Searching the Sky: Meeting up with a real astronomer

David Bumgartner writes about connecting with a cousin with the same interests.

This article was contributed by David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.


A few years back when I was spending time in the Air Force my mother enlightened me on something that was no doubt weighing heavily on her mind for over 20 years, something that must have been very difficult for her to discuss with me.

She said “I have something to tell you, and I hope you will try to understand the scope of the story and the position I was in long ago and that I feel I’m in at this moment as well.”

I said, “Mother, there’s nothing you can tell me that would disturb me that much for me to change the love I have for you at this moment.”


What she said didn’t change the love aspect, but it sure shook me up.

She sat there for what seemed like an eternity then looked me straight in the eye and said, “Clayton.”

I said, “Yes, my Father.”

She shakes her head at me back and forth as to indicate “No.” For the first time in my life I was completely speechless, not a word came out of my mouth, which had always served me well in the past.

We spent the next, I don’t know how many hours through the night going over her story, which I’m not going to burden you with here today. Except to say that Clayton was my farther up to that night and he remained so ’till the day he died. One of the kindest individuals I’ve ever known. I thank him for taking me on as his own.

Now, needless to say that next morning I started my long adventure looking up and finding my new found family. I did find an aunt that has a son, Patrick, my cousin. Patrick works at Rice University as a professor teaching, you guessed it: Physics and Astronomy.

Well I was just flabbergasted to say the least. I looked him up and gave him a call. We talked for a while and I told him that I had talked to his mother last week and she told me about him. All of a sudden he gets quiet.

“Is there something wrong?” I muttered.

He said his mother died five years ago. Alright then, what does one say now?

It turns out I had the wrong Patrick. But he was quite good about the whole miss adventure.

As we were hanging up he said, “Oh yes, do me a favor. next time you speak with my mother, tell her I said hi.”

Funny guy.

I finally got hold of the right Patrick and got to meet up with him up at Stanford University where he was working on a project of his. We met for lunch and had a great time mostly of me asking simple astronomy questions, and him asking orchard questions. He knew I had a walnut orchard, and he kept changing the subject back to walnuts as to get around the astronomy questions he receives in class every day.

Boy, were we on a different science level. Him speaking some kind of high level English, and me saying informative bits like gosh, geese, that’s cool, wow, and shaking my head up and down as if to say I knew what he was talking about. Well, I am exaggerating somewhat, but not much.

It was so great to have him all to myself. The most interesting thing that was talked about with him was that we each have and work in the same lab: that would be the heavens above. We have virtually the same equipment, he has a scope and I have a scope and so on. Understanding that my little 8” scope might not be as powerful as the 6’ mirror Hubble Space Telescope that Pat has had the experience of working on for a 24 hour period.

That’s how they charge scientist by the hour, but to get to that point they have to submit and get their project approved by the Hubble Gods. And that could take a while to get approved (not sure who these Gods are). And he goes on and tells me of all the different land telescopes he’s worked on. If I had the chance to use one of those land scopes I wouldn’t call it work, I’d call it “Play Time.”

Whenever I’m out under the night sky looking at a planet, open/globular star cluster, nebula, or whatever, I wonder if Patrick is looking at the same object that I’m looking at, with some humongous scope that I’ll never have the chance to look through. Though Patrick did say next time he’s in California working on a project with one of those large telescopes he would see if he could get me in to have some play time with it. Gosh, oh geese, wow that would be cool.

The main point here is that you can have the same kind of adventure the better equipped astronomers have, you just can’t see things as large and as far away as they can. But there is so much to see out there with a small 3” to 8” scope. It should keep you busy for a long time. You just have to know where to look. And if you happen to run across the first Patricks’ mother, tell her that her son said hi….. Thank you.


Clear Sky’s,

Aug  02: Moon is at apogee (251,289 miles from Earth)

Aug  08: New Moon

Aug  09: Moon passes 4 degrees north of Mars

Aug 11: Moon passes 4 degrees north of Venus

Aug  11: Mercury passes 1.2 degrees north of Regulus

Aug  12: Perseid meteor shower peaks

Aug  15: First Quarter Moon

David Baumgartner

I am a local fella. Local schools from Fremont, Sacred Heart, Santa Anita, Hollister High, to San Benito Jr. College (Now Gavilan). Then joined the US Air Force where I specialized in Airborne Radar. Married my high school sweetheart JoAnne., shortly after three children arrived; Cindi, Michael, and Lisa. Somehow we ended up with nine Grandchildren.  Went on to San Luis Obispo, Questa, Colleges, and on to Univ. of New Mexico. Came back to Hollister. Opened up Three Pet Stores; Dave's Aquarium Pets & Supplies in SLO, Watsonville, and Hollister. The family spent two and a half years running a ranch up in Oregon. Made our way back to Hollister.  Got my Real Estate License in 1982, opened my own office in 93'. In the mean time raised Swans and revitalized my old hobby of Astronomy.  In 2001 I was named Chamber of Commence Man of the Year. I think I was the only one nominated. I don't care, I'm taking it. In December of 2018 I retired. Not sure if I was forced out or not. None the less, I am retired and I think it was time. Now the last thing I have to do is buy a coffin. I hear COSCO sells them now. But the only drawback is; you have to buy them in lots of six.  I guess I could buy them for the whole family. Not that funny, but thrifty.