Monday, June 2, 2014

Space junk and the fountain of youth


            I’ve heard that the third time’s the charm, and Bettina and Doug’s third visit to Fern Forest Treehouse was nothing short of charming. It’s fascinating how you get to know people even though you see them only once a year. Three springs ago they came to us newly married, Bettina recovering from chemo for breast cancer. She was fragile, and Doug hovered around her, making sure she ate the right things—she had become a vegan in her recovery—and didn’t exert herself. They seemed to be getting to know each other, and we gave them space and quiet to do just that.
            On their second visit, Bettina was much stronger, her humor showing through. A family of squirrels was nesting in the rafters of the treehouse, which bothered Doug (would have bothered me, too), and Bettina teased him about being a city boy. They had adopted a puppy, a curly furred little guy they named Winston Churchill, and it was Winnie who was more bothered by the squirrels than was Doug.
            On their third visit last weekend, we settled into a comfort zone with each other. Bettina has been brewing up healthy concoctions and brought H and me each a tin of body salve she had made from bees wax and herbs. She makes her own homemade lip gloss and sunscreen and sees no sense in slathering toxic chemicals on one’s body. In her early forties, she has the skin of a twenty-year-old, and when she markets her products, I’ll be a faithful customer.
Doug, who is humble and usually lets Bettina take the lead in conversation, talked a little about his job as an engineer with the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC. I’m not clear exactly what it is he does, but one of his interests is space environmentalism which I think means figuring out how to clear debris from the earth’s orbit so that missiles and satellites don't bump into anything. Bettina suggested a huge vacuum cleaner. Doug said that would be like using tweezers to clean out an eighteen-wheeler filled with garbage. Then she suggested a magnet, but Doug said most of the defunct satellites are made of lightweight aluminum and are antimagnetic. He said someone is working on shooting dust into space to slow down the orbit of the space junk so it can be removed more easily, but he doesn’t think that will work. Somehow we need to get the junk to fall to earth and burn up in the atmosphere. Ideas anyone?
I asked Doug if the Naval Research Lab has an idea about how to protect the earth in case a giant meteorite plummets toward us like the one that supposedly destroyed the dinosaurs. He said we’d better start digging a tunnel into Mt. Abe because there’s no way of stopping a meteorite. Not even with antiaircraft weapons, I asked? He said that would be like throwing a snowball at a freight train. Actually, H said that, but Doug wouldn’t let me write his analogy in case he wants to use it in an article down the road. He has written lots of articles, including co-authoring one that appeared in Nature magazine about the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia last year.
For now, we’re all safe. I hope we stay safe at least until Doug and Bettina’s fourth visit in June 2015. Maybe by then all the space junk will be cleared from earth’s orbit and with my medicine cabinet stocked with Bettina’s elixirs, I’ll be looking half my age.


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