Posted by: Bonnie Phelps | July 27, 2020

Sit-and-See with Ernie

Ernie Cowan Comet

Like a stress break?  Sit a spell and take in another beautiful photo and article by Ernie Cowan via SD Union Tribune:

Comet Neowise and Milky Way put on show above Palomar Mountain meadow

The evening was gentle with a rainbow of pastels from orange to yellow, and pale blue to indigo painted across the western sky as the bright flame of another day muted to glowing embers.

I found an old, weathered windmill in the meadow to use as a foreground object, and as the darkness deepened, I located the comet. Away from city lights, it was visible to the naked eye, and stunning through binoculars with a wispy tail pointing away from the setting sun.

It was time to begin taking photos. Using an electronic trigger, I only had to sit back and let the camera do its work.

It was a time to reflect and drink in the beauty before me.

This quiet Palomar Mountain meadow is a special place for me. I was married here under the spreading branches of a sturdy, ancient oak tree. I’ve spent happy days fishing in the little pond, sharing picnics on warm summer days and sharing tears at too many memorial services for dear, departed friends.

The tranquility of the scene was enough to quiet the soul. At a time when the world is spinning in a pandemic-driven storm, it was a chance to be grounded in a universe that is far larger than us.

Soon, I settled into the moment.

The scent of pine trees filled the air and their silhouettes were still vaguely visible against the afterglow of the setting sun.

Then the mosquitos arrived, requiring the addition of a long-sleeved shirt and a facemask. In nature, the annoying can also be part of the big picture.

Soon, as darkness swept away the last of the daylight, my sit-and-see became mostly sit and listen. I closed my eyes so my ears would open wider.

A male great-horned owl hooted in the distance, answered by the singular raspy squawk of a female across the meadow. A coyote yelped and the response was a plaintive howl from a fellow night hunter.

Somewhere near the pond a night heron sounded an alert, perhaps warning others of a meandering bobcat also looking for an evening meal.

There was comfort in knowing that all seemed right here in the natural world.

It was now more than two hours after sunset. Following the sun, comet Neowise, moving at 17,900 miles an hour at a distance of 160 million miles, was dipping closer to the horizon. How does one grasp such a cosmic scale with an earthly mind?

In front of me stood an old, lifeless windmill. Time and technology no doubt replaced it. Behind in the heavenly distance glowed a timeless object on an orbit that will bring it back to us again in 6,800 years. What a poignant juxtaposition. Something so momentary by the Grand Calendar silhouetted by the glow of a distant, immense object of the vast universe. While we may think in terms of years, the heavens measure in eons.

As the comet slipped below the horizon the curtain raised on a new show. The starry clouds of the Milky Way rose in the southeast. Saturn and Jupiter were tagging along as if in pursuit of Scorpio, the great scorpion.

In the clear mountain air, this view to the edge of our galaxy was stunning. It amazes me that there are city dwellers who have never seen this spectacle.

The heart, the mind and the soul need to see this. A clear view of the Milky Way provides a humbling scale to our place in the universe.

Sometimes a sit-and-see can be out of this world.

Contact Ernie Cowan at or follow

Click for this San Diego Union Tribune article by Ernie Cowan

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