By one of those curious twists of the state of time, space, and matter, it seemed good in my eyes on Thursday night to seek the reliable shelter of a State Park, in which to interrupt my trajectory while hurtling across the awe-inspiring hugeness of the State of Texas.
A Texan went to visit Ireland.
He saw an Irish farmer out working in his potato field, got out of his rented Cadillac and approached the fellow, and hollered:
(Texas accent): Say, pal, is this your land?
The Irishman cuts the engine on his ancient tractor, removes his battered hat, scratches his balding red head, mops his pate with his tatty handkerchief, jams his hat back on.
(Irish accent, with pride): Sure and it is, Mester. Been in my family for a hunnerd years. (Beams, gap-toothed, at the Texan, who is now standing in the dirt road in his cowboy boots, dove-grey Western suit, string tie, rocking with his thumbs hooked over his tooled leather belt with its garish silver buckle. Door of Cadillac stands open.)
Texan: Why, that’s mighty fine, mighty fine. How much land have you got, if you don’t mind my askin’ ? (Chews a toothpick)
Irishman, with pride: No, I don’t mind a wee bit, sence you’re askin’. You see that tree stump off there in the distance? Why, our land goes all the way from that stump, back aways past the house and farmyard, barns, horse pasture, to that stoon fence, ye can just barely see it from here. (Scratches head again.)
Texan: I declare. That’s a right purty leetle piece. You know, Farmer, back in Texas where’n Ah come from, Ah kin git in mah truck an drahve from sunrise to sunset, and Ah will still be drahvin’ on mah own land. (Air of superior self-satisfaction)
Irishman: (Shaking head sadly) Ach! I had a truck like that meself, once.
The twist of fate is made curious by a happenstance: the first Texas State Park I spied on my map happened to be full, but the sweet and adorable Mescalero Apache ranger at the park office told me that there was plenty of room at the next park down the road, which happened to be right down the road again from the famed McDonald Observatory, home of the second biggest and most scientifically unique telescope in the world. Yowie zowie, I love space stuff! And my knowledge base is terrible, so I got all hot and sweaty at the thought of increasing it in such a majestic way.
I scuttled down the ranchy road, reaching the park just about closing time. Picked myself out a choice spot and settled in, nervous about the javelinas (pecaries, a nasty species of wild pig that stinks and had it in for dogs) and wild boars, that can tusk up a dog or small human faster than you can say “Old Yeller.” We have seen a lot of their poop, fresh, in our campsite, and if they only come sniffing around of a night, that’s fine, as long as they respect the rules.
The next day I mounted Old Jenny and climbed up the twisty road to the Observatory. They were having a program on Sun Spots, but since I regularly check the Solar Weather I wasn’t so interested in that. I wanted Deep Space. Wormholes, Dark Energy, you know, cool space stuff. I wanted to see the giant telescopes, but the next available date is a couple of weeks from now and I don’t plan to be here then. Plus it costs $115, which would be money well spent, but that’s a week’s worth of camping money, so.
But they have “Star Parties,” interpretive viewings of the heavens both aided by normal size telescopes, and with the naked eye, so that one comes away with greatly augmented knowledge of celestial bodies and visible galaxies and nebulae (one, beside the Milky Way: the Orion Nebula. I was hoping to get a glimpse of the Horsehead Nebula, but you need a higher power telescope for that).
The McDonald Observatory is located on top of a mountain situated above the Sonoran Desert, and is one of the darkest places in the world (at night, and not a cave). Thus, I was tremendously exited at the prospect of guided stargazing in that spectacular location. I bought a ticket for $15 and returned to my campsite to do a bit of dog hair mitigation and await the appointed hour.
We got there early (“we,” unless otherwise noted, means my dog and I) and cooled our heels till show time.
Big tour buses pulled up. I noted them, then blocked them out of my consciousness.
With the approach of show time, I took Atina out for a potty break and put her in the van, ignoring her rueful expression. It’s tough being a dog.
When I entered the lobby my heart went splat on the floor, then went into a run of sinus tachycardia. Panic attack.
Hundreds of lovely young people wearing Texas Tech and University of Texas and Texas A&M sweatshirts milled and shouted in the lobby.
I bailed into the gift shop, which was geared toward children, with book after book after book on the constellations…fer krissake, how many books on the constellations do they need?
I perused the wall charts, the glow in the dark universes that I stuck on my erstwhile son’s ceiling, to give him something to do while he wasn’t sleeping….and noticed something odd.
There were only eight planets.
That is wrong. There are nine. Everyone knows there are nine planets!
Then I remembered: Pluto has been decommissioned as a planet, because it is made of frozen water and no rocks. You have to be made of rocks to be a planet.
It’s not fair. Other planets are made of weird shit, so why, after all this time, could they not make Pluto at least an HONORARY planet?
I bought a placemat of the Periodic Table, which has picked up a number of new elements since the last time I studied it, and bolted for my van.
The rest of the evening was devoted to doctoring my crushing panic attack.
It wasn’t merely the prospect of standing in loud lines with droves of college students.
It was the sudden realization that I, too, have been decommissioned, like Pluto, and for the same reason: lack of a solid core.
In our last bitter conversation, my son made it clear that I am not the mother he wanted…or, in his opinion, needed. He needed stability. He needed a rock core, not just some object made of frozen gasses.
Pluto and I are no longer welcome in his universe.
Since I have cried all the way across the enormous state of Texas, I have very clean eyes. It seems that tears do not simply run out. The body just keeps making more.
And since my decommission I have had plenty of time to reflect on the universe of mistakes I have made in my life. Mistake after mistake after mistake.
And all boiling down to what?
Well, at least I have money, for a couple more years, to pay my expenses. That’s a plus.
See, me and Pluto just keep going around and around and around, but the end is interincluded in the beginning, so there is no getting off this particular merry-go-round.
So me and Pluto and Atina will go ’round until it all winds down and it’s time to bail out. That’s what happens to stars before we blow up and become Something Else.