A recent facebook post of mine:
I don’t usually get to the fly down, shirt on backwards stage of a star party until day 3.
The observatories at Hacienda Los Andes are up the hill from the lodging and dining area. Steeply up hill. It’s about a five minute walk. When you first check in they drive you up with your gear. I didn’t bring much. That is, relative to my peers. One guy brought two telescopes, three cameras and three mounts from Canada. Along with all the cables, computers, batteries and whatnot required to run all that. I have a tripod, small tracker and one camera. The beautiful thing about the facilities here is you rent a “pad”, a little circular cement pad, that comes with ample AC power. Any gear you rent in addition can go on the pad but you can also just rent the pad.
I have no idea where I’m going with this.
I’ve gotten 3-4 hours sleep the last two nights and I was going to spend the day working on lessons for next week and a paper I’m writing. Allowing as how I can’t coherently describe the observatory setup I think I should leave the paper be for the moment.
Anyway, getting back to the gear. I had one case to take up but was glad to have the offer of a vehicle. The guys with a bunch of gear definitely need it. But after your gear is up there you have to make the walk back down and then back up again. So, after dinner, you gather what little stuff you didn’t already take up and make the walk. For me, that includes the computer, as I don’t have a separate dedicated imaging computer or three, some snacks, red flashlight, and additional layers of clothes.
Just after sunset the temperature here is around 65 F. With a steep walk, one doesn’t want to be wearing thermal underwear. Over the course of the night, I add clothes as it gets colder. I did this poorly last night as I arrived back to my room a little after 3am to find I’d put on my sweater, with a little zip-neck, on backwards and had not gotten the fly of my pants zipped after adding the thermal underwear just after midnight. There may have been other errors but I stripped down before noticing. Fortunately, we practice our craft in the dark.
This is not the first time I’ve failed to dress due to fatigue. One of my proudest pictures is after a two week camping trip at Natural Bridges National Monument, a park any skywatcher or hiker should absolutely visit. The ranger there at the time, a great guy named Gordon, was an amateur astronomer who brought a very nice Teeter Dob to the park and does frequent sky tours for visitors. At the end, I wanted a picture of the two of us in front of the Dob. He laughed but agreed. It wasn’t until weeks later that I saw why he laughed. My shirt was buttoned unevenly and inside out. My hair was very like Tom Hanks in Castaway and the bags under my eyes could hold golf balls. He looked very nice in uniform.
My point is, I am not a snazzy dresser under the best of circumstances. Take a little sleep from me and it really goes straight to hell.
Proudly, I solved this by being completely stark naked, asleep in bed, on top of the covers, when the cleaning lady came by this morning. Normal Chilean Spanish is fast; this was paragraphs in the space of a shriek.
You may be wondering what has become of my students. I think this weekend was a necessary everyone to neutral corners weekend. Group dynamics are odd and, now that we’re in a, more or less, normal school routine, I think there have been some nerves being stepped on. I know mine have been stepped on and I’m pretty sure no one is real happy with some of the things I’ve had to say. A couple of different groups of friends have, naturally, formed and a few minor conflicts have arisen. Out of respect for privacy, I won’t go into details. But it isn’t anything bad or that I feel a need to get involved with. The students don’t live together and don’t have all their classes together. After two months, I think it’s natural if enforced proximity results in some tension. We have had forced proximity with a LOT of group activities, most outstanding, over the first six weeks. So, with nothing planned for the weekend, a lot of folks have gone their own way, including me. I think that will do a lot to restore order to the force.
One of my students was at Worrell House last fall, where I taught a few summers ago. She said that things were great until about halfway through the semester, which is about how long we’ve been together. At Worrell, the students are crammed into a Victorian era house and, according to her and others I’ve spoken with, once tension flares, it’s hard to stamp out. She said she is very happy not to be living with her fellow students on this trip.
Sorry for being vague. It’s mid-program and I don’t know who is reading. As I say, there aren’t bad problems, just different people finding that, after two months together, they may be having a great time, but the need to always follow a group pattern can grate, especially when you didn’t choose some or any of the members of your group. I really do think a weekend to be either on our own or with your closest friends in the group will be a good thing and a positive I hadn’t considered to the homestay approach.
Okay, off to find pants.