Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
There was no point in wearing themselves out after their busy week at the Griswold farm, so the first night out, they made a night stop at a small grass airport near Elmira, New York, and the next day flew on north eastward to Springfield, Vermont.
After the summer spent flying around in the Rockies and the Sierras and the Cascades, the mountains of New York and Pennsylvania and Vermont seemed hardly more than hills to look down on. But they were green hills, green with the late summer and the onset of an early fall, and they only made Mark and Jackie realize how much they had missed green in all of the browns of the high mountain west. How lush the countryside seemed, after the desolate and empty lands to the west Ė and how full of people the countryside was, too. Where only ten days before, they might go fifty miles between towns, and a hundred miles between airports, now it seemed as if they were hardly ever out of gliding distance to an airport, and never out of sight of a town. It all meant a big change in perspective to them, after the wide-open spaces of the west they had grown accustomed to in the past few months.
The clock was winding down on summer for them by now; quite a memorable summer indeed. Ever since May, when theyíd left the Texas Star Party, the only date theyíd had in mind that they had possibly wanted to keep was the September 15 start of the Stellafane star party in Springfield, Vermont. Stellafane, far and away the oldest of the big events for amateur astronomers, was something that Mark had dreamed of attending for ten years and more, ever since heíd gotten interested in astronomy, and this was the best opportunity heíd ever had.
Properly called the "Springfield Amateur Telescope Makerís Convention," Stellafane was known by the name of the place where the meeting was held, at the observing site of the tiny Springfield Telescope Makerís Association, where there was a really odd "turret" telescope, a real one-of-a-kind thing, and a little gingerbread house once called "Stellar Fane" by Russell W. Porter, the man who had built it half a century before. Porter was revered among amateur telescope makers like Mark as being the man who started the whole idea of amateur telescope making. Before his death, not too many years before, Porter had moved on to greater things Ė like designing the 200-inch telescope on Mt. Palomar that Mark and Jackie had visited back in June.
The flavor of the five-day event was much different than the Texas Star Party, partly due to the tradition of the affair, but partly due to the vastly different setting. Vermont seemed more like home to Mark and Jackie than Texas had been, with green trees and lush grass; unfortunately, it also had the same moisture-laden skies as they were familiar with back home, and not the bell-clear air and wide-open spaces of west Texas, that made the stars seem so close you thought you could reach out and touch them.
Perhaps more importantly, while the Texas Star Party had been an observerís convention, where the focus was on looking at the sky, Stellafane was more of a telescope makersí convention, where the latest creations of the telescope hobbyists were to be seen and admired.
Mark was a little surprised to not see their friend John from the Texas Star Party at Stellafane, for the size of his twenty-four-inch telescope would have guaranteed long lines. But, Vermont was a long way from California, and perhaps it was too far to come; Mark had gotten the impression that John did not have much money.
It was kind of a shame; Mark did not see any other big telescopes with low-pressure altazimuth mountings. The few really big telescopes there were on heavy equatorial mountings and took a lot of work to set up.
Mark hadnít expected to win any awards for the little six-inch f5 telescope he had made years before; other than its short focal length, it was pretty run of the mill. His real interest was in sampling ideas; it was clear that a bigger telescope was in the works as one of his first priorities to be accomplished after the trip was over, and what it was going to be, and how he was going to do it was one of the ideas he was trying to settle.
Perhaps the biggest attraction for Mark was the line of swap tables to be found. Everything imaginable that might be of use to the amateur telescope builder was for sale there, both new things on the market, and the leavings of telescope makerís scrap boxes. There were books and charts, eyepieces and mirrors. One man had a table full of different electric motors, all salvaged from various machinery; a telescope thoroughly electrically controlled could be built out of his scrap.
But, it was a man with a table full of glass that drew most of Markís attention. Lying on the table were a couple of sixteen-inch-diameter pieces of porthole glass. "Theyíre really too thin to make a good mirror," the man said, "Unless you put a really good support underneath them.
Mark wasnít so sure the man was right. Johnís mirror in the twenty-four-inch telescope had been porthole glass, no thicker than the blanks on sale, for a mirror half again larger, and Johnís mirror had been plenty stable in its rather simple mount. After going back to the table several times, Mark finally asked what the man wanted for the porthole glass blanks.
"Three hundred," the man said, recognizing someone who had the bug to build a bigger telescope.
"Sorry," Mark said, "Thatís a little tight on the budget."
"How about two-fifty?"
"Well, let me think about it," Mark said.
He and Jackie walked about thirty or forty feet away. "You really want them, donít you?" she said.
"Yeah, thatís just about perfect for what I want to build," Mark said. "Heís still too damn high, and I donít want to blow our budget."
"Oh, go ahead and get them," Jackie said. "Youíll be kicking yourself if you donít."
Mark walked back over to the table and offered the man a hundred and fifty dollars for the two pieces of glass. They settled on two hundred, and at that, the man helped pack the two pieces of glass in a cardboard box, with plenty of wadded up newspaper for packing.
The package was not light, and Markís arms grew tired before he got back to their tent. "Weíre going to have to ship this home," he said. "Thereís no way we can fit this into Rocinante, along with everything else."
"I realize this is kind of a stupid time to ask this question," Jackie said, "But how do you make a mirror, anyway?"
"Itís a big, slow job," Mark said, setting the package down for a minute. "This glass is a whole lot bigger than the little glass in the telescope we have now, and itíll take a lot more time, especially if we make the focal length short enough that we donít have to use a stepladder. You start out by getting a really solid work surface, like a 55-gallon drum filled with water. You take one of the blanks, and start rubbing it back and forth across the other, with grinding compound in between. Because youíre working the edge of the bottom glass into the middle of the upper glass, the one on the top gets hollowed out very slowly. We really donít have to take much glass out of the center of the top glass. Itíll be maybe a quarter of an inch, or so. Iíll have to figure out how much. Thatís called hogging the mirror out. Itís the first step, and maybe the easiest one."
"It gets worse?"
"Yeah," Mark said, remembering the hours he had put in while heíd been in junior high, working on the six-inch mirror in the telescope that had traveled around the country with them. He found he was already anxious to start pushing the glass and the grinding compound around with these two pieces of porthole glass. "After that, it really gets boring," he explained. Hogging the mirror out leaves scratches from the grinding compound, and the only way to get rid of those scratches is with finer grinding compound, which leaves smaller scratches, so you have to take even finer compound to get rid of them, and so on, and so on. When you finally get the scratches out, you have the really tricky part. At this point, the mirror is spherical, or at least a segment of a sphere, if youíve done everything right. The next step is to take jewelerís rouge and pitch, and polish it out a bit more in the center, to make the mirror parabolic. Now, a parabola is part of a section of a cone cut at an angle, and itís harder to do accurately. Weíre talking millionths of an inch here, and weíll have to test it on a special machine, work for a bit, test it again, maybe lots of times. Itís a tedious job, at least to do it right."
"How do you get the mirror shiny?"
Mark smiled, and picked up the package again, to move on toward their tent. "Thatís really the easy part," he told her. "You put it in a box and ship it to a guy in Chicago, along with a check, and a couple of weeks later, the mailman brings your mirror back, and itís the prettiest thing you ever saw."
"Youíre really looking forward to that time, arenít you?" she asked, following him along.
"Yes, I am," he admitted. "Thereís a special wonder that you can make something so fine, something that you can measure that accurately. Iím not ready to give up the trip and go home to do it, but yes, Iím looking forward to getting started."
That afternoon, they managed to bum a ride to a nearby post office, where they got the glass blanks shipped off to Spearfish Lake, heavily wrapped and insured. Inside the package were several packages of grinding compound, pitch and rouge that Mark had bought from other booths at the swap meet. There was a winterís work, at least, in that box, and he knew it would be an enjoyable time.
The rest of the week at Stellafane went slowly for Jackie, but quickly for Mark. He spent a lot of time talking telescopes with other fanatics like himself, and described Johnís big telescope to several other people, mostly getting shaking heads in return. Several people said that a big telescope like that couldnít be any good; it was too cheap, and with the mount it had, it was useless for astrophotography. Mark conceded the second part, but heíd looked through the twenty-four inch, and knew the view was tremendous.
"I figured it out, finally," he told Jackie. "Itís a western thing, this telescope of Johnís. You ever hear the phrase, ĎEast goes east, and west goes west, and never the twain shall meet?í"
"Of course," she replied.
"Well, it hasnít met yet. I guess Iím just a westerner in the east. Someday theyíll learn."
The weather had been balmy for September, but late Saturday night, a cold front went through, bringing rain and a real damp, dismal bite to the air; it seemed as if it had become November overnight. They were lucky to grab a ride down to the Springfield airport with some people they had met at the gathering, but that was as far as they got; the clouds were too low, and the visibility was too bad to fly. They set the tent up under Rocinanteís wing, and there they spent the night, wearing their insulated long underwear for the first time since June.
It was chilly that night as they huddled in the doubled sleeping bag, holding on tightly to each other for warmth after they had made love and pulled the long handles back on. "Itís September," Jackie complained. "Itís still summer. Itís not supposed to be this cold yet."
"You know, back home, it always seemed like it was hotter than hell the first month of school, and it was hard to stay in the classrooms," Mark commented. "But it always seemed like there was a cold snap along in there that told us that winter was on its way."
The weather was somewhat better when they got up in the morning, and they quickly got dressed and found a little restaurant not far from the airport, where they could have some breakfast and warm up over coffee.
"I donít know about you," Jackie said, feeling warm for the first time in hours, "But right now, Iím all for cranking up Rocinante and making a big move south. If we go a few hundred miles to the south, we might be able to catch up with summer again."
"I suppose we could," Mark said, taking a sip of his coffee. "Itís either that or go back to Spearfish Lake."
"Itís a heck of a time to be going back to Spearfish Lake," Jackie whispered, more to herself than to Mark. "Think how cold itís going to get there."
Mark kept silent for a moment, with guilt hanging on him. He had not wanted to bring this up, but it had been eating at him ever since he paid for the mirror blanks. "Weíre going to have to do something," he said finally. "We just donít have the money to keep going much longer."
She was surprised to hear him speak of it; they had reached an understanding months before that they were going to have to be careful with their money, but they hadnít talked about it much. Most of the money they had spent along the way was Markís money, after all; Jackie had known that he had about $5000 to spend on the trip when they left Spearfish Lake back in April. She had brought $500 with her from Spearfish Lake, mostly for emergency money, and had only dipped into it to the tune of about $200 or so, though not much of that had been for emergencies. "Howís it holding out?" she asked.
"Weíve been spending it faster than I hoped we would," Mark told her. "Weíve spent a lot more on motels and restaurant food than I had expected, and I probably should have put off getting those mirror blanks. I wanted to keep some money in reserve in case we had major trouble with Rocinante. We can probably hold out another month or two without dipping into the reserve, although I kind of figured on living on that for a while when we get back to Spearfish Lake. I canít expect to go to work for the phone company for another eight or ten months yet, so I suppose that means that Iíll have to get a job to tide us over."
"Iím not ready to go back to Spearfish Lake yet," Jackie said flatly, squirming in her chair a little. "Not if thereís any way we can avoid it."
"Iíd sort of planned on staying gone for a year, maybe a little more," Mark told her. "One of the deadlines that weíre up against is Rocinanteís annual inspection. If we have to get it done out on the road someplace, itís going to be expensive. If weíre back in Spearfish Lake by the end of April, then I can do it with Ken Sawyer, like the last time, and it shouldnít cost nearly as much. Weíd pretty well have to be getting back a couple months after that, anyway," he went on. "Mr. Corman will probably want me to work for a couple months before Mr. Frybarger retires."
"That means we have to hold out another six to nine months," Jackie said, with all the old doubts about returning home upon her. Now there was a deadline imposed; she had never really come to grips with the thought that someday the trip would have an end. Now, here it was, confronting her. "I guess Iím just not all that crazy about the thought of us going back to Spearfish Lake at all, much less any sooner than we have to."
"Yeah, and we donít want to go back to Spearfish Lake flat broke, if we can help it," Mark agreed, pretty sure of what she was thinking about, but hoping to gloss it over. "Itís going to cost some money just for us to set up housekeeping, and I figured we could dip into the emergency reserve for that."
He could see her tense up a little and frown a little. "What do you mean, for us to set up housekeeping?" she asked.
"Just that. Rent an apartment, get food and toilet paper, and other essentials. I canít see us living in a tent, and I canít see me going back to live with my folks and you going back to live with your folks."
She reached across the table and took his hand. "Now that you say it that way, I guess youíre right," she said. "Iíve just never thought that far ahead. Thereís no way we can go back to Spearfish Lake and play at being good little kids again. Weíre going to have to live together if we go back to Spearfish Lake."
"I donít think we can just go back to Spearfish Lake and shack up together," Mark said, nodding his head. "Spearfish Lake isnít California. Weíd just get too much static from everybody involved. When we go back to Spearfish Lake, weíre going to have to get married."
She shook her head. "Mark, letís not get into that again. Weíve been over that before."
"Yeah, I know," he told her. "But weíre going to have to get into it, sooner or later."
"Youíre right, Mark," she said, groping for words. "I know youíre right. Itís going to come up again, and youíre right, we really canít just shack up together in Spearfish Lake without being married. If we were anywhere else, it wouldnít really matter, which is why I donít want to go back to Spearfish Lake any sooner than we have to. For that matter, Iím not too sure I want to go back to Spearfish Lake at all."
"Youíre still thinking that?" he asked, surrendering to the realization that dodging the subject was not going to work.
Jackie sat quietly staring into her coffee for some time. "The thing is," she said finally, "Itís been so wonderful being with you, away from all the little minds at home. I just donít want it to end. I keep wondering why we have to go back at all."
They had been around this discussion before, too, Mark realized. "I think weíre going to have to go back eventually, and at least not later than next summer," he said. "Itís going to be tough to come up with some alternative that gives us the advantages we have at home. I mean, we know the territory, we have friends, thereís a job there in a year or so that could provide a comfortable living for a lifetime. Our families are there, and that means a lot by itself. I grant you, there are some drawbacks, but I think the advantages outweigh them."
"I just hate to go back and put up with all the rumors and gossip," she said. "The fact that I ran off with you and have been living with you all this time will just add to it."
"Probably not as bad as you think," Mark said defensively. "If we go back to Spearfish Lake, and we go back married, or at least if we go back and get married right away, that ought to take away a lot of those hassles. If we just try to be steady, respectable people, a lot of the gossip will die out in time."
"Iíd like to think youíre right," Jackie said in a small voice, then brightened. "Damn it, Mark, you know how I feel about getting married, but I donít think I can live without you, either. I keep thinking that if weíre not married, and something does go wrong with me, then you can break it off fairly easily if you have to, and not be saddled with all the trouble and the pain that my father went through. But youíre right, if we go back to Spearfish Lake, weíll have to be married if we want to live together. The question is, do we want to go back to Spearfish Lake?"
Mark sensed he would have to change the subject. The subject of marriage was out on the table again, and perhaps he could work back to it from a different direction at another time. "Well, we donít have to go back to Spearfish Lake right away," he told her. "Weíve still got money to travel for a month or two, and I always figured that if I ran short of money I could stop and get a job pumping gas or busting suds for a couple of weeks, just to string things out."
"If weíre going to do that, we ought to at least try to string things out over the winter," Jackie said. "Iíve got a few hundred left in the bank at home that I could contribute to the cause. But if weíre going to stay gone over the winter, letís at least find a place where itís warm."
"Kinda figured weíd do that, anyway," Mark told her. "Itís either that, or find an apartment or some place to live where itís warm. I canít see us spending the winter in the tent, freezing our butts."
"Me either," Jackie said. "I froze my butt sufficiently last night, thank you."
"Winter is coming," Mark agreed. "Whatever we do, I think we need to get south to think it all through, if weíre not going to make a decision to go back to Spearfish Lake today. I kind of hate to think about the weather pushing us around, but I guess thatís whatís happening. I kind of wanted to nose around New England some more, but this kind of weather is ridiculous. Thereís just one thing I want to do here, and then maybe we can see if we can find some warmer weather."
"Whatís that?" Jackie asked.
"Thereís a place I want to visit. A kind of a pilgrimage, I guess."
Jackie nodded. "Iíd kind of like to go there, too."
Rocinanteís heater felt good as they got into the sky. While it was anything but a clear day, the clouds were high enough that they had no trouble sneaking beneath them.
Getting to Walden Pond was a major hassle, however. All through their trip, they had avoided controlled airports, and metropolitan areas with their control zones, and the edge of Boston was no different. "Remember that bar in Mendocino?" Mark asked after a long study of the chart of the Boston Terminal Control Area. "How the jukebox was playing country western all the time?" Mark said as he tried to figure out a route for Jackie to fly.
"Canít forget it," she said.
"Remember, ĎIf you give me forty acres then Iíll turn this rig aroundí? Thatís just what it feels like trying to work this thing out."
The best they could manage in finding an uncontrolled field was an airport at Marlborough, eighteen miles from Walden Pond. If Mark hadnít wanted to visit it so badly, he probably would have given it a pass, but he thought it would be worth the effort.
It eventually took them five rides to cover the eighteen miles. "Thoreau thought this was almost wilderness," Mark said sadly. "It isnít anymore. Today, heíd want to be out in the Sangre de Cristos or the North Cascades."
Still, it was a thrill to walk through the woods of Walden Pond, with the smell of fall setting in, and to walk up to the small monument that marked the spot where Thoreauís cabin had stood.
"Thereís a tradition here, too," Mark said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small rock, weighing perhaps half a pound. "I read about it when I was planning this trip. When people come here, on a pilgrimage like this, they bring a rock from their homes, and throw it on that pile over there. This rock is from the shore of Spearfish Lake, and Iíve carried it with us since we left. Would you like to be the one to do the honors?"
Jackie was touched. "Of course, I will," she told him. "Iíve come to appreciate some of the things that he was trying to say, too." She took the rock in her hand and hefted it; it was a touch of home, that seemed to mean more to her now. She felt its weight, and rubbed her hand over its glacier-smoothed surface. This rock was a part of home, and all of a sudden, she realized how much she missed Spearfish Lake. She stood there for a long time, looking at the rock and feeling it, before she threw it onto the pile in homage.
They sat down under a large tree, not too far from the marker and the pile of rocks, just to rest silently, and take in the feeling of reverence that this place gave them.
"You know, I do miss Spearfish Lake," Jackie said finally. "I mean, I know weíre going to have to go back to visit, if not to live. We could do that, and not have to be married."
Now it was Markís turn to be silent for a while, turning his own thoughts over in his mind. Finally, he spoke: "We keep bringing up this question of whether we want to get married or not. I kind of wonder if the question isnít sort of pointless."
"What do you mean?"
"I keep thinking that weíve already been married for a while, and just havenít signed the paperwork. Maybe weíve been married since Waverly, almost certainly since somewhere after that. Palomar, or someplace"
"Weíve been living together longer than that."
"Living together, traveling together, yes, of course we have," he said. "Loving each other, about as long. But you and I thought about it an awful lot before we had that night under the stars out at Waverly, and I think that was a commitment we both had plenty of time to think out ahead of time, and not put down lightly."
"I donít know but what youíre right," Jackie said, reflectively. "Maybe we are married and just havenít signed the papers."
"I think we are," Mark said, his thoughts becoming clearer. "This morning, you talked about how it would be easy for me to let you go if something went wrong with you. You might think it would be easy for me, but it wouldnít. You said once that your dad visited your mother virtually every time he was down in Camden. It wouldnít be any easier for me to let you go. Yes, I think weíre married, at least as far as Iím concerned."
"God, thatís sweet of you. I think you have more faith in me than I have in myself." She pulled him close and kissed him, a kiss that went on and on.
"Itís possible that youíre right," Mark said. "Sure, itís a risk, but what isnít? The point is, Iím the one who has to take the risk, not you. As far as going back to Spearfish Lake, well, thatís a decision we donít have to make right now. Thereís no need for us to get there before April at the earliest, and that gives us plenty of time to think about what we want to do."
"Weíre probably going to want to go back," she said, a little reluctantly. "But if weíre going to go back married, Iíd kind of like to have the winter to think about it. Do you have any idea of where we could winter over?"
"Itís going to have to be pretty far south," he replied. Heíd thought about this before, but had never quite gotten around to organizing his thoughts about it. "Florida or the Gulf Coast, maybe south Texas, maybe southern Arizona or southern California. Weíve already been in that area once, but we skipped through some of it pretty quickly. Frankly, it wouldnít break my heart to find someplace we can stay in one place, not have to hop around, even if in just a small area. Thatís really a pretty limited region for us to travel in."
"You said we had a couple of months before we run out of money and have to stop," she said. "That gives us some time to look for a place to stay."
"Yeah," he agreed, shaking his head. "But itís not quite that simple. I think weíd better stop before we run out of money. I just wish I hadnít bought those mirror blanks. Thatís a couple of weeks, right there."
"We both wanted you to have them," Jackie told him. "We both want the sixteen-incher. Maybe if we can find the right place to winter over for three or four months, you can have your dad ship the blanks to us, and we can work on at least hogging the curve out."
"Iíll need a halfway decent shop to do the figuring," he replied. "Not to mention building the rest of the telescope. I kind of figured that was a project for when we get back home."
"We could get started on it, though."
"Yeah, but finishing it up is a project for Spearfish Lake, and there we are stuck on going back to Spearfish Lake again."
"If we have to finish it at Spearfish Lake, then we have to. Thatís a long way in the future," Jackie said, looking around her and down the path to where Walden Pond lay gray under the overcast skies. "I keep sitting here in this place, of all places, and thinking that while Iím pulled to going home, thatís not what I want to do right now."
"What do you want to do?" he asked.
"What Iíd really like to do is to find some quiet little place in the woods, near some water, where we can spend the winter, just the two of us, and maybe see if we can think a few things out," she said. "There are still a few things we need to get thought out, and all the questions arenít even clear to me."
"Weíve got all winter," Mark said. "Thereís no reason we canít find a Walden Pond of our own, some place. Weíve got a while to look yet, before we have to do something. Letís just find a place where itís warm."