Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dark Skies above Washington Island

When scanning a dark sky map ( one in the Midwest quickly realizes that there are very few truly dark places.  Since I live two blocks from Chicago, I was excited recently to be invited to a friend's cabin on Washington Island off the tip of northern Door County, Wisconsin.  From the map, Washington Island appears to be an astronomy buff's dream destination.  I can confirm now from experience, that if you live in the Midwest and especially if you live near one of the urban centers, as do I, that Washington Island is well worth the drive and crossing via ferry.  The skies were as splendid as anywhere I have been.

I spent one evening with only a pair of field glasses in the middle of a prairie remnant scanning the Milky Way from one horizon to the other until the late summer chill made me hustle back into our cabin.  One evening I set up a C-8 on a deck at the water's edge where we skipped from Sagittarius to Hercules, Cygnus to Cassiopeia.  Since our hosts were new to astronomy I kept to the showy objects like Albireo, M51, M57, M81, and the like.  We visited a number of clusters, the names of which I can't recall there were so many.  There were lots of questions, but perhaps the best part was the realization that the light we were seeing in some cases had been traveling through space for millions of years, a fact that never fails to make me feel humble.

If you get the chance to visit the Island, make time to enjoy the wonderful scenery, food and people.  You won't believe that you are still in the Midwest as it feels more like Maine, with intimate harbors and small working boats side by side with pleasure boats.  Artisans are hidden all over the island, making ceramics and the like, but haven't yet taken over, and so fortunately the undeveloped feeling persists much like it was generations ago.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Peter Bacon Hales 1950-2014

"When we left the tumult and compression of the city for this place, it seemed we were moving from communality to solitude. But we'd had it backwards.  Now even the dead commune with us, in dreams,  in the wind, in the moon's travel, in fragments of words to be crafted into song, or work, or wine, in the talk of those we work beside or those who listen to us, as we work, while they, too, make the small adjustments, move rhythmically down the rows, lay things out in order, stopping, now and then, to hear the music swell from the old barn, cross the creek, and rise up the hillside to the vineyard."

Peter Bacon Hales

Sunday, August 3, 2014

New Table

The base is a Trestle-style table of quartersawn white oak and held together only by two small 1/4" wedges in the through tenons

The top is about 200 pounds of granite, rescued from a kitchen renovation

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Ross Graduates

Ross and Brooks - my two sons

Brooks and Ross and the boy's cousin Gina

Ross with proud Mom and Dad

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


As I have done for a few years now, I spent the day with Liz Ettelson and Rebecca Grill of Highland Park and several Trout Unlimited members to show and tell High School Seniors taking an Environmental Science class how benthic macroinvertebrate surveys are performed.  Each time I find myself in the field, I kick myself for not doing this more.  And I am always surprised how the Latin names for the bugs come flooding back into memory.  If only I could remember other stuff like I remember my Latin!!

It was misty but warm enough to be outside all day.  It had rained hard during the night, so we did not find a lot of critters as the stream level was still high and flowing overwell, but the ones we did find reinforced our feeling that the cool spring had significantly slowed the maturation of the macros. On the other hand, the white suckers were running upstream to spawn, which was delightful to see.  More than one student was shocked by a large, several pound animal splashing along a leg as the creatures slid by to find a quiet pool.  The company during the day was wonderful, as always, with Dr. Marty Berg from Loyola, Dr. Barry and Myra Coddens (TU), Jim Tingley (TU), Bob DeGraff (TU), Darwin Adams (TU), and Marna Coleman (TU) who also kindly provided a luncheon for the slightly damp crew.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


The Courtright clan has a funny way of showing affection. Sometimes, affection takes the form of not bothering others of the clan. For example, it can be months between phone calls and years between visits. In another family this might mean that we don’t really like each other. 

Now, those of you with a highly developed sense of psychology might object to this characterization. Avoidance, or worse, sheer laziness, is not a virtue and is a serious sin in most cultures. And one might postulate that we actually prefer to avoid each other or worse, are too lazy to pick up the phone.  But in this case, we can say with a straight face that letting each other be is a good thing and a form of respect. Really. Not kidding. You say thou doth protest too much?  Hmmm.

To be sure, I am confident that if I called my brother, and suggested that I could use help in the yard or with the car or the roof, for example, he would show up with little fanfare. If a bedroom is offered freely, trips are made with little planning involved. If there is a need, hands and opinions appear.

But our clan is a restless bunch and not particularly needy. We spread out. We go about our business. We are independent once launched. We are fairly opinionated and more than fairly stubborn. We do not suffer fools gladly. And so we tend to like our own counsel best without elaborate consultations. The word stoic is thrown around casually.

However, we are not so self-centered to think that everyone is or should be stoic. In fact, there are those of us who are in possession of evidence that demonstrates that some people are social creatures. True. In fact, it appears factually correct that most people are social creatures. It’s all apparently part of the genetic code. To suggest that the Courtright clan is part of some genetic backwater is, perhaps, scientifically inaccurate to the extent that scientists avoid making subjective judgments. Different traits are just different, and whether they represent an advantageous adaptation or the opposite is only determinable in hindsight, if at all.  We are just different.

Nevertheless, it is understood that there might be some value in acknowledging the majority in at least this aspect of human behavior. Accordingly, and it must be admitted that, even measured against the typical length of our tendency to ruminate, this is an unusually long-winded attempt to say that we will be undertaking to reach out to other members of the clan on a more, mmmmm, regular basis.