The weather forecast for today predicted over an eighty percent chance of rain so I either needed to make my observation before midnight or wait a couple of days for cloudless skies. Fifteen minutes before my Mythgard Academy class started last night (at nine o’clock Central Time), I decided to make my first observation. I set the timer on my smartwatch for ten minutes and hung outside while my neighbors to the north decided a fire in their firepit was warranted (not helping my light pollution survey one bit). My neighbor to the south also appeared to have search lights trained on my backyard so adjusting my eyes for optimal viewing already had steep hills to climb. I somewhat patiently waited for the timer to count down.
Meanwhile, I found Venus immediately, very high and extremely bright in the west. Next, both Procyon and Sirius shown brightly in the upper and lower southwest. Even though the sun had set over an hour ago, the western sky still seemed dimly luminescent and I detected a very slight haze obscuring the fainter stars. My timer buzzed and I began sketching out the brightest stars and the only constellation I could identify – Orion – sinking slowly into the southwestern horizon. To the north I could just barely make out Polaris but could not find the Big or Little Dipper (mostly because the trees are starting to leaf out).
Almost directly overhead but still on the eastern side of the zenith, I could barely make out a sickle, an asterism that can be found in the constellation Leo (see diagram below). I had checked the Sky and Telescope Interactive Star Chart before stepping outside so I knew where to crane my neck in the hopes of spotting the lion. In addition to the sickle, I could also make out, barely, the triangle of stars that form the lion’s rear and tail. I could not tell where Leo ended and Virgo began as the stars were so faint I gave up.
I returned to my computer, logged into the Webinar and while I waited for it to start, I verified my sketch against the star chart. I had found Leo, but only by the very brightest of it’s stars (which aren’t that bright when you compare them to Sirius, Vega or Procyon). Fast forward two hours, where I found myself nodding off and decided I’d consumed enough First Age elven antics for one session and bailed out of the webinar (I can always watch the last 15-30 minutes via YouTube later).
I went back outside and noticed immediately the haze had disappeared. The air was crisper and I didn’t even need to wait the full ten minutes before I could clearly see the constellation Leo, now slightly west of top-dead-center overhead. My northern neighbors were still enjoying their outdoor fire but my southern neighbors had toned down the search lights to just one very bright LED porch light.
I returned inside and recorded both of my observations via the Globe at Night web site. I plan to repeat my observations each night weather permitting until the middle of next week.
Tonight and for the next few nights, you can participate in a survey of your night sky and increase awareness of dark skies (and the converse of light pollution). While we are sheltering at home, we have vastly reduced the amount of air pollution, but have we given thought to the loss of our dark skies while we hunker down, sheltering at home? No? Well, here’s your chance to pitch in and save our night skies!
The Case of the Hidden Lion
Can you find the constellation Leo (for Northern latitudes)? For the next week, take a few minutes out of your late evening and follow these simple instructions to locate the missing lion in your night sky.
Use the Globe at Night website to find the latitude and longitude of the location where you are making your observation.
Go outside more than an hour after sunset (8-10 pm local time). The Moon should not be up. Let your eyes become used to the dark for 10 minutes before your first observation.
Match your observation to one of 7 magnitude charts and note the amount of cloud cover.
Report the date, time, location (latitude/longitude), the chart you chose, and the amount of cloud cover at the time of observation. Make more observations from other locations, if possible. Compare your observation to thousands around the world!:
I’ll be making my observations either tomorrow or Friday evening around 10 o’clock Central time. I’m just one degree shy of forty degrees north latitude. We’re in the last quarter of the moon, with the new moon occurring on the 23rd so this is the best opportunity to find that missing lion!
Times for Sunset and Moonrise for Kansas City, KS:
I can take good advantage of this occultation since I live in the middle of the country just shy of 40 degrees north latitude. If I were visiting my daughter in the Pacific Northwest, I’d have a bit more dark time but might not see it as well being at a more northern latitude at 47 degrees.
Actually, not just Mars will be in the spotlight in mid-February. Three planets are center stage in the predawn skies starting February 18th (see first graphic above). Listen to Sky Tour courtesy Sky & Telescope for some viewing tips and other astronomical tidbits for February observing.
My only concern will be the weather, which in February in Kansas, is dodgy at best.
Keeping my fingers crossed and as always keep looking up!
The end of the year and this decade arrived unexpectedly. Well, not completely unexpectedly for the former, but the whole ‘where did the twenty teens go?’ thing caught me by surprise. I’ve been reading and listening to ‘decade in review’ articles and podcasts for the last couple of weeks. Which inspired me to analyze my reading of 965 books over the last ten years.
The following compilation of ‘Top Five’ books for each year starting in 2010, do not include my occasional re-reads of favorites, like the works of Tolkien, Lewis, Jordan, Donaldson and Modesitt.
2010 (read 102)
Blackout/All Clear by Willis (Hugo/Nebula/Locus Best Novel Awards)
Enjoy the shortest day of the year because I’m looking forward to the longest, darkest night of the year – every amateur astronomers dream.
Today, my son, daughter-in-law and grandson are driving here from Texas. They left before dawn and we anticipate their arrival late this afternoon.
With the help of my daughter, who arrived earlier this week, my main floor living area is mostly baby proof. And the new furniture was delivered Thursday afternoon. And Friday, Rachelle setup the Christmas tree and last night over home-made pizza we decorated (or rather she decorated because she’s the artistic one).
Rachelle and I will spend part of the day shopping, taking advantage of her Costco membership to stock up on food she can eat (corn allergy) and for the rest of the family as well. While I have a Christmas goose in the freezer, I need to plan for other meals and sides. Instead of just Terry and I to feed, I’ll have three to four times that many to provide for.
So we are ready for family gathering and making new memories until we once again scatter back to our nests for the new year.
I have twenty-four days left to read twenty-five books to reach my goal of reading one hundred and one books this year. I’m skeptical I’ll complete my self-imposed challenge.
I can possible finish another ten books, but I doubt I can do at least a book a day, not and work, clean, shop, etc. This will be the first time ever I won’t meet my reading challenge. I fudged a couple of years ago and lowered my challenge 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through the year due to work, school and home pressures. But this year I’m resisting the urge to adjust my goal post just to give myself a ‘fake’ win. I will suffer the shameful consequences.
Today would have been the 121st birthday of C.S. Lewis. A week ago today marked the 56th anniversary of his death, which was, at the time, overshadowed by the assassination of President Kennedy.
To celebrate his birthday, I decided to read the second essay found in the 1969 edition of Selected Literary Essays by C.S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper. Interestingly, the copy I checked out from the Kansas City Public Library may be a first edition. If not, it’s been in circulation for fifty years, as evidenced by date stamps through early 1996, after which, I assume, the Library moved from analog to digital (card catalog to barcodes):
I originally checked out this volume specifically to read the 21st essay entitled “Psycho-Analysis and Literary Criticism” which was referenced in a footnote in an essay I read recently in A Tolkien Compass. For today, though, I wanted to celebrate the friendship between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, so I read, instead, the second essay entitled “The Alliterative Metre.”
The essay covers many of the rules governing alliterative verse, including these definitions:
The half-line consists of Lifts and Dips. Every half-line must contain neither more nor less than two Lifts.
A Lift is either (1) one syllable both long and accented (as the first syllable of ogre or mountain); or (b) two syllables whereof the first is short but accented, and the second unaccented (as the first two syllables of merrily, vigorous, melancholy, evident).
A Dip is any reasonable number of unaccented syllables whether long or short.
Despite my best efforts, I quickly got sidetracked by yet another footnote. It all began with a short example alliterative verse, composed (I’m assuming) by Lewis.
We were TALKing of DRAGONS, | TOLkien and I In a BERKshire BAR. | The BIG WORKman Who had SAT SILent | and SUCKED his PIPE ALL the EVEning, | from his EMPTy MUG With GLEAMing EYE | GLANCED toWARDS us; "I SEEN 'em mySELF', | he SAID FIERCEly
Note: Syllables printed above in capitals are Lifts, the rest are Dips.
The first and most distracting footnote followed the word ‘fiercely’ and read:
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.
As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history. A true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history.
If it weren’t for my book clubs, I’d only ever read Tolkien, epic fantasy or the occasional space opera. Thankfully, I have many wonderful women in my life who push my reading boundary buttons and pull me out of my comfort zone. This book, a true crime non-fiction selection published a couple of years ago, was recommended to me last year by one of my small town local librarybook club members. Killers of the Flower Moon was our final book of the month selection for 2019, which we discussed in mid-November. We typically skip December and choose to read a classic over the winter months for discussion in early January. This year’s classic is Hard Times by Charles Dickens.
Nine of us gathered at the local library for our discussion. A couple of us read the audiobook but most of read the print edition. The general consensus about the book was favorable (good research) but before reading Flower Moon, none of us had heard of the Osage murders, and we are within a couple of hundred miles of where they occurred. Even odder, as I noted during our discussion, that Tim White, the special agent in charge of the murder investigation, left the Bureau to become the warden of the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth. Even more shocking, our resident skeptic (which really isn’t the right word but I can’t think of one that means ‘person who rarely likes the books we read as a group) stated she enjoyed reading Flower Moon.
With respect to the audiobook, I became distracted by Will Patton’s narration. Not because it was ‘bad’ but rather because it was so amazing. I felt sorry for the other two narrators because when compared side by side (or as book ends) to Will Patton’s performance, theirs was forgettable. And that is why I took a half star off of what would have been a four star rating. The content was informative, well researched and sparked very good group discussion. The audio production gets five stars for Will Patton and three stars for the other two.
This book club is still finalizing what we’re reading in 2020. The polls are out and as soon as I get the results, I’ll update our GoodReads group book shelves and post the slate here and at the library. We at least know what we’re reading for January and February. Beyond that, you’ll have to wait and find out!
Partial Synopsis: Contributors analyze Gollum’s character transformation, the psychological journey of Bilbo, the regime set up by Saruman at the end of Lord of the Rings and its parallels to fascism, the books’ narrative technique, and Tolkien’s rich use of myth and symbol.
I found most of the essays collected in A Tolkien Compass to be intriguing and thought provoking. At least three of them added twenty new books, journals and articles to my to-be-read queue. The notes alone on a couple of the essays were three or four pages in length and sent me down fantastic research rabbit holes. I can’t decide which essay is my absolute favorite, so I’ll list my top five here (in author alpha order):
Huttar, Charles A. “Hell and the City: Tolkien and the Traditions of Western Literature”
Miller, David M. “Narrative Pattern in The Fellowship of the Ring“
Rogers, Deborah C. “Everyclod an Everyhero: The Image of Man in Tolkien”
Scheps, Walter “The Fairy-tale Morality of The Lord of the Rings“
West, Richard C. “The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings“
Honorable Mentions include Agnes Perkins’ “The Corruption of Power” and U. Milo Kaufmann’s “Aspects of the Paradisiacal in Tolkien’s Work”
A Tolkien Companion, originally published in 1975, amazed me with the depth of insight and scholarship gleaned from the then available works published by Tolkien and about Tolkien’s writing. I saw at least one reference to the manuscripts archived at Marquette University in Wisconsin. Yet, these essays still pre-date the publication of The Silmarillion and the volumes of The History of Middle-earth. Unlike Master of Middle-earth, however, I did not gain any new revelations about Tolkien’s Legendarium, but I did experience profound and thought provoking moments. If I had to choose my favorite essay from the collection, it would probably be Richard West’s “The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings” because I had to restrain myself from recording the entire essay as an audio excerpt.
I recommend this to people interested in delving deeper into Tolkien’s writing.
The second week of November looked and felt more like the first week of January. My commute Tuesday morning (the day after Veterans’ Day) involved icy drizzle and in at least one hair-raising incident on an icy untreated bridge (Thanks, Kansas City, Missouri, for being consistent in your street maintenance over the last 25 years). At least the traction control works in my new van. By lunch time, the drizzle had converted to snow blown by a bitter cold north wind (see photo above taken right before I ventured across the circle drive for a cup of soup at the Mixx).
Last week I attended the monthly Hobbit Happy Hour of the Tolkien Society of Kansas City. We returned to City Barrell where our two teams were victorious in LotR trivia back in September. During one of my conversations with friends and new acquaintances, I learned that circulation of print editions was down at the Plaza Branch of KCPL. I am as much to blame as anyone else since I’ve almost completely switched to audiobooks and ebooks over the last decade. Anything I read in print is because it’s out of print and/or only available as a printed edition.