Southern California Desert Video Astronomers
When SCDVA began, the forces that made it happen came unexpectedly. A small group of amateur astronomers, who enjoyed sharing views and thoughts about the great abyss, above, formed the core. But, it was the enthusiasts who came and took in our outreach that created the reason.
Through hot and cold and windy, and sometimes, cloudy nights, we would show up, driven by the commitment to do what we do and knowing we would not be alone. There would be an audience driving us onward, joining us, and anticipating something exciting.
We'd set up our telescopes in the fading daylight at sunset and prepare so people could look up and see with their own eyes, and with the best of our ability, the Cosmos above. Once we were ready to go, a quick glance around revealed that we were, indeed, not alone.
On many a beautiful night, the desert brings soothing warmth and calm, a welcome feeling that only the desert can bring. At such times, and with much delight, the soulful sounds of a classical guitar might fill the air. Soft sounds of mood and spirit and peace. Even a bit of Southern drawl that reminds of down home accord and harmony.
Looking around, there was Walt, unpretentiously playing his guitar, subtly adding mood and spirit to the evening and creating depth to the stillness that was, otherwise, only punctuated by voices of overlying conversations.
With his music, Walt brought peaceful sensations of harmony and friendship to our astronomy events. His wife Joyce, joining him in the outings and assisting with the things they brought, unfolding chairs and blankets and setting up their camp spot for the evening.
This was the common occurrence. Something we became accustomed to the point of expectation. In fact, if Walt and Joyce were not attending, feelings became uneasy with worry. Not to the point of distress, but, wonder that all was well. The reason was easy to understand since Walt and Joyce had been attending our events since the very inception of what we were evolving into and were instrumental in the foundation of the support structure defining what SCDVA was becoming.
Walter with Al Nagler
As ardent members of the Andromeda Astronomical Society, the Metcalf’s were amateur astronomers in their own right, and astronomy was an important element in the reason they loved the desert. Joshua Tree National Park was a cornerstone in the core of their connectedness to the community and the wellness of the desert and this includes the dark skies and protection of environmental habitats and desert beauty.
Walt was active on social media and spent much time sharing thoughts he had about social conditions and the wellness of humanity, at large. His pointedness in calling out stupid government actions and lacking in reverence for honesty and fairness defined him as a man, willing to speak his mind. Something he could do well with his gruff but kind, deep, voice. Then, he’d share something funny that balanced the perspective he had and made everyone laugh at a cartoon he found or a joke he heard and the tone became humorous and the air light. Good humor was a keynote of his manner and smoothed the edges of the sarcasm he could prick into a situation. He had strength in understanding and ability in discerning right from wrong and placed his efforts in supporting the things that were meaningfully in need.
Such was the case for his support for SCDVA. He and Joyce were constant supporters and givers to the work we do as an outreach astronomy association. Not only in coming to our events, but with donations and assistance when we needed them most. It is no secret that he and Joyce are core members of our team.
As time went and things happen, Walt’s health began to wane. He had been struggling with his illness in silent humility and missed more and more of our events. Joyce filled in and would bring news on his condition, and on his better days he would come along with her and show up to get a little dose of starlight he loved so much.
Finally, as things go, we learned of his passing. It came with some shock and surprise though the path was destined. We can’t begin to imagine who could ever make us feel better for the time we shared and can only hold to the wonderful memories of times we had with him. Thanks, Walt! We will always remember the wonderful song you were, and the love you shared with us. In deep regard, you are with us in spirit and hope, and with the friends we miss so dearly.
Slim was his nickname. It came from his past, and though this tall and thin fellow was fittingly suited his cowboy handle, we only knew him as “Gary”. That’s how he wanted things when he took up with us, the folks he called his friends, during the last years of his life, in Joshua Tree.
Gary was a simple guy who had country style roots and a deep love for horses. He sat tall in the saddle and had command of the reigns with something that we knew little about as it was from a time before we met him. Only, thanking old photographs that hinted at the high level of horsemanship he had, yet, not shared with us. His style, however, clearly carried the markings of an experienced horseman. His unpretentious way tended his privacy well as he was one who seemed to live for the day at hand.
His simple and humorous manner often delivered sober thoughts that exposed a thoughtful interior of an adjusted man. One, coming from a past with little more than a modest need to have reason to find meaning with the heat of a trying desert day. He seemed to enjoy the gruel and test of enduring the heat. It was when it got cold that it seemed things pressed upon him in a way that showed clearly that Gary was, at heart, a desert boy.
His skill in construction and building things is what brought him to us, at scdva. He’d been out and seen one of our star parties at the theater and found a place that he said connected him with the stars in a way he never thought possible. He had an intense thirst to know the names of stars and constellations and was a constant student of the night sky. He even had a bright green laser that served as his tool so he could share his knowledge and point out features he loved to explain.
Combining his talents, Gary became a volunteer core member of the scdva Team X group who were helping to build the facilities, now known as the Joshua Tree Astronomy Arts Theater. His hand is in nearly every project that we built, together, and his craftsmanship is embedded in the ambiance of the place where Ken Keller’s art works are installed and lengthy fence lines coral the astronomers camping area. Rocks in the gardens and lights along the audience area, all attended by his effort to help build something he said he “loved”.
There were many times when his cheer and positive outlook brought added relief to the stress things like less than hopeful weather and less than wished for star party turnouts. He had optimism in excess and shared his forward looking nature to better times ahead. Things were always going to work out in Gary’s anticipation of his prospects, and they usually did.
It was only a short time earlier that his best friend and daily companion, Chappy, had passed on. Gary and Chappy were a team that defined a man and dog relationship in a superlative way. Ideal symbiosis in companionship. They were inseparable and bonded in spirit of soul and care. Chapman and Gary are together, now. Both seemed aware of the beckon calling that has made this so. A difficult, untimeliness.
Around the “Lake” is a shoreline that has footprints left in the sands of its beauty and Gary put them there. He found a peace and a reliquary of his efforts along the edges of the lake he loved. I saw him sitting, on many occasions, just absorbing the warmth of the reflecting setting sun coming off the cool water of the lake, warming his face, as he gazed into the bull rushes. Birds flying about, fish jumping at evening offerings, and Chappy, laying on the shore, near his feet.
Good bye, Gary. Your memory is well held in the place you helped make real, and “Team X” will always be with us! Peace, be with you!
- Chappy -
For those who can see into deeper levels of realization, self awareness may be less important than an awareness about others. This was how it seemed to be with Robert. After 80, or so, years of experience, his drive always appeared to be coiled around the historical intertwining's of his life with those he cared about and respected.
His polite and calm manner that was redundantly cordial and sympathetic when he considered the state of affairs in his friendships and acquaintances. Mindful of the idea that there was an educated way to approach everything. His regard for friendship was held at high levels as he casually accepted the unexplainable with simple equating's of human nature. He had stories that repeatedly held these truths to be as natural to him as was his love for literature and music. His early experience knowing an astronaut, and being a fireman, in his working years, made him stand with posture and pose. He had self esteem in a subtle manner indicating, plainly, that he kept his independence in good order. Scdva knew Robert because of his love for the night sky and his desire to know the inner meanings of astronomical understandings. Beginning with our association as members of the Andromeda Astronomical Society, Robert had been a long time member. From that introduction, he joined with us as we grew as a side-shoot from that relationship. Attending many of our star parties Robert was integrated into our program as an orator. His practiced participation in reading from the works of Carl Sagan was a passion he dreamed into reality as he read for our audiences on several occasions. Working his words with scrutiny and a demand for personal perfection, he endeared the chance to share Sagan's message with others. We installed a solar powered blue lamp that lights, automatically, each night to fit into the program he inspired. We will always keep the "Pale Blue Dot" lit in honor of Robert Ward. Sagan's words will ring with the tone that Robert could hear and we now continue to share!
Robert (right) with Shirley & Dick
At the Andromeda Society table
During the Starry Nights Festival
He breathed meaning into the concept that now holds firmly to a most important tome of our reason for existing, as the group we are. Sharing the meaning of a message he understood. One that we now know to be true, as well! The importance of our place on the "Pale Blue Dot".
Scdva knew Robert because of his love for the night sky and his desire to know the inner meanings of astronomical understandings. Beginning with our association as members of the Andromeda Astronomical Society, Robert had been a long time member. From that introduction, he joined with us as we grew as a side-shoot from that relationship. Attending many of our star parties Robert was integrated into our program as an orator. His practiced participation in reading from the works of Carl Sagan was a passion he dreamed into reality as he read for our audiences on several occasions. Working his words with scrutiny and a demand for personal perfection, he endeared the chance to share Sagan's message with others. We installed a solar powered blue lamp that lights, automatically, each night to fit into the program he inspired. We will always keep the "Pale Blue Dot" lit in honor of Robert Ward. Sagan's words will ring with the tone that Robert could hear and we now continue to share!
We will always keep the "Pale Blue Dot" lit in honor of Robert Ward. Sagan's words will ring with the tone that Robert could hear and we now continue to share!
He will always be in our memory!
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Unger Family Photo
Rick Unger was a man of style and many talents. His early success as a professional musician and later as an accomplished artist gave him a background and foundation that allowed him to achieve anything he set his mind to.
Rick was a visionary who could find humor harmonizing with stark sarcasm in a friendly realization of the stupidity of a situation. Particularly in politics and waste of public resources that often inspired his mood in his paintings.
His love for sci-fi and space stuff that reflected the deco-retro interests he collected only hinted at the appreciation he had for life.
As the winner of the Los Angeles "Big Labowski Fest" look-a like contest in 2009, Rick was truly the "DUDE" and he lived the part as naturally as Jeff Bridges portrayed the caricature in the movie.
Rick was the "Dude". In astronomy, he had a technical skill that gave him the edge in that subject, as well. His observatory in Johnson Valley, CA, was filled with the gear that makes amateur astronomers strong contenders for great discovery. He loved the night sky and spent a lot of time under the stars of the California desert. We will miss Rick.
Ken Keller was a founding member of SCDVA. He was a regular hard working guy with great talent and appreciation for science and art and was an accomplished artist and amateur astronomer.
He had a passion for sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm for the wonders of the night sky and promoted dark sky awareness. He gave financial assistance to many charitable causes that he supported and loved the high desert where he made his home.
His family was at the forefront of his endeavors and he spent a lot of time with his grandchildren, guiding them through many adventures that he knew kids loved.
His dry humor picked at the truth and often caused many to think beyond simple ramblings and doldrums. He was known to be honest to a fault and had hopes that the world would "wise up" but had his doubts. To have known Ken was something that never can be forgotten as his smile and kind side would be there at surprising times when it often mattered most.
There is little more to say than he will be truly missed.