LOOKER-UPPERS


Several years ago, out in the Sonoita Grasslands, southeast of Tucson, I saw a thunderstorm develop over in Rain Valley.  Several of the thunderheads were producing a lot of rain, but the southernmost one wasn’t.  Instead, it kept discharging cloud-cloud lightning, as if it had a choice to either rain or light up periodically, and chose the latter.  In any case, it looked like a giant lightbulb.  I thought that interesting, so I stayed out to watch it.  I often just sit somewhere and look up.  It isn’t wasted time.

I am a looker-upper.

As I continued to gaze, I noted Jupiter high to the right of “Lightbulb,” shining with a steady light, as planets do.  I knew the object was Jupiter, because of its brightness and location.  Now I had a gas giant in view, with its own clouds and storms, as I observed from a rocky planet with its own storms, all right before my eyes.

And “Lightbulb” kept discharging.

I was fascinated with the show, but I knew that storms don’t last too long in the high desert, and I began to think of going inside, grateful, as I always am, for any show that nature provides.  For some reason, however, I stayed out a little longer.  I’ve long known that a an extra minute spent just looking may occasionally be worthwhile.  Besides, I was absolutely fascinated with “Lightbulb”.

Suddenly, a meteor shot through the sky between Jupiter and “Lightbulb.”  There aren’t many times my jaw drops suddenly, but it sure did here.  I had a simultaneous show in three levels of the sky:  the troposphere, high above the stratosphere, and in outer space.  I said another thank you to the heavens, watched for a while longer, and then finally went inside.

There is one other place I have seen three parts of the sky come into splendid conjunction.  If one travels to the Platte River in March, near the Great Southern Bend of the river, one may see the Sandhill Crane migration.  I really should use three different verbs here: to see, to experience, and to transform.  Many people see the migration, some experience it, and a few–like me–are transformed by it.  Transformation of a person by a sight means that the person is never again quite the same.  Not many sights transform me: a total solar eclipse did, and so did a sighting of a wolf in the wild 12 feet away, with nobody within 10 trail miles.  That’s heady stuff, being transformed.

To see these spectacular birds, with their haunting call, darken the sky during a splendid Nebraska sunset and a full Moon rising in the eastern sky may transform a person.  I volunteer in Nebraska every spring, paying my way up there and working at Rowe Sanctuary, so I can go to the viewing blinds morning and evening.  It’s really selfish, but I do some work, too.  I work with other volunteers and Rowe Staff, all of whom are looker-uppers.

SUNSET CRANES

SUNSET CRANES

Sure, this conjunction may be explained by biology, astronomy and physics, but I doubt  many observers in Stevie’s Blind at Rowe Sanctuary on a March evening feel that way when twenty-five thousand cranes in the sky land right in front of them.  I doubt Stevie Staples, for whom the blind was named, looked at the cranes that way, either, and she was a teacher.

PART OF A FLOCK OF 20,000

Once one becomes a looker-upper, the person may become a bit of an astronomer, meteorologist, and birder, too.  Oh, I don’t mean the person can spot Andromeda Galaxy without optical aid, knows the difference between a Pied-billed and a Western Grebe, or can tell whether the sky is convectively active, but the person is learning.  I find myself looking up at the day sky, noticing where the deepest blue occurs.  There is a mathematical point in the sky where the sky is bluest, depending upon where the Sun is, but I don’t bother with the math.  I’m more interested in finding the deepest blue, and my 1x eyes are perfect for the task.

From blue sky, I started noticing clouds and weather, too.  Soon, I became as interested in the weather as I was in the night sky.  It’s easy to do, and as a guy who goes into the woods a lot, it helps to know how to predict the weather.  Oh, of course, I wasn’t a professional meteorologist, but I knew enough to keep myself more comfortable than I otherwise would have been.

I continued to look up and became a birder.  I won’t say I am a great birder, but I’ve seen many species, many of which I actually figured out on my own.  It’s often good to bird alone.  It makes a person a better observer, requiring spotting the subtleties that allow identification.  Other times, it is good to go with an experienced birder who can spot a particular bird and explain why and what it is. Birding is fun, but it is not a passion.

Looker-uppers aren’t necessarily experts; they just know where beauty lies.  And a lot of beauty lies above us, free for those who look.

SLEEPING PAIR OF CRANES

CRANE MOON

As I became a birder looker-upper after first being a star looker-upper, some birders come to my star parties after first being a bird looker-upper. They wonder how I know the night sky so well.  I wonder how they know the birds so well.  We all laugh.  We are all learning from each other, fellow looker-uppers, trying to get answers to questions we have about what is out there, what it is, why it is, who and why we are.

What I have learned about my fellow looker-uppers is that each of us finds our own faith in the sky.  Each of us has called the sky “the heavens” at some time.  None of us really knows what lies beyond, but we are all curious.  I don’t think there is a one of us who looks at the Sandhill Crane migration, Orion, Saturn, the rising of the full Moon, a Vermilion Flycatcher or a yellow-headed Blackbird

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD

, a towering cumulonimbus, or a 2000 year-old Sequoia

STANDING BY A SEQUOIA, MARIPOSA GROVE, YOSEMITE NP.

STANDING BY A SEQUOIA, MARIPOSA GROVE, YOSEMITE NP.

without being filled with a sense of wonder.  I’m a deeply spiritual person, and a fellow looker-upper helped me discover that fact.

That same person, a wise man, a good friend, a fellow looker-upper, and a devout Christian, recently told me, “There are no atheists in foxholes and no atheists who watch cranes.”

CRANES LANDING AT SUNSET, 2012

CRANES LANDING AT SUNSET, 2012

Judging by how often I hear “Oh my God, they are beautiful,” when I take people to the viewing blinds, I think he is right.


CRANES LANDING AT SUNSET, FROM STEVIE’S BLIND

CRANES OVER FULL MOON, ROWE, 2013

CRANES OVER FULL MOON, ROWE, 2013IMG_2918

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One Response to “LOOKER-UPPERS”

  1. denisehelmkay Says:

    Thank YOU for this peek into Spring and the migrations that will start soon. I think maybe I am also a looker-upper.

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