A mid-sized thunderstorm this morning. The weather savants talk of a “rain deficit” these days, so this may be a good thing. It ought to green up the neighborhood. If only the downpour would pause while I’m walking to the train station. It didn’t.
Brother Jay writes: “I wonder how it is that I missed the great San Antonio blackout? It's a bit worrying that I have no recollection of it at all. I moved back home, you'll recall, that spring , and I lived in San Antonio until January 1981, when D & I moved to El Paso.
“Perhaps I was out of town. I spent at least a week in Boston, perhaps ten days, about the beginning of November 1977. I was in Houston, too, for two or three days in December (looking for work, a quest that also involved a singularly unpleasant drive down I-10 to Beaumont and back, through constant driving rain and bumper-to-bumper 18-wheelers). I may have made one or two other short junkets (either to Houston or Dallas) during the period too. Still, even if I was out of town, it's the sort of thing I would have heard about.
“On the other hand, I do remember the flooding in 1970 you mentioned some time back, when the water ran a foot-and-a-half or two feet deep on Broadway [a main thoroughfare on the north side of San Antonio]. I had gone with mother to see “Anne of the Thousand Days” at the Broadway Theatre. We were unaware that it had even been raining until we emerged from the moviehouse.
“Thinking of the night sky, it's my recollection that when we were living in Denton [Texas, just north of Dallas], only three or four blocks from the courthouse, quite a lot of stars were visible. I used to go out in the backyard with H.A. Rey's “The Stars” and pick out constellations from his diagrams. After a time I could pick out a good many constellations — 12 or 15 perhaps, maybe more — and identify quite a few individual stars without recourse to the book.
“It seems to me that the Milky Way was visible at times, but I may be mistaken. I do know that the Pleiades were visible in the right season, at the tip (at Rey drew it) of one of Taurus' horns. For some reason my recollection of the winter sky is much sharper than my recollection of the summer sky; perhaps because we obtained the book sometime in the Fall. Or perhaps because the lack of mosquitoes in colder weather, made protracted viewing more pleasant.
"We also had a small telescope, but, as you may remember, the only thing we had much success in finding was the Moon. It had an altazimuth mount, which meant, as I discovered, that it looked where you pointed it; it couldn't be set to a specific location; nor could it be made to follow the path of a celestial body. For these, you need an equitorial mount. As a result, anything smaller than the Moon was almost impossible to find, and if found, impossible to keep in view. We may have managed to get a look at Jupiter once or twice, but I'm not sure.”
My comments: I find that events that happen while I’m out of town — except for the highest-profile, we’ve-had-an-earthquake sort of events — go right down the memory hole. “You know, we had a blackout while you were gone.” “Really? How interesting.” HIT ERASE BUTTON.
On the other hand, I don’t know for a fact that Jay was out of town, because short of consulting San Antonio Express-News microfilm archives for 1977, I won’t be able to pinpoint the date, though I’m certain it was that fall, since it involved Belinda C. I consulted the planning calendar I kept through most of high school, which resides in a closet with the rest of my papers, but no luck. Maybe it’s just a matter of the passage of 25+ years, which has a way of effacing details.
“The Stars,” a stargazing and astronomy primer, is an admirable book. H.A. Rey is far better known for the Curious George series, which I didn’t fully appreciate until Lilly took a liking to them. By the time I inherited our copy of “The Stars,” it was beat up pretty badly, but I spent a lot of time with it. Later, in the late 1980s, I bought another copy, which I still have.
The winter sky in the Northern Hemisphere has more bright stars than the summer sky, so it’s no surprise that wintertime stargazing would be more memorable. Still, I enjoy the stars that form the Summer Triangle — Deneb, Altair, and Vega, and their respective constellations, the Swan, Eagle and Lyre.
That telescope was pretty well beaten up too, at least in my recollection (as are many books and toys in the memory of a third child, but I was really no worse off for it). I remember seeing the Moon, and Jupiter and its moons more than once, and Saturn and its rings at least once.