Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Owl and the Rocket

At two a.m. this morning my travel buddy and I were sitting in our van, parked on an abandoned road outside Vandenberg Airforce Base.  We had a thermos of coffee, ham and swiss sandwiches, blankets and wool hats to keep us warm.  The night was black and crystal clear, saturated with stars--the perfect night to watch a rocket launch.

The Minuteman III was to go off between 1:44 a.m. and 7:44 a.m., so we came prepared for a long wait.  At 2:15, a big brown owl flew over our van into the woods behind us.

"Did you see that?"  I was now fully awake.  Then, unbelievably, he flew back out and perched on a pole, only a few yards away from us.  We froze.  We wanted so desperately to get out and take a photograph, but didn't dare.  He was so gorgeous.  Big.  Stately.  Brown with a white face and wings.  A Barn Owl, perhaps.  What the heck are you silly humans doing in my territory this time of night?

An hour later, the owl got his answer.  An orange aurora borealis lit up the black sky.  As the rocket rose into the atmosphere, it grew dimmer and dimmer; the thunder of its ignition finally hitting our ears.  It was all over in three minutes.

By the time we got home, the missile had already reached its destination--Kwajalein Island, 2,000 miles southwest of Hawaii.

Would I do this again?  Get up in the middle of the night to see the Atlas launch in February?  I don't think so.  But the guarantee of seeing another owl?  Absolutely!

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