On 5 June, I took my telescope, a camera, and a videocamera, all with solar filters, to the local medical society, and showed about 100 people the transit of Venus, at the same time shooting video, taking pictures, and answering questions.  This exceedingly rare event occurs in pairs, 8 years apart; the next pair will occur 105.5 years from now.  Only Venus and Mercury, inner planets, can cross the Sun as viewed from the Earth.  Of the 100 who came, nobody knew it would be the last time I would be involved in a local medical community event; from now on, before our move next year, I will be only a patient, and hopefully not too often.

The transit was not as beautiful as many astronomical events I have seen, but it is so rare that nobody alive today will see it again, including the baby who looked through the eyepiece of the telescope; his grandchildren, should they live long enough, will.


A picture I took of the transit appeared on the Society’s magazine where I was once a columnist until I resigned last spring, because of reasons explained in the link.  It was a beautiful picture, and it was a good way to leave medicine, as a volunteer, who took a good photograph of a rare event, and shared it with the members.

Everybody who came was nice, except for a few comments, that while were not nasty, I could have done without.  One man, whom I know well for his right-wing beliefs (even as he gets AHCCCS, Arizona’s Medicaid) asked me the distance it was to Venus, and I said about 26 million miles.  He said, “Wow, that is less than the national debt.”

Why does politics have to be brought up during an exceedingly rare astronomical event?  The distance to alpha-Centauri in miles is greater than the national debt.  So what?  We have the national debt for a lot of reasons, some of which I think are important (Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare, FAA, FDA, NIFC (National Interagency Fire Center, which saves lives, towns, and houses) FEMA etc.), some of which are not (Iraq, Afghanistan, aid to dictators, farm subsidies, tax breaks for millionaires).   But it sucked a little happiness out of me.  Dementors do that.

Another person came whom I consider a true enemy.  The person has never once laughed in my presence in the 35 years we have known each other.  Not once.  The individual does not believe in evolution, vaccination, climate change, and thinks there should be no government involvement in medical care.  Just seeing this individual depresses me.  That is a  Dementor.  I was polite, and while that person asked good questions, there has been “too much history,” and too many hateful comments from that individual for me to let down my guard.  Since this is likely the last time I will likely ever see this person, or anyone else there, I sucked it up for 2 hours.

A few months back, my wife and I had dinner with a neurologist friend and his sister, a retired nurse.  She had worked in emergency departments, and was vehement about those who misused them.  This happens.  I was up in the middle of the night a lot, caring for drunks, helmetless people who had motorocycle accidents, people who had not taken their anticonvulsants, and were in a state of continuous seizures.  Most of these people did not have insurance, and I didn’t get paid, although I could have been sued for everything I had, were I wrong.  That is part of a physician’s life–caring for many people come to EDs for conditions that they do unto themselves.

This woman we had dinner with felt that those patients wasted time, money, and effort, should have not been rescued, but left to die on the street.  Really.  A nurse said that.  My wife was shocked; I had missed that part of the conversation.  Well, Ron Paul also said that, too, and was loudly cheered by many, who if they have no insurance, are only a drunk driver, appendicitis, a kidney stone, or viral meningitis away from being in an ED without money and 5 figure costs.  My wife said if we again had dinner with the neurologist, and his sister came, I would go alone.  We left the dinner depressed.  Dementors do that.

Last March, in North Blind on the now dry Platte River, I was in my third year as a volunteer tour guide for the Sandhill Crane migration.  I was in the lower level of the blind; my co-guide had never been there and wanted the upper level, which had better views.  I had a family of four with two tweens, who were bored.  Their mother wasn’t interested, and only the father was taking a few pictures.  It was a good show–not spectacular–but good, and the kids obviously wanted to be elsewhere.  I couldn’t teach about Crane behavior, because they weren’t interested.  I guided 20 times during my stay, and this was the only time I left the blind depressed.  In a place where you can see cranes in fog, snow, close up, or 50,000 in the air above you, darkening the sky, with a haunting call that I simply love, who have been on Earth for nearly 10 million years, where it is one of Jane Goodall’s top 10 sights, and where the governors of Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas came one night, to have a bored family was a real downer.  They were Dementors.


Twenty years ago, I helped a man on the Fall Lake portage in the Boundary Waters.  It was his last portage before returning home to Miami.  He had had rain, poor fishing, bugs, and not a good time.  I thought the weather had been fine, the fishing good, and the bugs non-existent.  I helped him get his gear across the portage and wished him well.  He was a Dementor, too, but the beauty of the Boundary Waters was strong enough for me to ignore his complaints.  Indeed, I parried every one of his comments; when he came to insects, he said “And the bugs!!!” He then looked at me and said, “Or are you ‘in’ to them, too?”  No, I am not “in” to bugs, but I recognize their presence, and I realize that they limit the number of people in the wilderness certain times of the year.

I’ve had my Dementor moments; many of us have.  But there are some who are always Dementors, and I try to avoid them if possible.  If they persist, I change the subject.  I had buttons made commemorating the Transit of Venus.  I didn’t make one for myself, for I only wear solar eclipse buttons,   The Dementor at the viewing got a button and liked his.  I almost wished I had seen that.  Harry Potter had the gift; maybe briefly, I had it, too.



  1. lmotta2014 Says:

    I so appreciate your wisdom and clarity, Michael! This is a beautifully written piece, as I have grown accustomed to, and is a lesson for those who are open to learn. Thank you for sharing the link.

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