Morning at the observatory

    Facebook is hard. I don’t want to annoy people by posting personal things that nobody cares about, but I also want to connect with my friends. How long should a status or a comment be? How much of a political/cultural stand should I put out? Is a mellow status a sign of weakness, or even worse, boring-ness? Somehow Facebook has become a campaigning platform, where we are judged by what we say and what we don’t say and how many “Likes” and comments we get. I don’t know what to write on Facebook anymore, and I usually delete my status right before I hit “Enter”, but then I get these feelings that I want to write about. Like this week, I want to write about this surreal feeling I get sitting in the control room of a radio astronomy observatory.

    The observatory is southwest of the White Mountains. Outside is the desert, and the telescopes, which are moving slowly in sync to track several objects in space. The telescopes look like little big robot kids innocently gazing at the sky. Occasionally the birds catch the moths that flutter right next to the glass windows, making a small “thump” sound and fly off. (The chipmunks are smaller than a cheap hotdog sausage, so tiny!) There’s another observer on duty, but we both stare at our computers when we’re awake. Everything is silence except for the clock ticking.

    If you’ve watched “Contact”, chances are you remember the scene of Dr. Arroway (Judy Foster) sitting alone (in open air) at a radio observatory, the antenna in the background, listening to the transmission with her headphones. We actually do no such romanticism. We sit in a room with four computer screens, schedule and monitor projects (with our eyes, not ears), and hope that everything does what it’s supposed to so that we don’t have to physically touch the antennas or any of the other machines.

    CARMA observatory. Morning in late June, 2012

    CARMA observatory. One morning in late June, 2012

    At night, you can go outside and look up to a star-filled sky, but you have to remember to take the flashlight or you wouldn’t see your way back in. Sometimes, when something goes astray with the machinery, the alarm wakes you up and by luck you see sunrise. In those moments, you feel both annoyed and at peace. You want to share such beautiful sky with someone, but you also feel so intimate with the sky that it’s best to enjoy it alone.

    I think the desert is where one can really appreciate nature. It doesn’t just happen the first time I was staying at an observatory. It happens every time. It happens when I see the rabbits hopping around at night, the chipmunks and lizards scurrying on the dusty ground, the motionless trees, half light brown like the color of the dust, and hillsides dotted with tufts of grass, also dust brown, like a magnified stubbly chin. It’s amazing how everything manages to stay half green. I appreciate the livelihood. Then I appreciate the food. Simple green salad, grilled chicken and boysenberry crumble, which the chef made for us at lunch the day before, stuff that I don’t know how much energy it costs to produce and transport to this side of the mountain range. Ah, and ice cream, too. I don’t know if I should appreciate them and eat them, or appreciate them and not eat them.

    I choose the first option, and go fry some bacon and egg for breakfast.

    Picture taken using computer camera because I forgot my camera in Berkeley :-(

    Picture taken using computer camera because I forgot my camera in Berkeley 🙁

    Thank goodness I have my blog!

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