My childhood took place on a small farm in a valley not far from Muskegon River. It was the perfect location for star gazing as there was very little light saturation on the horizon. Grant was the nearest small town and the setting could be quite serene.
My father showed me how to locate the Big Dipper at around seven years old. This star formation is very common all year round in the dark Michigan sky. And being a farm boy, the dipper was a practical utensil that I could relate to.
My grandfather’s dairy farm was right next door and in the milk house where the fresh milk was stored in a large cooler, there was a faucet and sink. Hanging on a nail next to the sink was a long tin dipper for drinking the cold clear water. The well drawn water that came from that faucet tasted very refreshing when we stopped to take a break from tending the chores. On a hot summer day, I would fill the dipper full, drink half of it and then pour the other half over my head.
Now, living in the middle of well lit Fremont, it is rare that I catch a glimpse of the Big Dipper. But thanks to the efforts of Steven F. Wessling (beloved science teacher) and his fellow members of the Newaygo County Dark Sky Astronomers (NCDSA), I and my family have taken multiple excursions out to the Observatory located at 6523 West Baseline Road, just north of Fremont.
The Steven F. Wessling Observatory does not look like your fantasy dome observatory on a mountain top, it is a practical Michigan farm style building with a retractable roof. Yet, the ground it is built on is one of the highest points in our county. And don’t be fooled by it’s simple appearance. It is well equipped with stationery high power scopes and networked for remote access. Surrounding the building is a large patio with benches and places to set up your own telescopes too.
Several public star parties are scheduled throughout the year, see the Star Party calendar online at www.sfwobservatory.org.
Star gazing has a way of putting life in perspective. The anxieties and complexities that accompany our modern age can make us feel a bit lost at times. But, I believe if you start looking up, that is when you might find your place in this universe. And it may bring you to ask the question, “Did all this beauty and wonder just randomly evolve out of a cosmic explosion? Or, was each star hung in place by a master designer?”
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