And there it was…….the Comet Appeared

They say a comet is an omen. In ancient times, because of the ‘disturbance’ it caused in the night sky, the omen it suggested was considered to be bad. Comets were thought to be sent by the gods as warnings and were associated with the death of kings and famous people or ironically, plagues. I wish to believe that this new comet in the night sky, Neowise, is maybe just the opposite. I choose to think it is a sign of the eventual end to this Covid plague and the hope for a vaccine.

Yesterday gave us one of those rare nights, that if you are fortunate enough to be away from the light pollution of the larger cities, you get to witness the millions of stars painting their spectacular light show across the canvas of the night sky. Last night, I was one of those fortunate few. My grandchildren and I are vacationing with my wife and daughter in the northern woods of Wisconsin, far from the city lights. I was excited, since having tried for multiple nights to view the comet back home in Madison, I had yet to spot it in the nighttime sky. This was going to be my best chance.

We have a cottage located in the southeast corner of our lake. With a heavy tree line, we were concerned that we would not be able to see low enough to the horizon where Neowise would be located. The time grew later and the sky grew darker. We ventured down to our pier where we found a crystal clear sky and no moon. Perfect viewing weather. As we looked to the northwest, we easily spotted the Big Dipper. Our Google search told us that on this night we would locate the comet straight below the lowest star of the Big Dipper, half way between that bottom star and the horizon. As we peered into the dark sky, we saw our view seemingly blocked by a large stand of trees. But then, as we moved our gaze downward, we saw through an opening in the branches what looked like a smudge of white against the backdrop of the dark sky. Grabbing the binoculars, my daughter exclaimed breathlessly, that she could see it. I and my grandson anxiously awaited our turn. When she finally relinquished the binoculars and our turns came, the comet did not disappoint. We stared in awe at the majesty of Neowise.

The head of the comet, clearly visible through the binoculars, appeared as a soft, fuzzy object and there, spread out in this huge fan shaped cloud of white, was its tail. The comet was so distinctly different and so much larger than anything else in the sky, that it simply grabbed your attention and made it impossible to look away. No wonder that those ancients were so awed and at the same time, fearful of a comet’s appearance. We explained to my grandson Jackson, what a unique experience viewing this comet afforded him. It would be another forty two years before another comet, Halley’s, would be back in our skies. I didn’t tell him, but I sincerely doubt that I will be around to see that event.

I have been fortunate to have viewed three comets before this latest one and, more than likely, my last. I saw, Comet Kahoutek in 1973, Halley’s comet in 1986, and Hale-Bopp in 1997. Though there are generally comets somewhere in our night skies at any time, most are not visible with the naked eye or do not display much of their tail. The tail is often pointed away from us or is simply to small to view. The three comets I mentioned, were visible and at least expected to put on a show. Truthfully, until my viewing last night, they were unimpressive with my meager viewing equipment. That is why last night’s viewing of Neowise has so inspired me. Knowing that I have no known great comets to look forward to, seeing Neowise in all its glory was so important.

Unlike the ancients, I am choosing this comet to be a good omen. I believe that 2020 is destined to go down as the year of the plague and that it will be one we all want to forget. Let’s for a moment believe that the appearance of the comet is telling us of better days ahead. Let’s, knowing that we have a forty-two year wait, not waste any of our days and years ahead. If Covid taught us anything, it is to realize the importance of the people around us, of our dependence on each other and of our need to take care of not only ourselves, but of humanity in general. Neowise can be a beacon showing us our way forward and an inspiration to keep going. Just as the comet unwaveringly follows its path, so we need to find our path, the path of caring for the things that matter.

Take some time, grab a pair of binoculars, get away from the confusion of the urban lights and go find the comet. Stare at it. Revel in its majesty. View it against the backdrop of a starry ski and realize how vast the universe is and how very fortunate we all are to have this space, this earth, this planet …… each other. Just maybe we can each be our own comet, lighting up our little space and together, we can light up the world. Just as the comet dazzles the night sky, so too can we dazzle the world, our world.

Go be a comet!

Who Doesn’t Love a Great Fish Story

I need to start this blog with a disclaimer or two. First, as grandparent I have every right, no duty, to brag about my grand kids. Second, this blog is going to include fish stories. My disclaimer is to accurately describe my abilities as a fisherman. They don’t exist, at least not in reality. I am an impatient fisherman and one the fish don’t fear. I can cast with the best of them. I can bait a hook. I just don’t catch anything and it may be due to my impatience. No worm, cast by me, has ever stayed in the water long enough to have ever experienced drowning. That’s if worms actually drown. As soon as I have cast my line, I am reeling it in with the speed of gazelle fleeing a hungry lion. Even if the fish wanted to try the bait, they can’t move fast enough to catch it. I have repeatedly been boated back to shore by the master fisherman who was going to teach me the art of fishing, often because they do not cater to my pacing in their boat.

That said, my six year old grandson, Jackson, decided it was time I teach him to fish. Reluctantly, given my history, I agreed to try but warned him, that for the most part he was going to be on his own. I explained the art of the cast, decided we would buy a dozen night crawlers and some leeches and proceeded down to our dock. At this point, Jackson decided I could do the baiting and he would reel in the fish. I loved his optimism. If only he knew the skill set of his teacher. Enter Jackson’s three year old sister, Adela. She claimed to have no desire to catch fish, but oh how she loved the worms. Within minutes, she was providing me with the next worm while gently stroking and cooing to another as her pet. Lest you think this a fluke and that when we switched bait to leeches, she would be long gone, oh how wrong you are. Leeches fascinated her even more. She wanted to know if we could save one for her to take home as a pet. Mom was an immediate and stern NO!

But let’s get back to the fisherman. With hook baited, the cast was made and almost immediately, a bite. Sure that he would simply feed the worm to this adventurous fish, I simply said that he needed to give the line a jerk. Fish number one. Nothing to mount on the cottage walls, but he caught it and got it to the dock. Surely beginners luck. Cast number two and three came up empty and I figured he would be retiring soon. And then the surprise. Jackson, though a focused Lego builder, has never shown a great amount of patience, must have got one of his Opa’s genes. For the next half hour, he was undeterred. Cast after cast and several missed catches, Jackson continued to fish with an intensity that was border line scaring me. It dawned on me that if he ever caught a big one, we were going to need to buy a boat and hire a professional fishing guide to satisfy his lust for the sport. And then it happened, Jackson, on his own, somehow developed what the great fisherman describe as ‘the feel’. He caught three or four fish in rapid succession, each one larger than the last. Where he had been catching 4 and 5 inch crappies, he suddenly caught several 6 – 8 inch rock bass. Now he wanted the big stuff. And so I started him fishing out on the ridge, a fairly long cast beyond the confines of the dock, but he was sure the big ones were just swimming about out there waiting for Jackson to catch them.

Within two casts, he had a 10 inch small mouth bass. Two more casts and a 12 inch bass found his deftly placed hook. It was at this point that I selfishly decided it might be Adela’s choice of bait and my somehow expert mounting of that bait on the hook that was bringing this unbridled success. By this time, out of worms and fishing for the ‘big ones’, we had switched to leeches. As Jackson’s mom, aunt Kat and I were relaxing in the boat tied up to the dock, Jackson said he was good to handle things himself. We were clearly distracted, when Jackson calmly declares that he’s caught another one that he thinks is a bass and might be a bit bigger. As we turn to look, he is reeling in, with pole bent over, a large mouth bass that is measuring in at an easy 14 inches. Mom was so shocked, that she took a 30 second video of his prize without turning on the video. Jackson just offered to catch another. And he did, several more times.

In the course of two days of fishing from the dock, the score sat at Dad, 1, Opa, 0, Aunt Kat, 1, and Jackson 20! No contest. I warned you that Opas have the inherent privilege of being overly proud of their grandchildren. Now you in fact may be a fisherman reading this blog and thinking none of these fish were anything to crow about, but let’s put things in perspective. He’s SIX!, he has potentially the worst fisherman ever as his instructor and he’s coming from a family that not only doesn’t fish, they don’t even eat fish! I would say he has overcome the odds.

I am impressed to say the least and proud enough to pop the buttons on my fishing vest if I had one. And that 6 inch crappie mounted on the wall of the cottage will forever serve as testament to the day Jackson became a fisherman…….. No, I didn’t really mount the fish, but it would have been a great story.