cool comfort. Instead, he’s forced to spend part of his day lying in the cockpit, on top of the cabin or on the dock, where he quietly sulks. He has a sunshade, water, and occasional breezes wafting about, but still – he isn’t happy.

He wasn’t particularly happy in June, either, and probably won’t cheer up in August or even September. He’s been through this before and knows he’s condemned to endure dog days and dog nights until October, when summer on the Gulf Coast of Texas will have run its course. Continue reading

Salisbury, Solstice and Song

There’s no escaping the scent of gentle chaos wafting through these last days before Christmas. “I loves me some Christmas,”  says the woman to her companion in the checkout line, squinting at her notebook . “But I swear. If I never make another cookie it’ll be too soon.”  I love cookies as much as the next person, but my sympathies are all with the woman.  Even as I’ve pulled out angels and garlands, decorated trees, wrapped gifts, sent cards and done my own baking I’ve found myself thinking, “I could stand some peace and quiet.”

The quiet’s as important as the peace. The pressures of the Christmas to-do list are one thing, but the season can be noisy to the point of distraction. Grandma doesn’t go quietly when she gets run over by that reindeer, and hearing the Chipmunks’ version of Jingle Bell Rock piped through the produce aisle at full volume is more annoying than festive. While the carols and seasonal songs blare away, families squabble and impatient horns fill shopping mall parking lots with the honking of a thousand demented geese. The decible level of life rises perceptibly.

Even at night, the peace and quiet of hours meant for sleep is disturbed by the ebb and flow of incessant, internal questioning. “What have I forgotten?” “Who will be offended..?” “Can we afford..?” “Will there be time..?”  If dawn brings nagging children and snappish adults, it’s little wonder that by Christmas Day many are ready to throw out the tree with the wrapping paper and get on with it. Twelve days of Christmas, stretching on to the Feast of the Epiphany, seem a horror. Who needs more Christmas when we already are exhausted and drained? Continue reading

Watching Comet Lulin

I love the night sky: the star-pictures of the constellations, the waxing and waning of the moon, the great wash of the galaxies.  This week’s close passage of Comet Lulin, a beautiful and spectacular – and scientifically interesting – bit of celestial wonder simply couldn’t be passed by.  Last Tuesday night, the evening of Lulin’s closest approach, I spent two hours lying in my parking lot with a pair of binoculars, drinking it in.  As it turned out, I didn’t watch alone.  Calliope, my stray Muse-kitty took time from her nightly rounds to keep me company.  The poem is my way of holding on to the experience, even as Lulin streams off into the mysterious reaches of space.


Watching Lulin

Green-eyed and aloof,
you prowl down heaven’s alleys      
and lurk on Saturn’s doorstep with singular elegance,
a celestial stray hungry for attention.
Prone beneath your pathway,
stretched across a concrete bed with curbstone for a pillow
I squint and ponder,
consult the charts
and probe your space through time
until I feel the tug
and hear the tiny, worried voice.
An earthling stray has found her friend,
her food,
her solace
not rising tall against the sky but flattened to the ground,
eyes turned upward,
head bent back as though the victim of a fall.
Green eyes flashing,
she nudges at my pillowed head upon the curb,
pushes back my dismissive hand.
Earthbound, insistent,
she bites and tugs my hair as though to pull me upright,
restore her world’s axis
and right a universe gone mad.
Leaving Lulin to her flight
I reach out to grasp this nearer world passing by.
“Look up,”  I murmur as I run my fingers through her fur
and catch the glint of starlight in her eyes.
“A thousand years.”
“A thousand years.”

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