Comet Neowise 2020

2020 has been an interesting year to say the least. One thing that hasn’t changed is the Universe. I work to keep that in mind as I live from day to day.

From my front porch every evening this summer Jupiter and Saturn have been some of the brightest objects in the sky. Using Gloria’s telescope I’ve been able to clearly see the rings of Saturn and the storms of Jupiter along with many of their moons.

Even with nothing than a regular set of binoculars Jupiter is so close to Earth that the moons are clearly visible without much aid. With a zoom lens, camera and tripod one can take a picture of them without much difficulty.

Then there is comet Neowise. This one snuck up on us. Somehow we can put landers on the moon but not know when a comet is orbiting the sun. Granted, the last time it was here was 6,766 years ago. And it won’t be back for another 6,766 years.

That being said, I wanted to find this comet and see if I could capture it from my own front yard. The biggest problem I have with some of the astronomy stuff is that it happens at like 5 in the morning. That’s not always appealing to me. I’ll do it but it would be way more convenient if it was like around midnight.

And, as it turns out, that was going to happen. All I had to do was wait a couple of weeks and I could get a view in the northwest sky as it set with the sun after 10pm.

The first time I saw it was with binoculars. It was so much larger than I was expecting that I had overlooked it for 30 minutes. And it was much more faint than I was expecting especially as it was dodging in and out of the clouds. With my older eyes and the less than ideal viewing conditions this was going to be challenging to take a clear photo of this thing at night.

With a 600mm lens I knew that I could only keep the shutter open for about 5 seconds to keep the blur at a minimum. That means the ISO has to be fast and the aperture wide open. This is going to produce a grainy/noisy photo and if it’s not tack sharp it not going to come out well.

Focusing in the night sky is not easy. Because my eyes are not the best at determining the focal distance like they were when I was 16 I have to use the camera to help me by focusing on stars in the sky and getting them sharp and then assuming that the comet will be sharp in that background. One tiny camera shake and the photo will be ruined.

300 images later, I picked the 3 I liked the best.

Color image of Comet Neowise.

The color image above shows the green core of the comet against some of the stars on a very cloudy night. I was never afforded a totally dark sky view of the comet while it could be seen from here.

Color image of Comet Neowise just above the horizon.

When the comet was behind the clouds I turned my camera around to see if I could take a decent photo of Jupiter and maybe some of it’s moon. Keep in mind I only have a Nikon camera and lens on a tripod so this is not a telescope or anything fancy.

Jupiter and 4 of its moons.

The picture of Jupiter doesn’t look like much at first glance. But I was shocked that I could get such a good photo of the planet and some of it’s moons. If you zoom into the photo you will see that one of the moons is blue. I think this is Europa which has high water content.

If you didn’t get to see it this trip around the sun unfortunately you are now going to have to take my word that it was there. Or use better camera gear than I have.

It was a fun evening I shared with my family. Interesting time in an interesting year looking at cool astronomy objects.

If you get bored, look up. The comet is about gone but many other object are up there. The sky can offer some interesting things to think about. Maybe give you break to think about other things for a while.

Making hay June 2020

This cathartic video from above shows 5 minutes of the process of making hay on our farm. There is no music or narrative. Just make it the size of your screen and enjoy the process.

We gathered 34 round bales of hay in this first cut of 2020.

Things generally slow down this time a year. With the virus things are REALLY slow right now. Everything I’d normally do in the spring, summer and fall is cancelled. There are no vacations planned or other distractions that would normally happen in a summer. This doesn’t look to change before the end of the year.

Health, Family, work and hobbies; I’m blessed to have all these near me.

After the hay bales are wrapped they have to be moved to a place they can be placed on a trailer and placed under a barn roof. This hay is for horses so it must be kept dry.

For some reason I am drawn to the engineering of making hay. There was a time when it would take 5-6 people to do this work and it would take 2-4 times to get the same amount of hay off the ground. Now 1-2 people can do it in a day.

Hopefully we’ll get 1-2 more cuttings this year. The air is cool and we are getting plenty of rain. The grasses love this grow environment. So if the trends of cooler summer and consistent rain continues the hay yield will be high this year.

Iceland Without Tourists

The last time we were in Iceland we took a tour that few people have done. We drove the “Ring Road” on our own in a camper staying in camp grounds each evening.

Even with other tourist in the county once you get past 1 hour outside of Reykjavík they would turn around and go back to Reykjavík at the end of the day. So just after Skogafoss waterfall we were mostly on our own. It was a fun and unique vacation we got to share together.

We wanted to get to the Western fjords but needed another full week to get through there. We decided to make a third trip and to do that by itself. We have yet to make it there a third time.

If you want to race to the end of the video to where they only talk about what it’s like to be in Iceland without tourists you can go here. I’ve been here and I can imagine exactly what it is like. It must be glorious.

If you want to see my notes on the last time we where there you can find them here. It’s hard to believe it was 2 years ago. It’s been a weird couple of years.

Iceland is a breathtaking place to be. If you can get there I highly recommend it.

The Burn Pile.

Are you a member of “the burn pile”?

Left discarded, burned, frozen, trampled, ignored, then snowed and rained on over multiple seasons you can still produce perfect fruit.

There is a lesson to learn from this pumpkin who despite all the odds decided life was worth continuing, set down roots, leafed out, flowered and successfully made another pumpkin. It didn’t have to.

That’s the story of being a member of “the burn pile”.

In our lives it’s not easy to do things well but it can be done in spite of the people, places and things that tried to keep us from doing it so well.

We did it well anyway.

Welcome aboard the burn pile.

Shenandoah

I’m lucky to live so close to the Shenandoah Valley. From my house to the middle of Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park may be 45 minutes of driving.

Mostly I’m out there on the weekend when I have time to waste driving around Virginia without worrying about work. When I do get there the views and quiet of the mountain is quite therapeutic. Most everyone slows down and just enjoys being out there.

Looking north towards Front Royal, Virginia.

Every part of the day in every different season will produce a different feel of the mountain. Some days I get to go out during the week when there are very few people there. In the winter it can be lightly traveled where it feels like you are the only one there.

Low Gap

This old tree has been standing at Little Devils Stairs as long as I have lived in Virginia. This rest stop will be much different without the tree there once it finally gives in to gravity.

Little Devils Stairs

The sunsets can be quite a site to behold as well. Never disappointing even if it doesn’t show up from behind the clouds like you were expecting.

Looking west towards Luray, Virginia from Hogback overlook
Looking west towards Luray, Virginia from Hogback overlook on a previous trip

It turns out I’m never the only person there at a sunset like this. It’s a busy time on the mountain as people take selfies and then go about their way. If you can wait 10 minutes after sunset you will be left on the mountain alone again.

It’s these times I enjoy most alone in this sacred place.

50 millimeter.

I first picked up a camera in 1978 when I was 15 years old. A friend of mine was working to be a professional photographer and let me hold his camera. I pulled the trigger of his camera a few times. From that moment I knew that I would eventually own my own camera with no means to make that kind of a purchase.

How it came about is unclear but eventually I did get a Pentax film camera with one lens. It didn’t seem like much at the time. It definitely was not fancy. A simple camera with basic lighting controls (F-stop, shutter speed). Back then the ISO was set with chemistry in the film being used. The camera came with a 50mm lens. It was enough to take a few college courses and become familiar with the photography process.

I had no idea what I was doing. It turns out, this is where everyone starts.

Since then the photography industry and methods have completely changed. My film cameras and lenses are all gone now. When I moved to digital I didn’t think I’d have a need for my film cameras and old lenses. So they were sold. Today I wish I had hung on to them. It’s one of my regrets.

After I sold my film cameras yet still years ago I bought an f1.4 50mm lens for my Nikon camera. It’s an amazing piece of glass. Lately I’ve used it exclusively. This is where I started with photography and a place I wanted to go back. So when I bolt out of the house lately with my camera that’s the lens being used.

The clarity of this lens is striking. With an aperture around f/9 and an ISO of 100 the photos look very natural.

Unfiltered with some light post processing to bring out the shadow areas. f9 / 100 ISO / 1/200

The photo above was done without filters. I do set my camera white balance to be in a warmer mode because the Nikon makes everything cold by default. Other than that, this shot was right out of the camera.

Every lens has a purpose. There are thousands of different types and brands. My focus on my own photography is to use what I own and become proficient with that. If you can frame it with a 50mm lens you can make any lens work for you.

This biggest lessons I’ve learned in my 40 years of photography is this: 1) always have your camera with you. It may not be the best camera but still bring a camera with you. And 2) stop and use the camera. If you see an image in your head don’t drive past it. Stop, turn around and go get the image. If you are with others that do not want to stop they are not on your path. Let them go.

That’s what I did here. And I had no idea a bike rider would drive right into my frame. Had I not turned around, got off my motorcycle and stood in the middle of the road I would not have captured any of this. I didn’t even see the rider coming.

Flashers on so no one would run over me. Turns out only a bike rider would ride by.

The more you pull the camera trigger the more you learn. It’s a common theme I hear from the pros: “I wish I had more images to compare”. Because you never get another chance to be in that same situation again. That opportunity has passed.

When I hold my camera in my hand today I know I’m hold a tool. I still don’t know why I take so many photos. So many of them only I have seen. I haven’t even printed many of them for myself. Still, I stand alone in these places and wonder where everyone else is?! I can’t tell you the number of times I look around and wonder why others are experiencing this same thing; this beautiful color on one of the first days of summer. But I was completely alone in a public park except for one bicyclist for almost 30 minutes.

Its because it’s my path. The place I’m supposed to be. My path has taught me to do the things I enjoy. If you can share the experience with others that’s great. If not, enjoy the walk alone.

Who knew my path would take me from a place of wonder with an old camera with a 50mm lens to where I was last night with my own camera and a 50mm lens. But I was ready.

I wonder, what’s around the corner?

Jefferson, Texas

The route to East Texas

The route from home to Jefferson, Texas is not that exciting. I’ve driven the route many times before. This time I’m towing my motorcycle with me so we can do a “Shamrock Tour” once we are there.

I managed to take a little longer route to visit my friend John who lives in Brevard, NC. We both love to ride in North Carolina. He likes this area I like the area around Andrews. Back in 1996-1997 we were looking to move to Andrews because I could not stand the traffic in Atlanta when I worked there. I decided it would be better to fly to work every day than sit in my truck. Just before pulling that trigger I was transferred to Memphis but my search for a spot to land near Andrews has never subsided.

The trip through Brevard added another hour+ to the trip but it was nice to see John and have a place to lay my head for a day. I had meetings I needed to attend on Monday morning so it was also good to be stationary for those.

Back in time – Model A Ford – Model A father checking his phone messages. It’s nice to be stationary for a while.

The term Shamrock Tour was apparently created by RoadRunner magazine at some point in the recent past. The idea is that you go to one town and from there you will do 4 days of riding with each one of the legs the leaf of a Shamrock. I call it a clover leaf tour. They have the copyright on their term so I recognize that here.

We are, in fact, following one of their tours from the magazine. Sometimes at 80 miles an hour depending on who is leading. Today we did the shorter of all the days because we were fighting with the weather a bit. When we woke up the air is moist and cool but not raining. The weather is coming though.

Weather on day 1. Luckily we are on the leading edge of this so the rest of the trip will be clear.

It changed the way we rode. We didn’t go quite as far as we normally would but, looking back, we probably could have done the route as originally planned. The rain was predicted to start earlier than it did then rain more than it acutally has.

We can ride in all weather but it’s not that much fun in the rain. Sure, if you have to go to your next destination you’d go no matter what. But these kind of tours give you the flexibility to hang close to a hotel, go to a museum, read a book or take a nap.

The four clover leafs of this “Shamrock” tour.

We did the shorter ride towards Shreveport today. That was going to include a river boat ride but it appears that may have been a weekend only thing at this time of year. Everything is shut down on a Wednesday afternoon. We suspect that come the weekend that people will move into this place and the attractions will be available again. For example, there is a Museum Of Measurement And Time that doesn’t open until Thursday at 10am and only through Saturday. I definitely want to go into this cool place.

On Thursday (October 25, 2018) we are going the longer route down towards Nacogdoches made famous by Bonnie and Clyde. The route is approximately 250 miles. We’ll leave after breakfast, of course. One thing for sure is we have three squares a day. Not sure which way we’ll do the leaf but we’ll likely do it all just like it’s published. Paul has published the route on Google Maps so I’ll have that in my phone.

It’s October 25, 2018 and I’m up early. I find this mildly ironic because I am not a morning person and didn’t go to bed last night until about 2am. Interested in the state of the covered bike this morning I got outside to check out the elements. My bike is covered but wet, the air is moist and cool with no wind. It is going to take a while to burn off the moisture but that is exactly what will happen today.

It should remain clear the rest of the week now.

We made it to Nacogdoches without anyone being lost or injured which I found to be interesting since some of the group was doing over the limit and others well under. We have two types of riders on this trip; those that want to cover ground and those happy to stay above it. Riding happens at two very different speeds.

After lunch in Nacogdoches, Mexican of course, we split into three groups. One group headed back to the hotel, I needed to go to a local Wal-mart for sundries and the other making tracks for the next city on the route. Being the longer of the days we have to cover ground in all directions when we split up. Paul and Dad head to Gallatin, TX and I meet them there. Since I left first it was odd that they beat me there. But they did. Richard and Ed headed for the hotel.

Except for one evening we at at one single restaurant for dinner every evening. The name of the place was The KnightLight Theater with friendly wait staff and good food. We dined here 4 of the 5 nights we stayed in Jefferson. By the last night we were well known there. All of the food was good but my favorite was crawfish linguini.

By the way, we stayed at the Historic Kahn Hotel while we were here. We used this as a home base and start/stop for all of our rides. The hotel is sandwiched by cobblestone streets on two sides. From  the hotel everything we wanted to do was a short walk away. We walked to breakfast and dinner each evening. I never got in my car to do anything once I was here. Our stay here coincided with Halloween on a busy Saturday night. It was fun to see children dressed up going from business to business with their families. And some grown-ups doing the same. I swear I was with some witches at dinner. They sounded like it anyway.

On the 26th we got up, shared breakfast and headed to do a tour of Caddo Lake where we would learn about this natural lake and 500 year old Cyprus trees that live there. It afforded me an opportunity to sit in the front of a boat with my professional camera and take some photos against a high-contrast sky.

Caddo Lake, Texas

Looking back, any of the other skies we experienced this week would not have produced such pretty photography as you see here. The wind was cold and blowing the Spanish moss all around. I could spend some serious time just on the lake taking photographs. The trees are so majestic and old. There is a way of life here that is clearly different than any other part of the US.

Caddo Lake, Texas

Caddo Lake, Texas

Caddo Lake, Texas

We were lucky to meet Rich McFarland of Caddo Lake Bayou Tours for our guide. Rich is soft spoke and easy going. From the front of his boat I was able to snap the pictures above. Rich gave us a nice tour of the lake near his boat ram and history lesson of the area going back to it’s lawless years. It was one of the highlights of my trip this week.

Caddo Lake – Bayou Tour launch point

After the lake tour we headed back to the hotel to suit up for our ride for the day. We still had 200+ miles to ride and it was already the noon hour. Since it had only been an hour we last ate some of us were getting hungry and ate a hamburger while the rest of us took off on our bikes for tour #3. #3 was the northwest tour towards Sulphur Springs, Texas.

I like to call this particular tour the “Express Tour”. Not sure where we were headed but we were going there fast! And some of this trip was on “goat trails” including deep ruts of Texas red clay. I still have some of that on my bike to prove it.

We made it back to the hotel about the time the sun was going down. We gathered up the old folks and headed to dinner. You guessed it, back to the The KnightLight Theater! This night there was someone playing acoustic guitar and doing some singing. This was a hit for a couple of us who enjoy this kind of atmosphere and music.

It’s September 27. This day is just with the three of the Westerman clan. We shared breakfast at the Port Jefferson Outpost. I think we at here every morning before our riding. Like the other places, this little place is nice with good breakfast and helpful staff. 2 eggs, bacon, biscuit with gravy and some sweet tea. Good stuff. 5 stars from me.

We start the trip like every other on the assigned route given to us which included goat trails early and often. It wasn’t long before we were doing our own ride on the basic route outlined in the maps with copious “ad libbing” along the way.

I have trailer bearing issues and have to cut the trip short about 3/4ths the way around. Those issues behind me, the bike loaded on my trailer and my truck mostly loaded sets me up for an early morning departure. My trip home will be mostly interstate highway (30, 40 and 81). This is why I have the trailer. Slabbing 1,200 miles on a motorcycle on interstate highway doesn’t do anything but make your butt hurt and go through tires.

Me and my rig(s). New trailer bearings when I get home.

I am very glad to have access to my trailer on trips like this. You arrive in decent shape after several days of driving. I’ll be using this trailer a ton in the coming years.

Google – rubbing it in. Plane ride is < 5 hours.

So that’s it. Another successful motorcycle trip just about completed. In total, we drove about 850 motorcycle miles on this tour of the Jefferson area. By the time I got home I had driven 2,530 miles in my truck to get there and back. It took me 2 days to get back home (18 hours of driving).

A bonus was a stop in Memphis where I had lunch with both my sisters and brothers-in-law.. That was nice!

Work starts again on Tuesday so I have to B-line it home. I need to be rested and ready to go. Lots of new projects on the table at work.

Where to next?

2 Minutes of our Day

It was a busy day at my work today. Friday’s are always busy. At the end of the day I took one of my drones up for some photos and a video. The above is the result of that.

Matt, a bee keeper, came over to check out the bees which I didn’t notice until I saw him in the video feed. We have 11 hives now and keep approximately 385,000 bees on our property. I hope that rises over the years. I like the bees. With the bees come the birds, flowers and butterflies. It’s good having them around.

Big day tomorrow with a meeting early followed by the “80TH Annual Ladies Board Rummage Sale“.  The Largest Rummage Sale in the Mid-Atlantic is a two-day event spanning more than 50,000 square feet all under cover. It’s a fun place to show up every year. This is the place I found that 185 year old clock that was broken. I fixed it this year and its a nice addition to our family. Oh, and the 5 airplanes last year. … the list goes on. Maybe I shouldn’t go?!

Then load up the motorcycle and point in a southerly direction.