Alana Amram Issue: Section:

Winding roads lead up to the mountaintop. The road kill on the side of the white line is not an unusual sight, but this was clearly not a deer. It looks like a bear cub or some unknown giant rodent. Later we learn it was a Javelina-or suicide pig-they are aggressive wild pigs known to attack chickens, people and cars approaching the Observatory.

There are six of us piled into the hatchback. Harley-a very old friend-is in the back becoming sick from the hypnotic double yellow trail left behind us not traceable for more than 25 feet as we wind and climb the mountain.

Jagged cliffs that line the road were made millions of years ago from the earth's push and pull. Glaciers toss boulders and leave them for nature to inhabit and claim. Mountains seemed ripped in half and eroded from wind grinding at the cliffs one grain of sand a time. Fresh news from Haiti comes over on the radio. Another aftershock.

Conversation between all of us old friends flows like a glorious cursive. High peaks and valleys spaced with elegant pauses. Hysterical laughter trails outbursts of profane wit. Happily, debate follows the sweeping statements and heavy idealism.

Dave and me are visiting from New York. We have never been to West Texas. The others have lived in Austin, some originally hailing from other parts of the Midwest and California coast. We all marvel. Even if you have been here, there is more to see.

Uncertainty of wandering is the momentary existence the Buddhist sages describe. This is living in the present. Simply being always seems easer in places where the landscape dominates. Laughter and contemplation fill the crevices between thoughts often bombarded and intruded upon by advertising in the urban world. Dave and I were wandering and living without expectation of results. This is freedom, was a luxurious freedom.

The sky is turning an inky black. Spreading over the mountain tops like dry paper gently lying in a puddle.

Miles behind-between the Hill Country and this entry to the Big Bend Mountain ranges-oil rigs pumped and windmills spun in their calm repetition. Under this tranquil land is a kinetic force of energy removed after eons of dormancy. Oil. Water. Wind. The billboards become lit, on the endless highways the kitchens in El Paso prepare dinner, machines turn, people type, radios play, rock bands practice, clocks blink, and trucks roll..... Far away in Haiti the land rumbles releasing unbridled uncontrolled mayhem. Killing. Crushing. Starving. Gasping. Helpless. Rescue. Lost. Chaos.

We reach the top of the hill of the Fort Davis McDonald Observatory. $10 per person for the Star Party at the Ft. Davis Observatory. I quickly head to the gift shop to purchase Astronaut Ice Cream. As a child of the days of Reagan, the Challenger and NASA it is essential nostalgia to experience freeze dried snacks. Our friend Johnny was denied this luxury and it is the duty of all who had such a privilege to share the wonder and innovation. Astronaut Ice Cream is the highest achievement of science, food, aesthetic, sensual perfection and kitsch that has stood the test of time from such a Challenging period in our history.

The temperature drops. To say desert nights are cold is an understatement. Days are 70 degrees and drop down to 10 degrees. It is the sunshine being pulled from you. You are left naked and cold while clinging to your socks.

Bulky and stiff from long underwear and multi-layers we head up to the Observatory. A boy scout troupe all wear matching red jackets. A few have badges and emblems proudly accentuating their caps. The fathers' chaperone with pride like large boy scouts in their matching red jackets. One poor boy says to another. "Ha ha ha. Can't believe you wore shorts." So much for Be Prepared.

A huge part of my interest in coming to this part of Texas was to see the Marfa Mystery Lights. The y can be seen on the highway into Marfa-one town over from the Ft. Davis Observatory. These strange glowing and flickering lights on the horizon mutate and seem to dance. No one has been able to scientifically explain them. Swamp gas, passing cars refracted from the highway, mirages, ghosts of Comanche warriors or UFOs have been proposed and argued. Depending on who you talk to, they were reported before the highway was built, reported before electricity was harnessed and reported before the white man.

I asked our star expert at the Observatory what he thought of the mystery lights one town over. He was a strong proponent of the car light being bent by temperatures and refracted reflected and resulting in the weirdness of the Marfa Lights. The next day I went to see them. We leaned on the railing at the little viewing station built by the town and stared at the phenomena of darting blinking and splitting lights. Our traveling society of armchair experts launched into a lengthy metaphysical ghost-hunting search. Once again we were not virile enough to combat the desert evening. I decided I don't know what they are. Mystery was a great explanation.

While looking through the large telescopes at the Observatory I had the same reaction when gazing at Nebulae. Mystery was the explanation. We saw stars being born-a many million yearlong process-millions of light years away- and the scientist explained the galaxies and arrangement of constellations. The universe is gently swirling and stars live and die. Violent eruptions of gas and colliding matter form new planets. Aftershocks are still felt and death is endless. Mystery remains the explanation.

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