Tuesday, July 21, 2020

More Letters

Letters from Josh
On Comets, Walnuts, and Firewood  7/20/20                                                   Letter 15

  Well, hey there, and hello, folks!  Welcome to Letters from Josh, bringing you a few scenes of summer, and a note about our most recent astronomical visitor.   Staying cool over there?  It’s hotter than a Fourth of July firework out there, which is why I had to laugh at myself on Friday.  Morning dawned hot, the sun glaring in the sky, sending bright beams weaving among the forest, like a dog snarling through clenched teeth, about to take a bite out of anyone who dared venture into his kennel.  I sharpened my chainsaw, loaded up a jerry can of gasoline, plus a brand new pair of bright orange chaps, and drove to my neighbor’s house a mile away.  He had some firewood for me.  He was there with his tractor, pickup truck, chainsaws, canthooks, and a winning attitude.  The saws blared in harmony, brash trumpets of the worker, as we cut the wind-felled oak logs, ants scurrying through the sawdust, sweat dripping and pouring.  We loaded the logs into a pickup truck, delivering them to my yard, rolling ‘em down planks like giant bowling balls.  “STEE-RIKE!”  If I were the weatherman, I’d say it was 94 degrees with a Real Feel of 1,072.  It seemed the Sun himself was helping load the fragrant oak timber.  But, it was actually fun.  Boy did we enjoy the power tools of saws and diesel tractors with loaders.  Man was the seltzer water cold and refreshing.  And by George, was it satisfying to survey the three truckloads of massive oak slabs by the existing firewood pile, ready for the winter snows that seem a distant figment of the imagination.  Plus, great conversation during and between the work happened, as well.  Funny how some things that would be a surefire recipe for misery turn out to be not only tolerable, but actually preferable.  Maybe it’s not what you do, but how you do it.  (Plus, tractors..!)  Even the talk of this hot work makes me want a snowcone, but then again, you’ve gotta be careful of what you wish for.  Have you heard of the GIANT one?  Well, technically, it’s Comet Neowise, a three-mile wide chunk of ice and rock hurtling through “nearby” space 64 million miles away.  It likely started out oh...about 4.6 trillion miles away in a mysterious outer region of the solar system called the Oort Cloud.  To visualize a number this big, think of The Compact Edition of the Oxford Dictionary, the massive two-volume set of print so tiny, they include a magnifying glass.  If you count up each letter in each book - and one of these thin pages has about fifty thousand letters on a side.  The current distance of Neowise is about 640 pages in (if each letter were a mile.)  4.6 trillion letters would require a stack of dictionaries….a half mile high..!   And, again, if each letter represented a mile, you can see what a long way Comet Neowise has traveled to say hello.  This icy visitor is being blasted by the radiation emitted from the sun (the solar wind), plus, bombarded by sunlight, which gives rise to it’s beautiful tail of dust and sublimating gas.  (Ice that’s transformed into gas.)  It’s really booking, too - moving at about 44 miles per second, but, unlike a “shooting star”, which is a grain of dust burning up in Earth’s atmosphere, it’s so far away, that it appears stationary in the night sky, really only appearing to move from night to night.  It also won’t return for almost seven thousand years.  However, even though the news is yelling about this, it’s actually surprisingly hard to see without binoculars or a telescope around here.  So, if you don’t get a chance to see it, don’t worry.  It’s perhaps best appreciated through the understanding of what it is, the vastness of “nearby” space, and the marvel that we all get to live in a universe with comets and oak firewood.  

  I’d like to leave you with an invitation to a memory. I stopped at the Black Walnut tree growing by the wayside this morning. Picking up a fragment of a green husk of walnut, I sniffed it’s curious and pungent scent.  It brought me right back to childhood, and the walnut tree in the backyard.  Mom learned the hard way not to hang the clothes out to dry on a line under the tree, the falling walnuts streaking the shirts.  Funny how a smell can bring you back to another time, and another world, with fresh July mornings reaching across time to tap one on the shoulder, saying “hey, have a walnut - and a memory.”  

  • Josh  

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