Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Some Final Thoughts

Driving in darkness, I try for a trailhead from which to position myself for the first touches of the sun’s rays on uplifts of the earth’s crust. 

I sneak up to them, hoping to catch first light that reveals essences prior to full illumination.

I wait for these moments, while mysteries hidden in crevices still wait in darkness. 

I thrive on reflected light not fully revealed, and shrink in its glow with base thoughts, not ordinarily available to me, hints of things to come, seen only in early stages. 

By noon, when day is fully mature, everyone knows.  But who knows with the first rays?

Light’s guiding law directs it, and it pulls me like an addict to places where I nearly swoon. 

The law speaks and light obeys.  But who speaks to the law?

(Pictures of the west side of the Santa Catalina Mountains, taken from the Romero Canyon Trail, starting at Catalina State Park.)

I expect this is the last of my postings on this blog.  I appreciate all the comments left here and also the majority sent as email.  I am most happy for those of you who, for various reasons, cannot go where I have gone, but have found inspiration in these writings and photographs.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Mt. Wrightson

Halfway between Tucson and the Mexican border rises Mt. Wrightson at 9,453 feet.  With my time in Arizona drawing short, I set out in drizzling rain, confident that the forecast, which called for clearing by noon, would for once be right.  And there was the encouraging thought that new snow which must be falling on the final switchbacks, would soften them and render the ice less hazardous.

The trail began easy, and as it rose into the clouds, the ceiling seemed rising as I climbed, giving hope for a soon view of the summit.  But as scrub trees yielded with elevation to grand ponderosas, the ceiling did not rise, and I entered a dark landscape where one might hear a foghorn if this were anywhere near the ocean.  The place became more like the douglas fir rainforest of Oakridge, Oregon, than dry mountains just north of Mexico.

I made it to 7,000 feet, 2,000 short of the summit before cold and wind and icy trail convinced me this was not going to work.  On the way down, the desert far below me opened in radiant sunlight through windows in the trees.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

University of Arizona

The campus of U-of-A is much larger than Caltech in Pasadena.  At first it seems less important, more technological, with laboratories for pratical pursuits. 

It has buildings for strange studies like the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques Center and the building for Modern Languages.

But like Caltech, it has two small telescopes and a library, though the library here seems more architecturally pleasing.

It has sororities where girls have girls’ bicycles and ride on the campus bike trails.

And I give you the Helen S Schaefer Poetry Center where students learn proper poetry.  

Unlike Caltech, there is a massive sports stadium, and a small Mathematics building.

Under the stadium is the world renouned Mirror Lab where all of the recent eight-meter mirrors for the world’s telescopes were and are being made.

I wonder, after walking the U-of-A campus, which is more important: theoretical physics or the making of telescope mirrors that give the data.  I wonder which matters more: the making of a big telescope or the surveyor who spent hours in cold nights at 14,000 feet on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, determining true north for its alignment.

This evening I met Julian M Dombrowski (left) and the poets who meet at the nearby Coffee X Change.  He’s the Stephen Hawking of poetry here in Tucson.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Picacho Peak

Picacho Peak rises from the desert like a sinister and unclimbable fortress.  I saw its stark and distinctive silhouette from 60 miles away from where it stands about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson.  As you approach and drive by it on I-10, the peak's shape shifts dramatically, from a narrow spire to an elongated ridge, but its summit still seems unattainable without climbing gear and the agility of a mountain goat.  But within the state park that holds, a difficult, but not too dangerous trail leads  to the top.

I climbed to its summit today and felt good about it, having given up technical climbing because it’s just too dangerous.  That’s a perfectly silly reason and goes against my touted philosophy that danger should increase with age because I have less to lose.  Still my knees get weak and my stomach turns when the only thing holding my life in this world is a tiny foothold or a piton that might not hold.  So I gladly held the fixed cables that make this hike reasonably safe.

The rock here is different from the other basin-range mountains I have visited.  It is black  and appears basaltic, the rock of lava flows.  The geologic map of the area calls it northeast-dipping basaltic and andesite volcanic rock.  I read this after returning and was happy to find my uneducated guess not far from the experts’.  Picacho Peak, they say, was formed 22 million years ago, making it four times older than the Grand Canyon.  Though the rocks of these ranges vary, they all conform, geologists say, to the stretching of this entire region that I discussed in a previous post.

 From the top I looked down on my car.  Without any zoom it appears on the left.  With full optical and digital zoom you can see my white Toyota Tacoma on the right. (You can click on any picture to make it bigger.)

Under the world’s naked skin, an ancient book waits to be read, moments behind themselves, hidden by time layered in reverse order.  Century by millennium, page on page, stacked and waiting.  Water slices into the book and the pages uncurl, stunned with light they have not seen in millions of years, the same light in which our minute lifespans behold them.  Light reveals years melted into each other, squashed and bent, until they are no longer distinct.  In trying to read these pages, I am cast afloat inside meanings and seasons, guided by geologists who seem not to understand, like astronomers viewing ever distant pages of light.  (These two pictures are not of Picacho Peak)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mt. Lemmon

The southwestern portion of the United States has stretched in an east-west direction over the past three million years to twice its width.  The Basin-Range, as geologists call it, is now about five hundred miles wide.  The stretching caused cracks along which mountains rose and basins sunk.  And erosion of the mountains filled the basins with sediment, producing what looks from space like mountain-ships floating on a sea of desert.

A dozen of these of these mountain ranges are near Tucson, and I have visited several of them.  But today I ascended the largest—the Santa Catalina Mountains.  

As I drove up the twisting road from the desert floor, rising to nine thousand feet at Mt. Lemmon, I questioned this stretching theory and wondered what happened to 250 miles of land that theoretically disappeared during the process.  Maybe some of it is under your feet if you read this from Southern California on the Pacific Plate.  Meanwhile, resting on the North American Plate, I recede slowly away from you each moment that the stretching continues.  

Of course, if what I just said is true, then the idea that the San Andreas Fault, which separates the two plates, is primarily moving you north relative to me, cannot be entirely true.  I often think that geology is as close to understanding the earth as physics is to understanding dark matter.

Anyway, what you are seeing in these pictures is granite that appears much like the sandstone hoodoos and arches of southeast Utah—not as spectacular, but weathered in similar ways through long exposure.

At the top, all sign of desert has given way to ponderosa pine and rock crags not unlike the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Crystal Cathedral

Robert Schuller had a dream in the 1970s of a huge glass church, an enclosure of windows with no standard roof or wall, more light than shadow.  About the same time, a group at University of Arizona had a dream of a huge glass enclosure, an isolated living environment, testing whether plants and animals can survive in isolation.  Shuller built his dream as the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, but the dream fell apart when he and his son fought and split the supporters, bankrupting the enterprise.  The building was recently awarded in a court of law to the Catholic Church.  (The pictures to the sides of this paragraph are not of the Crystal Cathedral, but of Biosphere2.)

.Biosphere2 contains within its glass and steel structure, artificially controlled environments, simulating many of the world’s real ecosystems.  To the left is rainforest.  To the right is mangrove swamp, such as I visited last summer in the islands of Fiji.  But here I am high in the canopy of mangrove trees.

Private money built Biosphere2 in the 1980s.  It looks much like Crystal Cathedral on the outside, but on the inside it has a science mindset.  When I visited two days ago, I walked in rainforest, mangrove swamp, savanna, desert, and coastal fog; and saw the equipment that supported a closed system.  They built it to be self sustaining, then sealed it for two years with eight humans inside, living symbiotically with plants and animals, receiving no food, air, or water from the outside.  

The news media said the venture failed, that the people could not grow enough food, that oxygen in the air decreased.  But eight people survived for two years in here, recycling their waste, growing food, and maintaining usable air and water, all without outside help.  Biosphere2 is no longer sealed, but open for visitors and many ongoing science experiments.   

.Underneath the structure is a complex of equipment which creates the artificial environments, adjusting temperature, humility, rainfall, and wind.  

I found the “lung” most interesting.  Due to expansion and contraction of air within the various environments, pressure or vacuum could become a problem.  To moderate the pressure, the lung has a heavy central disk, shown in the right picture, which is suspended on the black rubber diaphragm around it.  The disc raises and lowers, holding constant pressure.  We could see the disc fall slightly when the door to the outside was opened for us to exit through a gush of wind.

The next day I entered the land of Tohono O’odham, second largest Indian reservation, after the Navajo.  I drove up to a high mountain they call "Loligam" where astronomers have been allowed by the Indians to build and operate Kitt Peak National Observatory.  I spent most of the day and half the night in a forest of twenty-five telescopes—optics and instruments of another kind of crystal, a “crystal cathedral” to view the heavens.

 In this view, are the oldest and newest telescopes on Kitt Peak.  On the right is the WIYN 3.5-meter—lightweight and computer-controlled.  On the left is the 84-inch instrument (2.1-meter) where back in the 1960s, a young woman was performing some clean-up science.

Vera Rubin was not exactly welcome in astronomy (no woman was then) but she took on the task of verifying the Keplarian Velocity curve for stars as they rotate about the centers of galaxies.  Everyone knew that stars move faster near the center than they do at the outer limits, just as planets do as they move about the sun, but nobody had actually measured the velocities.  So Vera set about the laborious task of speed measurement, which took her several years.  

When she published her results, she concluded, surprisingly, that all the stars were moving at the same speed.  Of course the real astronomers responded something like, “Yes, young lady, thank you for that, but you have made a mistake somewhere.  Go back now and find out where it is.”  So she repeated the work on other galaxies and found the result the same.  

Eventually, the entire physics community was upset and looking for errors in Vera’s work.  Today, the work stands, and the only explanation anyone has found is that some strange substance, which we call “dark matter,” accounts for the constant velocities of stars within galaxies.  I was happy to stand inside the dome, by the telescope, pictured here, where Vera spent so many hours and for which she received so much ridicule.

 In this view, two kinds of “cathedrals” look skyward—the 84-inch telescope where Vera Rubin discovered the basis for dark matter, and a scared mountain of the Tohono O’odham (“desert people.”)  They call the mountain, Baboquivari Peak, and say it is the navel of the world, the opening in the Earth from which they emerged after the great worldwide flood.  

 These last pictures progress through a sunset from Kitt Peak.  

 Is Kitt Peak a window to God as the Tohono O’odham believe Baboquivari Peak is, and as Robert Schuller believed Crystal Cathedral was?  Is Biosphere2 a miniature Kingdom of God as Jesus taught that the Church is, or should become?  The history of Science and Church shows confusion over which ground each of them should rightly claim as sacred.  

 The Church has historically misunderstood its own scripture regarding the nature of creation, and has since corrected much of its error.  But fights like the one between Schuller and his son show a failure of the Church to operate in the area of reconciliation, clearly the proper ground of Church.  Science also has failed in its defined goal of understanding the universe, as evidenced by “dark matter” arising after everything was well on the road to discovery.  

 Through it all, Church and Science still regard their goals as beautiful as ever, and they doggedly push at the edge of light, forever hopeful of illumination.  Words of the Church’s founder have not changed, and the universe is still unchanged and waiting there, for Science.  Both forever young, forever hopeful.