13 June 2009


The Feather River Astronomy Club is, perhaps, the only thing in my life that I feel satisfied I attempted and succeeded at.

I don't remember exactly when and how it began. I am pretty sure that I was not yet in high school - not up to 9th grade / 'freshman' year / 3rd Form. I must have asked around about an amateur astronomers' club and was astonished that nothing of the sort existed in the area. There may have been something in Sacramento.

Adolescence is the time of omnipotence. My son Johnny may have been 14 or 15 years old when he decided that he wanted to organise an "Indoor Soccer" (or was it "Indoor Cricket?") tournament for the North Island (perhaps only northern half?) Reformed Churches.

I told him he was mad. It was a huge undertaking. He needed not only to coordinate everything but to ensure there would be lunches available for purchase; collect fees; keep accounts; etc.

He did it, and did it well. As I recall his total budget was close to $10,000.00. He did, in fact, lose money on it, but a very small amount (which he covered).

I have a series of well-intended failures to my record - PhD in linguistics, Yapese monolingual dictionary, and many lesser projects - which, on the half-full/half-empty scale could count as partial successes rather than failures. Nevertheless, one and only one of my ventures ever succeeded as I intended: the Feather River Astronomy Club.

I don't exactly recall dates, but it would have begun around 1955, I think. Our membership was amateur astronomers and science teachers from as far north as either Red Bluff or Redding (my God! Redding has a population of 100,000 according to Wikipedia!) - Dick Van Alstyne, that was - and I think some came up from Marysville/Yuba City. We met monthly - don't recall where - my house?? - and at least in the early 1960s it was still operative, after I had left for University. Google shows no trace of it now so perhaps it has died - or perhaps it is still just quietly carrying on without the nonsense of Internet presence.

I was very pleased to have done that, and it shows how my keen interest in astronomy, which eventually led to my astronomy major at University, continued to grow. By 1956 or 1957 I had bought (using money from my rabbit business!) the only telescope I ever owned - a little 4-inch reflector. My experience with that 'scope probably illustrates the reasons for my failure both as an astronomer and as a linguist. I was, and still am, very much interested in the science of both fields. Nevertheless, as a now-amateur linguist I really spend most of my time playing with language, learning new and interesting things, dilettante stuff, really - but not much with the hard work of linguistic science. And with my telescope I never did boring but important stuff like new-comet spotting - a time-consuming and tedious job in which amateur astronomers are particularly important - but rather finding and goggling at interesting, and, especially, beautiful, objects. I am afraid all my scientific interests have remained at the amateur level.

All for this week-end and perhaps for a while. Next week-end is our next concert, so I may not get 'round to doing anything then.

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