Each Valentine's Day I give my wife Rose no card. I write her a poem. I'm a poet, so it seems like the thing to do. She seems to like the idea. I admit it's hard to be romantic in three lines, but I enjoy the form. A signature quality of this holiday is that it occurs in the cold depth of winter (in the Northern Hemisphere).
When the sky is cold,
Our life together is warm,
Be my Valentine.
(she adds - always, the less than romantic: "Burma shave":)
On 5 June Norfolk and Western J Class locomotive Nr. 611 made its final run under steam for the year, traveling from Manassas Station to Front Royal Virginia and back. My friend Tom Bryant and I chased her across the Piedmont, grabbing a few pictures here and there. I cannot think of a better way to spend the day. I never posted these, but here they are now.
Be the girl I saw with long hair,
Be the girl I came to,
In a taxi.
Be the girl who was always
In my thoughts.
Be the woman who,
Saved my life.
Let us be the ones who have what others
Wish they had.
While the wind blows,
Or the snow falls,
And the sun slips away too soon,
Cuddle with me by the stove,
As long as there is,
I had been invited for a night of stargazing. To my left and right, a half dozen amateur astronomers, each armed with a bucket list of nebulae, double stars, and globular clusters pointed their telescopes at the sky. I sat back in the old catskill style chair, looking straight up at the dome of stars. An occasional car rumbled by on Ridge Road, hidden by the big stand of pines behind the house. Other than that, there were only muffled voices discussing the next celestial object in someone’s crosshairs.
A voice rang out from the dark. “Anyone want to see M-9 in the big telescope?” M-9 was a globular cluster in the constellation Ophiuchus. You need a small telescope to see it at all. I climbed five steps up a ladder to reach the eyepiece of this thirty inch scope, and put my eye gently to the glass. M-9, normally a cottony blob of light through smaller instruments, became a riot of individual stars held together in a cluster by its own gravity.
I had come to be in this back yard courtesy of the Culpeper Astronomy Club. The club meets once a month at the library, but maintains a relationship with a gentleman who has a superb observatory in his backyard. The observatory’s thirty inch dobsonian telescope is likely the largest telescope in private hands in Virginia. It was longer than my car.
Looking through that telescope at M-9, twenty-six thousand light years distant, took me back in time. The light carrying M-9’s image to my eye began its journey when the earth was at the height of the last ice age, twenty-six thousand years ago.
I felt sadly nostalgic for a past I could never recapture. This sky would never be as clear and as striking as the sky had been when I was at sea. Back then the stars would twinkle against a pitch dark sky, untouched by city lights. On a few calm nights, when the wind had died to nothing, the sea would sit flat like glass. The stars would twinkle off the water as if it were a mirror, just as they were twinkling in the sky.
As the ship slipped through the water with a gentle hiss, the stars on the water would surround it in a magic display as if it were gliding through space. Those few special nights made memories that only sailors can have. They are memories that sailors have had and held for thousands of years - as long as we have gone to sea. No one who hasn’t gone to sea can have that experience. It’s something we can store away, remembering that excitement at sea wasn’t limited to hurricanes, and emergencies. Some of them are just moments of peaceful beauty.
"Hue: 1968" is a first class account of one of the pivotal battles of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Mark Bowden dissects the battle beautifully, interviewing combatants and civilians from all sides, where they were available, to reconstruct the battle, from the period before hostilities, when the North Vietnamese prepared to enter the city, through the final recapture. He spends an appropriate amount of time on General William Westmoreland's inept handling of the situation, and his misinterpretation of North Vietnamese intentions. The General was so convinced that the North's major target was Khe Sanh that he refused to belief that the Hue attack was anything other than a minor feint. As a result, he discounted reports of heavy enemy strength in Hue, feeding Marine strength in piecemeal. This self delusion ran down the chain of command through the brigade commander level. The result was hundreds more Marine dead than necessary.
Hue was one of THE major battles of the war, fought under the radar of the the American command in Vietnam, and the American public. This book covers the personal stories of over 100 participants, and gives the reader a clear view from ground level.