Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Roads Go Ever On

I was 15 years old when first introduced to the irresistible fantasy world depicted in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. My younger sister was actually lucky enough to have a teacher read The Hobbit aloud to her 3rd grade class, and that may have been my first exposure to his works. Soon enough I was reading The Hobbit for myself, followed by The Lord of The Rings trilogy, and over the years I found myself drawn to the stories again and again. At different points in my life I would pick the books up and reread them, each time bonding with the characters a little bit more, gaining new insights into the magic of Middle Earth, the trying to grasp the underlying meaning in the epic battles of Good versus Evil. One of my dreams came true when Peter Jackson turned the trilogy into full length films, with every detail so perfect, as I saw it in my own imagination.

Sprinkled throughout the stories are Tolkien’s poetry and prose, much of which, if not common place, is at least recognizable among fans. Those of you who read my blog have no doubt picked up on the Tolkien-ism in my title, “Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost”. I’m certainly not the only one who has gravitated to this sentiment, as I have noticed other traveling folk adopting this as their credo as well.

There was another line from a poem in The Hobbit that kept rattling around my brain when we ended up on the road for an extended period of time, during those times I started to wonder just what it is we were doing…where were we going…where do all these roads go? Initially I couldn’t remember the entire poem, but one line kept repeating itself…the road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began.  During one particular road trip I shared all this with Dan, and wanted to find the poem in its entirety to better explain what was going through my head. A quick search on the internet revealed that there was the original version from the books, modified versions for the movies, and even songs that had been made from some of the stanzas. As I was relaying all this to Dan, he said he thought the poem would be a great thing to have hanging on a wall somewhere. This gave me the idea to embroider a cross stitch wall-hanging of the words, because once I read the entire poem, the message just resonated with me even more.

The version I ended up stitching is an amalgam of the original poem that began in The Hobbit, was continued and modified in The Trilogy, and was sung in bits and pieces in the movies. These words so perfectly express my feelings of our Life on The Road, and this will hang on the wall of our house from now on – wherever home may be! 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Kitt Peak National Observatory

Fifty-six miles southwest of Tucson, and in the midst of the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Kitt Peak National Observatory is nestled in 200-acres of rolling hills at an elevation of approximately 7000 feet. Part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), this facility supports the most diverse collection of astronomical observatories on Earth for nighttime optical and infrared astronomy and daytime study of the Sun. The Observatory offers both daytime tours and nighttime observation programs, and our goal was to attend one of the nighttime observation programs during a new moon and non-cloudy night. It took a couple of tries, but finally we were able to schedule our tour for March 27, a clear night with no moon for optimum viewing.

Kitt Peak is home to 25 optical and 2 radio telescopes and offers professional and hobby astronomers some of the finest observing to be found in the world. Visitors can choose from three guided tours during the daylight hours, or take self-guided tours of the 4-meter, 2.1 meter, and McMath-Pierce Solare telescopes. There are also three separate Night Program options, including an overnight option for the more serious astronomy buffs. We arrived early in the day so we could tour the Visitor’s Center, explore the stationary exhibits, and get a feel for the surroundings. Afterwards we participated in the 4-hour nighttime program that started with a dramatic sunrise, followed with an introduction to using star charts, binoculars, and most dramatically, research-class telescopes to observe a variety of astronomical objects in the night sky.

Our guides were very knowledgeable and friendly, and treated us to a wonderful overview to stargazing. The most exciting part for me was our telescope viewing, where we were able to view a double star system in the Big Dipper; a dying star with fuzzy edges and a bright spot exploding in the middle; a star cluster aptly called Salt and Pepper; a distant cigar shaped galaxy called M-82 (I couldn’t believe I was looking at a galaxy nearly 12 million light years away!); and the grand finale, Jupiter - as sharp as a photograph with the bands clearly visible, and four of its moons shining like pinpoint stars. I was amazed, impressed, and humbled to have the opportunity to glimpse a wee speck of what exists in our glorious Universe. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Situated 10-miles south of downtown Tucson, Mission San Xavier del Bac is a National Historic Landmark named for Christian missionary Francis Xavier, and founded as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. Many times over the last two years Dan and I have driven down the freeway and observed the mission, set back off the road a ways, with the striking architecture always catching our eye. Both of us agreed we should take the time to visit the Mission, and finally this March we did, discovering the beauty hidden inside the walls of the church, and the history behind it. The exact location of the mission is in a centuries-old settlement of the Tohono O’odham Indians and is still part of the Reservation. Over the centuries, this land has been part of New Spain (late 1700’s), Mexico (1821), and finally the United States in1854. The Mission has endured raids, earthquakes, lighting strikes, land wars, water damage, political and religious changes, and deterioration due to age, but ongoing restoration efforts have succeeded in keeping it whole.

Hailed as the oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church’s interior is filled with stunning original statuary and mural paintings. Visitors take a step back in time to an authentic 18th century setting when walking through the doors. Widely considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States, it receives over 200,000 visitors each year. The Mission is also a pilgrimage site, with thousands visiting on foot and on horseback (called cabalgatas in Spanish). However, even in the midst of the steady stream of visitors and ongoing restoration, the church still retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its parishioners.

What impressed me most of all was the Baroque architecture in the interior of the church. The rich ornamentation and dazzling colors of the paintings, carvings, frescoes, and statues display a mixture of New Spain and Native American artistic motifs, although little is actually known about the people who designed and decorated the interior. Every inch of the walls and ceiling are covered with scenes that depict their untold stories, but sparks the imagination to wonder what they might tell us. Many visits over long periods of time would be necessary to take this all in, but we did the best we could the one day we spent visiting Mission San Xavier del Bac. Hopefully our pictures captured a fraction of the beauty we witnessed.