The Sky and Eye

Tales of Vashon

“Lift that cigar higher and take a big draw!” I said to Seán as we sat out on his Indian Point deck, waiting for the late April ‘pink’ super-moon to rise.  His glowing cigar tip would look just like the moon images we saw as kids in homemade telescopes from ‘Things of Science’ or ‘Edmonds’ scientific of comic book fame.  I took a picture of his bright-red Dominican cigar tip against the Eastern horizon above Maury and across the outer harbor. The picture did not come out well.  “We better try for the real super moon,” I said..   “Let’s try our new sky program! .. “ and Seán promptly aligned his smart phone and we could see exactly where to look for the moon rising as well as a whole bunch of constellations and planets that we were not even looking for.

“Years ago we would have to ask our dad or a scoutmaster to show us what there was to see.. Now, it’s just a smartphone and you can ask that smartass Siri you always talk to.. !”  I commented..

We had both gotten astronomy merit badges and I had actually built a crude telescope from one of those kits called ‘Things of Science’. I think I saw moon craters and fuzzy images of Venus on a shaky tripod.

Both Seán and I looked up a lot.. And we both were ‘ground observer corps’ members and had earned the cheap pewter-badge that said so! |

“Nice cigar” I said.. “Pour a glass of that fair-to-middling red wine, and tell me more about your career in the ground observer corps!”

“And be sure to tell about your UFO sighting!  You know, I once saw a UFO, and there was some suspicion that it was a wayward used-up weather balloon… but it sure looked ufo’y to me!”

As we sat on the deck waiting for the moon to rise, Sean related his ground observer career, a good story.. and here it is:
I was hanging out on a different rail, the cat walk of the Ground Observer Corp’s tower on Sunrise Ridge.  It was made of wood and I was still sweating for what I had done hours earlier.  Mom had caught me carving my initials in the wooden hand rail guiding you up the many stairs.   She told me, “Don’t you ever do that again, you are defacing government property.”  At 12 years old, I was so proud of my ground observer corps badge that I tried to pin it to my Boy Scout uniform when they told me I couldn’t do that because; one was US government and the other civilian.

It was cold standing at the rail of our watchtower, describing aircraft activity to Mom who stood with the telephone in her hand, ready to give our call sign: M R Cocoa 2-2 Black to the people at Sea-Tac  plotting center and pass on a description of the aircraft.  “Due East about 15 degrees off the horizon, flying NW and believed to be a DC 4 with two engines.  There was a poster on the wall beside the telephone desk that had all the silhouettes of both our planes and the enemies’.

I wasn’t allowed to call in aircraft descriptions and identifications, only Mom could do that.  That didn’t stop me from standing my watch, many times at night where the sharp autumn air made the stars sparkle on a moonless night.  I was looking for unidentified aircraft and these ground observer towers stretched between here and the East coast and most were manned by volunteer observers, like Mom.

Spotting a UFO or unidentified flying object rarely happened.  I was cold and on the east side of the catwalk when I saw something rise from the Cascade Range to the east, at an accelerated rate, faster than any plane we knew of.  At 45 degrees above the horizon, it was joined by two other fast moving objects and they came together and all three shot off into space in a matter of seconds.  I was very excited when I told Mom, who came out to the rail too late.  Never-the-less, she called Sea-Tac and reported a UFO.

At show and tell, the next day at school, I related of my having seen a UFO, I was so proud and all the kids laughed and said that I was seeing things.  Even the teacher explained that I had probably seen search lights from one of the used car lots.  It was common for the car lots to rent huge WWll anti-aircraft search lights to advertise a big car sale and I was flabbergasted that nobody believed me.

The Ground Observer Corps was quite old and came before the Nike missiles and radar sites on the mountain tops  across the country, about the same time as the AAA batteries and the “open houses” they had for Vashon people.   The army guys let us kids sit in the seat of the quad 50mm machine gun and then they would start the ten horse Briggs and Stratton that allowed us to move the barrels up and down or across the sky to find the imaginary enemy planes.  We lived on Beall Rd. and the 150 mm howitzers were just across the wire fence and in the next field west toward town; where the local Eagles Aerie has their clubhouse in the old mess hall.   The army never shot their howitzers on Vashon, but would trail the big guns all the way to the Yakima Firing range for their yearly exercises.

Uncle Bruce, our scoutmaster introduced us to the sky at night, by showing us the location of the big dipper, Orion’s belt and the star Arcturus, and neat constellations that the ancient Greeks had given names to.  Uncle Bruce would then describe their different functions in mythology.

The direction North was determined by lining up the two stars on the far end of the dipper and then tracing a line from the bottom star, through the top star to a brighter star, Polaris or the North star.  Uncle Bruce’s lessons were valuable when describing how to find directions from a night sky.

Well Sean and i still Look up at the sky.  And despite getting older we seem to see more now than we did as kids…!   And thanks to some smarty- pants phone applications we actually know what we are looking at!