Father Luc was an excellent writer whether he was explaining science, discussing the world he saw around us, or just corresponding with a friend, signing many of his emails as Lamplighter.
I treasured the emails Luc and I exchanged on subjects ranging from astronomy and science to theology and philosophy and poetry and canon law.
Father Luc often talked about the subtlety of nature, the beauty of small things that in the rush of today’s society we often overlook. He worried that many beginning amateur astronomers would turn away from the actual night sky when the Milky Way our eyes see naturally turns out not to be as colorful as the photoshopped images that are published in magazines and online.
Father Luc does not need me to paraphrase him. Please read on.
Yesterday evening I had to drive to say Mass at a small town, Southy, NE of here [ironically North of Regina] — about 45 minutes drive. The Sun was not visible, the sky a milky-white-out, with visibility in the damp fog about 1 km or less. [N4] Now those of you who have never driven prairie roads and highways may not know that one can go sometimes for dozens of kms in a straight line with only the black pavement ahead in a sea of ditch and field of pure white, with the occasional farm and clumps of bushes.
In such a situation, as last evening, by careful observation I was able to see at the end of the tapering, vanishing point road ahead a very subtle darkening of the foggy sky just above the road. This darkening was, like the strip of road, a very diffuse fan of only slightly darker fog.
Yesterday it was readily visible on direct vision. Most of the time it takes a lot of indirect vision, moving the eye, etc. It was a kind of inverted, very suffuse, mirror image of the tapering road. Pondering on this years ago I came to realize that the ditch and fields were reflecting their snow-covered whiteness up into the fog. The highway, free of snow and quite black, was not reflecting and so made the fog dark. A very nice effect.
Now what has this got to do with amateur astronomy observing? A lot. For one thing my experiences with the phenomenon have made me appreciate, especially yesterday, the subtle, the beautiful, the unexpected. [The experience will remain long after I will have forgotten the congregation, the good singing, my sermon, etc.]. And this has found marvelous application at the telescope in helping detect faint wisps and clouds, and nebulosity, e.g.
that surrounding the difficult Horsehead [N5], etc.
I wonder at this point just how much our magazines and their wham-bang presentation in startling color contrasts are responsible for us losing sight of the common, often unnoticed things. If one is totally captivated by the WOW, explosions, blasts, etc., as depicted on the covers and pages of S&T, Astronomy, Discover and others, and the constant assault to the senses on TV, one will find the rest rather banal and boring. It would seem that the big sin today is in being "BORED". I once read a review of a new book on astronomy in which the reviewer remarked that the illustrations were black and white photographs of the same "old, tired, boring" galaxies.
Indeed ! I pity the reviewer. Have any of you been bored with the real sky, whose objects are, effectively only in black and white? I'll tell you one thing - I'm beginning to find the SPLASH stuff a crashing bore.
I make a plug for the subtle, the wonder in little things: the almost imperceptible glow of a small 14 magnitude galaxy; the tendrils and clouds of dark and light in so many of the Messiers [N6]: the shades of gray in fog; the 'non-reflectivity' of highway fog; shades of gray on the lunar surface; bands on Jupiter, etc.; the subtleties of a Bach fugue; and on and on.
Granted, computer-enhanced, false-color pictures of astronomical objects are necessary, and more power and encouragement to their practitioners.
But are we beginning to lose the small, the unobtrusive, the simple things.
A kid at my telescope [one of the TV bored generation] once remarked on seeing the tiny image of Saturn, "Is that all?".
I am reminded here of the Old Testament prophet who sought God in the huge, the majestic, the mighty - of storm and wind and fire and tempest [in other words, the spectacular]. And you know where he finally felt the presence of God? In the wafting across his cheek of a gentle breeze as he stepped out of his cave. Or something to that effect - I never was good at remembering book, chapter and verse.
Me? Well I grew up a simple, curious kid on a simple farm with simple delights and have never lost the capacity to SEE along the whole gamut [or spectrum] of beauty.
Clear skies, y'all, or even foggy, boring ones as long as they are new experiences in the wonderful.