Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Venus, meet Moon; Moon, meet Venus

The thin, bright crescent moon was beautiful enough. But moments after arriving at the pool for Masters swim practice this morning, my teammates and I rubbed our bleary eyes, doubting that what we witnessed in the sky was really happening. With the blessing of a clear, dark sky at 5 a.m. this morning, some of us saw a rare, romantic, astronomical encounter, visible in the dark only from the Western U.S. As the moon slowly descended in the sky, it appeared to "kiss" Venus, which was behind it. I later learned that the event is called the "Moon's Occultation of Venus."

Here is the best YouTube VIDEO of the encounter I've found so far today; it was shot from Oregon, where the sky was a bit lighter than down here in Northern California:

More detail in this excerpt from

Moon Occults Venus:
This has nothing to do with the occult, but does involve darkness. If you live in western North America, then in the pre-dawn of April 22, you can witness a rare occultation of Venus by the crescent Moon -- that is, the Moon passes in front of Venus. Venus and the Moon will be very low to the horizon in the East, so you’ll need a clear view to the horizon, particularly for the beginning of the occultation. By the time Venus reappears, the Moon and Venus will be higher up in the East. The occultation (when the Moon will pass in front of Venus) will start a little after 5:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. Exact timing depends on your location. Venus will reappear about an hour later, shortly before the Sun rises for most locations. But, since the Moon and Venus are both extremely bright, they’ll still be quite visible shortly before dawn. Even if you don’t live in the ideal spot for viewing, you still can check out Venus near the Moon before dawn. And, of course, check out other planets.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Going the Distance!

If the folks at United States Masters Swimming had known how much I like talking about myself, they may not have selected me for the latest "Meet the Go-The-Distance Swimmer" profile posted on the USMS website. "Go The Distance," incidentally, is a motivational swim program offered through USMS in which swimmers aim to achieve swimming mileage goals throughout the year. We receive regular encouragement and submit monthly totals of yards, meters, miles and time in the water. For many of us, "Go the Distance" is a form of forced, but fun, accountability.

In the following link, you'll meet four intrepid Masters
swimmers swimmers, from all over the U.S., whose stories were collected, edited and published by the very thoughtful - and talented - Greta Van Meeteren.

You'll find my write-up towards the end, along with a few swimming pictures, plus a few words about my beloved team,
Tri-Valley Masters.

Here's the USMS article:
Meet the Go-The-Distance Swimmers (note -- My story starts on page 7 and continues on page 8; it ends with a training plan for 'Dancing with the Stars')

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Screaming at the top of my Ridge

It was merely a suggestion. But on close examination of the idea, I realized that my dear friend Amy Moellering would not lead me astray. She would not intentionally walk me into an embarrassing situation - at least not unless the benefits would far outweigh the risk of looking completely insane.

After three days that have felt like an April-Fool’s Day joke turned sour, this morning I took Amy’s suggestion for letting loose.

At 8:30 a.m., with the sunlight reflecting off of a light haze and distant ribbons of fog lining the East Bay hills, my little dog and I briskly scaled the steepest path of the Pleasanton Ridge (the Oak Trail) - just a few miles from our house. We reached the summit in 20 minutes and I scanned the surrounding hills for signs of human life. When I was sure the coast was clear, I summoned some reckless abandon, sucked in a massive gasp of oxygen-rich fresh air -- and let it all back out again with a long, sharp shrill.

Fortunately, no one called out “Are you OK?” and no emergency vehicles arrived. Fueled by this absurdity, I decided that the first scream felt so good I needed another. This time I was smiling when I began, so the scream came out more like a high-pitched guffaw.

The dog looked a bit concerned, but the cattle on the hills didn’t seem to mind. But when the second scream trickled into a fit of laughter, my puppy began prancing about at my feet. Within minutes, we turned back and descended the long trail, the dog thrilled with a downhill hike and I with a new swing in my step and a grin on my face.

If you don't believe this story, just ask Amy. I called her just before the scream. When her voice mail answered, I said, "OK, Amy. It was your idea. You're doing this with me. Here we go. We're going to scream. Ready... Set... " and I included her as (hopefully) the only human witness to the screams.

"I screamed too!" Amy admitted later, "along with you on the voice recording--in my kitchen, in front of my dog. Did the neighbors react? Of course not. I guess they figured that it's just one new symptom of odd behavior from a family whose smoke alarm goes off at every meal and whose son regularly shucks lacrosse balls into their yards. It felt good! Let's do it again!"

Who cares if what we did might make some people think we're a bit off-balance. Even crazier would be not letting it out.

The best part? I’ve been smiling and laughing ever since.

Time to take on the world again.