If I Seem Self-Confident, It’s Because I Am

In its March issue, The Atlantic published a story about how the Green family, owners of the now-infamous Hobby Lobby retail chain, are currently in the process of creating a new Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. The article raises some specific, detailed questions regarding the legality and ethics of the methods by which the Greens acquired their artifacts. It ends up questioning the very basis of the museum’s creation, accusing the Greens of engaging in pedagogy rather than stimulating open and honest discussion. The ways in which Joel Bader and Candida Moss characterize the Museum of the Bible enterprise reveal the subtle ways in which pundits influence the public. In the end, “Can Hobby Lobby Buy the Bible?” ends up doing exactly what it accuses the Greens of doing, making me wonder if the authors simply wish to smear the undertaking because of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Hobby Lobby’s birth control policies.

I feel that I must, in the interest of full disclosure, say that I think the Greens are completely off base in their views of the immutability of scripture. By showcasing the earliest available written fragments of the Bible, they wish to demonstrate the truth of Biblical teachings, showing how little they have changed over the years of retelling. They cite the Authorized Version (the “King James” Bible) as the ultimate expression of what a religious text should be. The article’s authors are correct that, “The main story that [this exhibit] tells about the Bible, in short, is a Protestant one.” The Greens either do not know, or are ignoring, that the King James I, who came from Scotland, ordered the compilation of his authorized version to create religious unity throughout Great Britain. He wished to sort out the many translations that existed in his kingdom by having experts from all parts of the country meet to decide the single best way to express the passages that conflicted. Often, they made their decision based on what sounded most poetic in early 17th century English. As Adam Nicolson points out in God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, it is “the greatest book ever written by a committee.” This hardly makes the case for the unchanging nature of the work.

Baden and Moss do not base their criticisms on history, though. They seem to think that people should question the Museum of the Bible because the Greens are out-of-step with modern American culture. Take a seemingly-innocuous passage about the authors’ interview with Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby. They state:

Not once during our time together did he check his phone or watch.

When I read that, I thought, “Wow, here’s someone who respects the time of those who are interviewing him. He wants them to know they have his full attention, so he is behaving politely.”

Baden and Moss do not agree. The next sentence reads:

He had the air of a man who knew that people would wait for him.

They have managed to turn manners into a form of narcissistic tyranny. How dare he not look at a cellular device from time to time! Doesn’t he know that someone might need to send him a joke, show him a picture of a meal, give him a coupon, make fun of Donald Trump talk to him? He does not bow to the machine the way we all do! He does not share our addiction! He just does not get it! There is something wrong with him! Burn the witch!

Worse, The Atlantic’s correspondents hint that the Green family may be in league with terrorists as they attempt to create their museum. They point out that archaeologists have been shocked by the amount of artifacts that have come into the family’s collection. Since many of these objects were previously unknown to scholars, questions arose as to their provenance. It turns out that the Greens have been less than meticulous in their record keeping and their investigation of the legality of some of their purchases. These actions certainly warrant scrutiny. It would be appalling to break laws in order to bring your view of religion to the world. But while they don’t come right out and say it, Baden and Moss hint that there might be something more nefarious at work:

The rise of the Islamic State, or ISIS, has brought heightened attention to the antiquities trade. That’s because the group considers the looting and trafficking of antiquities a valuable source of revenue. “Such funding,” the UN Security Council recently declared, “is being used to support recruitment efforts and to strengthen operational capability to organize and carry out terrorist attacks.” In May, when U.S. forces assassinated Abu Sayyaf, a senior ISIS officer, and then raided his compound in Syria, they found it stuffed with hundreds of ancient Iraqi artifacts.

 

What image could possibly come to mind other than one of Steve Green not checking his phone while buying papyrus fragments out of a windowless van filled with automatic rifles and rocket launchers in a back alley? The authors back off a little:

For these reasons, the issue of provenance—the record of how an artifact was discovered, and who has owned it since—has become crucial in the study of antiquities, especially for newly announced artifacts. In 1970, UNESCO drafted a landmark convention calling on member nations to delegitimize the sale of cultural artifacts. If an item can be shown to have been removed from its country of origin before 1970, collectors can generally be secure that its purchase is legal. Records of sale, however, are not always well maintained (if they are maintained at all)—and, of course, they can be forged.

But the damage is done. They certainly don’t say Hobby Lobby is not knowingly funding terrorism.

The article’s final strategy works in a most subtle way, but that makes it the most insidious and dangerous ploy. The authors present their overall concerns about the Museum of the Bible as questions of open-mindedness and intellectual dialogue:

The thousands of artifacts they have so rapidly acquired could become merely the pictures that accompany this story, which, put simply, is this: The text of the Bible has essentially never changed, and its authority is timeless.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this message. From a faith perspective, it’s no better or worse than any other. What’s striking, though, is that the Greens have potentially figured out a way to make one story of the Bible seem like the story of the Bible.

Think back to the last time you watched a documentary on evolution or visited a museum detailing the incredible age of the Earth. Did the producers feel obligated to say, “This is simply one theory. Many people believe that God created the world in a week and species never change”? Of course not. Science feels sure it has the story of the Earth, and wants to educate you so that you know the truth as well. Even though new research constantly changes the currently-accepted picture of cosmology or geology, scientists always speak to the public of their current models as certain. Only they themselves are allowed to question them.

I remember another example from the time when I lived in Washington, D.C. The issue involved how to address the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in the display of the B-29 Enola Gay. As originally designed, the exhibit questioned President Truman’s decision to drop the bomb and blamed that action for ushering in the age of the nuclear arms race. Protests by veterans’ groups resulted in a redesign of the exhibit, and this triggered outrage on the part of historians. In essence, they were demanding the right to teach their beliefs to others via museum displays. This doesn’t sound all that different from what the Museum of the Bible will try to do. But how many of those historians would stand up in support of the Greens now? You can’t have it both ways.

It seems as though Baden and Moss also wish to have their ideas accepted as the story. [Should we listen to closed-minded supporters of terrorism who don’t even check their phones during interviews? Only an ignoramus would do that!] And remember, all of this criticism is taking place before the museum actually opens. The editors of The Atlantic clearly do not want visitors to the nation’s capital influenced by the Museum of the Bible. I believe they unintentionally show why:

Hobby Lobby, [Green] explained, is not just a business. It’s a business that enables a ministry, and at the center of that ministry is the Bible.

I guess that’s too dangerous an idea for some people to allow.

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Cyclocross Chronicles

It’s been a couple of weeks since I decided to play around with my beater bike and try cyclocross. Here’s the scoop.

What I did:

When my knobby 32 mm tires came, I glued them onto the wheels I built last summer.

Cyclocross - 02

Aren’t those gorgeous? Plus, for traction, cyclocross tires use much lower pressures than road tires. Low pressure = comfort. These have 40 psi in them, and that feels perfect for all kinds of terrain.

I removed the water bottle cages.

Cyclocross - 09

The cages would get in the way when you have to put your arm through the frame to carry the bike on steep or unrideably-muddy stretches. Since the longest cyclocross competition lasts about an hour, there is no need for hydration en route.

I switched to a shorter stem and raised the bars a bit from where they were before.

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Because the speeds are so slow compared to road rides, there is no need to maintain a streamlined aerodynamic position. Also, the shorter reach helps to maintain control over rough sections.

Because I had to remove the old handlebar tape to change stems, I replaced it with cotton twill cloth tape.

Cyclocross - 05

Where has this been all my life? Granted, after a half dozen rides it is starting to look dirty, but this is not about style. This tape gives me incredible grip without feeling tacky or spongy like others do. I like the feeling of firmness and control.

I changed the saddle.

Cyclocross - 03

I took this one from an old mountain bike. It’s not leather, but in cyclocross the tires constantly throw mud and water up onto and under the saddle. The synthetic composition of this one will withstand the elements much better. Also, this saddle has a narrower profile than the ones I use for road cycling. This makes things easier when I need to dismount to run or remount after running.

I swapped for the double-sided pedals that had been on my mountain bike.

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Because cyclocross necessitates transition from riding to running and back so often, I thought it was much more important to have these on this bike than on my mountain bike.

I left my gearing alone.

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Combined with a 39-tooth small chainring, this 14-28 five-speed freewheel gives me all the range I need.

I kept the moustache bars.

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These are much wider than those I would use on a road racing bike. but the wide stance gives me lots of control and stability on downhill and technical sections. Also, these bars put your hands in a great position for climbing, much better than drop bars.

So there she is:

Cyclocross - 12

(Gratuitous shot of bike and new-to-me workstand.)

I’m so proud of her. So now that I have a dozen rides under my belt, what are my thoughts on cyclocross so far?

Things I like:

I stay warm. For one thing, he speeds are much slower than those of road rides. There is no easy riding on a cyclocross trail. You’re either riding through grass, thick mud, or snow, and when you can’t ride any more you pick up the bike and run. Also, the trails are generally narrow openings in woods, protected from most of the wind. In all the years I’ve been cycling, I have never found a way to keep my hands and feet warm while riding on the road in cold weather. You name a glove or boot or overshoe that is guaranteed to keep you warm, and I’ve tried it, unsuccessfully. On the other hand, this past weekend I finished a ride having worked up a lather sweating, while wearing normal wool socks and thin running gloves. When I checked the temperature, I was shocked to discover it was 34 Fahrenheit. I never could have lasted if I had been on an open road at 17 or 18 mph.

The rides are shorter. Bicycles are such efficient machines that it normally takes three or four hours to get a worthwhile workout. That’s fine in the summer, but winter evening comes much earlier, and I like to pack in as much activity as I can in a day. Because you work so much harder just to maintain your forward momentum in cyclocross, you can get a decent workout in an hour.  For me, that means being able to go home, clean the bike, shower, read for a while, and still go out with my wife for sushi before it gets too late.

There aren’t the usual road hazards. Whether it’s traffic, glass and other detritus, or red lights and stop signs, there are lots of things that can break up road rides. I’d much rather avoid a tree root that nature put in my way, or stop for a family of ducks to cross my path, than deal with anything man-made.

 

Things I don’t like:

People walking unleashed dogs. In the state where I live, dogs must be on leashes when they are in public. But no matter where I go, there seems to be someone who can’t be bothered to leash his pet. So here I am, trying to maintain control of a skinny, light bike on a technical trail, and along comes Fluffy, running into my path and jumping up on me when I stop so I don’t hit him. Invariably, the owner lollygags around the bend and says, “It’s all right. He’s friendly.” Well, you might be friendly too, but if you jumped on me, that would be assault, pal. I love dogs, but you don’t know that. It takes a really selfish, entitled person to assume someone else doesn’t mind being jumped on by a dog.

That’s it. My dislikes constitute a really short list. Notice, also, that the dislike list has nothing to do with cyclocross itself. Unleashed dogs can ruin any activity I want to keep to myself.

There really is no satisfactory way to avoid the presence of others.

Ad Astra Per Aspera- Chapter 2

In Which I Get a Whiff of Something That Will Become an Obsession

 

As thrilled as I was to see the images sent back from Jupiter by the two Voyager spacecraft on the evening news throughout 1979, it was nothing compared to the indulgence I felt sitting with National Geographic‘s January 1980 issue. The cover sported a false-color image of a volcano’s eruption on the moon Io. The story recounted the approach to and fly-by of the gas giant by the robotic probes, and detailed the struggles of mission scientists to make sense of the treasure trove of data returning to the Earth every day. I re-read the article so many times that this particular issue of my father’s National Geographic archive was the only one that ever appeared used.

National Geographic

As I read, I would picture myself soaring above Jupiter’s cloud belts as if I were a passenger on Voyager or a resident on one of the moons constantly stretched by gravitational tides and bombarded by cosmic rays from the main planet. The idea never failed to terrify me as I learned about the incredibly low temperatures and the giant storm systems that could easily swallow the entire Earth. It reminded me, in a way, of looking at the pictures of spiders’ faces in elementary school picture books. The images gave me nightmares, but there was something about their strange beauty that made me keep looking.

One Saturday later that year, as we piled into the family car for the weekly visit to my grandparents’ house, I remember my father wondering if “it” would fit into the hatchback of a Pinto. I asked him what he was going to put in our car, and he replied, “I’m getting my telescope,” as if it were something I should have known all along. I thought I had misunderstood; A Ford Pinto’s hatchback could hold quite a bit of cargo, and it seemed all the more cavernous in relation to my ten-year-old frame. That must be one heck of a telescope, I thought.

During our visit, probably while most of us watched Dance Fever with Deney Terrio (my grandmother’s favorite), my father disappeared into the car port for a while. When we got into the car to drive home, the end of a wide, white tube, covered by something that looked like a shower cap, extended from the trunk over the rear passenger seat. When we rounded curves in the road, heavy, metallic clanks issued from behind the seat. This all seemed wonderfully mysterious and exciting.

When we set up the telescope the next day, I realized that I did not understand much about telescopes at all. It was hard to get my head around the idea that this one used mirrors, not lenses, to produce an image. The observer actually looked into the scope at right angles to the tube, and from the front, not the back. In fact, when the telescope was fitted onto its massive metal pier base, I had to stand on a step stool to look into the eyepiece. Stranger still, when my father pointed the scope at the chimney on our house to test focus and optical alignment, the chimney appeared upside down and backwards. Here was a new frontier of knowledge for me to conquer.

I later learned that this telescope was the iconic RV-6 Dynascope, made by the Criterion Manufacturing Company of Hartford, Connecticut. Its 6″ diameter f/8 optical system was a classic setup for everyone from beginners to advanced amateurs since the time of Isaac Newton, and gave images that astonished me. The inverted image was correct for an astronomical telescope because a telescope needs additional optical components to produce a correctly-oriented image, and they rob brightness and clarity. The $194.95 price tag for an observing package including three eyepieces and a quality sidereal drive motor to track celestial objects automatically represented great value.

criterion_rv6-1960_733964

I just could not understand why, now that my father had brought this treasure into my life, he was so hesitant to use it.

With hindsight, I realize that we lived in a place that made astronomy inconvenient. Our house was located in an area of dense woods, so the only visible sky was directly above the cleared part of our yard. Complicating matters, there was hardly a level square foot on our entire acre, meaning the mount could not be set up to follow objects easily as the Earth rotated over the course of a night. There was no possibility of staying up late enough to use his telescope on work/school nights, and often on weekends we were faced with the options of staying inside by a cozy fire or freezing out in the yard while trying to track down astronomical targets. The fire usually won.

But I was ten! Like all ten-year-olds, I was made of rubber and magic, and never ran out of energy. I wanted to set up the scope! I wanted to move it around the yard each time we looked for a different celestial object! My father was not quite as enthusiastic about these endeavors as I was, but over the next couple of years, there were enough clear weekend nights when I was able to persuade him to go stargazing that I was hooked for life.

I can only clearly remember seeing four objects from my early days in astronomy: Jupiter (of course; after Voyager, how could we not check it out for ourselves?), the Moon (the one object other than the Sun that everyone can find and identify), the Great Nebula in Orion (which, in retrospect, I have a hard time believing ever rose above our tree line; it may be a false memory), and the Andromeda Galaxy, which passes nearly overhead at our latitude.

Thinking back on this, I realize that these may have been the only objects my father knew how to find. His reluctance to go observing with me more often may have stemmed from a fear of seeming inadequate to a young son. I know he did not have any star charts detailed enough to match his scope’s capability. I struggle with this fear of inadequacy myself, and that may explain why it took me so long to find Millbrook’s observatory or to believe that anyone there would care about my interest.

It may seem odd, but I will never forget the smell of that telescope. The fact that it was stored in my poorly-insulated attic bedroom certainly made it more prominent. To this day, every time I get a whiff of Bakelite (the Dynascope was actually made of phenolic resin) I am right back there in my parents’ yard, teetering on a ladder and focusing critically on Jupiter’s Galilean satellites. I recently learned that other astronomers had distinct and fond memories of the Dynascope’s aroma. Various on-line astronomy discussion board posts likened it to the nose of a fine wine, or even an astronomical aphrodesiac!

Spurred on by Voyager and by the premier of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series on PBS, I began to devour every astronomy-related book I could find in our small local library. Our librarian, Mrs. Card (you can’t make this stuff up), must have wondered just how many times a person could read, re-read, and re-borrow the same books. I treasure one of these above all others: Starlight Nights by Leslie C. Peltier.

Peltier

The author tells the story of his life in astronomy in a way that expresses simply but poetically how much a love affair with the night sky can mean to a person. I have since shared the book with people I care about, many of whom have little interest in astronomy, and even they become captivated by the storytelling. From his first glimpses of the Pleiades and Halley’s Comet when a young boy to his national recognition for variable star observations and comet discoveries, Peltier was someone in whose footsteps I wanted to follow.

Soon, my father bought for our home library a copy of James Muirden’s The Amateur Astronomer’s Handbook.

Muirden

Little did I know that a seemingly-minor passage in the book would be so intertwined with my adult research. For star charts, Muirden recommended The Telescope Handbook and Star Atlas by Neale Howard.

Like many of the other books I read, The Amateur Astronomer’s Handbook contained illustrated sections on the workings of telescopes, and it looked incredibly simple to make one. All I needed were a couple of lenses and a tube. I even thought of a source. The next time I had an appointment with our optometrist, Dr. Tischler, I asked him if he had any lenses lying around that he wasn’t using, and if so, might I have them? Everything makes sense in your head when you’re ten. He explained to me patiently that his were not the type of lenses I needed. I could not understand why he did not understand my project, and left that day somewhat miffed. I had made an impression, though, for Dr. Tischler kept a close eye on my interest in telescope building. It was many years, however, until I could show him something I had made myself.

At about the same time, I began my forays into binocular astronomy because of an opportunity that may have seemed like drudgery to some. A high school in a nearby town hosted a Gifted and Talented program for students of middle school age on Saturdays. I cannot now recall how my parents found out about this, but it may have been through my mother’s job as a first grade teacher in a local Catholic School. The program was run by Dr. Sally Reis from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, and for several weeks, eager, nerdy children indulged their interests in music, debate, photography, archaeology, rudimentary computer programming, and in my case astronomy. My class met in UCONN’s planetarium, and it was taught by physics professor Dr. Cynthia Peterson. She provided exactly the primer I needed, a thorough but non-threatening introduction to the constellations and the fixed and wandering objects to which they served as signposts.

The course provided each of its attendees with a planisphere, a rotating miniature star map that shows what objects are visible in the sky at any date and time. One of its interchangeable wheels showed deep-sky objects visible in binoculars, and so I finally had a way to tour the sky on my own. I’m glad I began my explorations with binoculars rather than a telescope, because it taught me much more about the sky than I otherwise would have learned. First of all, binoculars orient the image to appear the same way it does to the unaided eye. I could point my binoculars at a visible pattern of stars and see it somewhat magnified, but I could also see many fainter stars in and around it. This demonstrated the advantage of increased light-gathering power, since the lenses had more surface area than those in my eyes. Also, because binoculars offer a wider field of view than a telescope, they made navigation among the stars to locate the brighter objects much easier. Still, when you’re bitten by the bug, you’re never satisfied. I wanted a telescope of my own.

When I got my first summer job in high school, I had access to significant sums of money for the first time. I confess that, like a good American consumer, I caved. I had been looking at a red Tasco 2″ refractor telescope in the window of our local camera shop. It was new. It was shiny. It was red! So one day, I went to the bank, withdrew money from my savings account, and took home my very own telescope.

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I believe that department store telescopes have done more to discourage generations of budding astronomers than all of the cloudy nights in history. They usually have useless finder scopes and unmanageably-small eyepieces that produce way too much magnification. That way, the manufacturer can sell them as “500-Power” telescopes to appeal to power-hungry Americans who don’t know any better. Worst of all, they invariably have flimsy mountings that cannot hold the optics still enough for the user to get a good view of anything. This one was no exception. On the other hand, I remembered that my astronomical hero Leslie Peltier had worked a summer job to save the money for his very first telescope: a 2″ refractor!

Fortunately, I still had a desire to build something, and that made me willing to tinker with this scope until it worked better. Based on other models I had seen in magazine ads, I had my uncle help me drill the tube and tap in a mechanism to hold the scope solidly in one position. I hung weights from the accessory tray on the tripod to minimize vibrations from wind and my contact with the telescope. I fashioned a long dew shield out of cardboard and black construction paper to keep the objective lens from frosting over. All of these improvements made the scope’s performance acceptable, and though planets were my favorite targets, I was able to see examples of every class of object beyond the solar system: double stars, open and globular star clusters, galaxies, and planetary and diffuse nebulae. I used my binocular star wheel supplemented a rudimentary atlas purchased at a local book store.

Star Atlas Detail

And, like Leslie Peltier, I carefully smoked a glass disk with oil lamp soot to make a filter which, when placed in front of the telescope’s objective, allowed me to view the sun and its spots. I wasn’t always successful in my hunts, but I was leaving the nest for the first time.

I Spoke Too Soon

I’d like to apologize sincerely to all those inconvenienced by the weather Friday and today. After all, I caused it. All it took was one mention of how warm and dry the winter has been and how I’m looking forward to getting an early start on cycling and this happens:

I Spoke Too Soon - 1

Yeah, that was all me.

I Spoke Too Soon - 4

And that’s where the bikes live.

I know what you’re thinking: “But you love cross-country skiing as much as cycling, if not more. Wax up your skis and get out there.” [Of course my cross-country skis use wax for grip instead of those fish-scale patterns on the bottom. If you’re surprised by that, you’ve learned nothing from these essays.] Well, it’s not that simple.  Right now, there are four inches of dry powder outside with nothing but dead grass (and rocks and tree roots) underneath. Without a base of older snow, the skis go right down to Mother Earth, and there is a reason you don’t see this sport in the summertime. So, yes, there is snow, but it would ruin my day to try and ski on it.

But that’s all right, because I have embraced the precipitation and the mud that will result from its eventual thaw. I have a new project in my life, and it came from a most unlikely source: sporting scandal. It seems that…someone just got caught cheating in a bike race. [Try to contain your surprise.] This time, the performance enhancement came from a motor inside the frame instead of from drugs inside the athlete.

Now, permit me a small digression here. I’m shocked by the shock so many people in the cycling world are expressing. They are so angry that there is a call for a mandatory lifetime ban from the sport for any rider and mechanic involved in using a motor. Riders who have had their victories stripped away because they tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs routinely claim to be clean and re-join the peloton. When they win again, broadcasters praise them for [allegedly] realizing their errors and setting a better example by reforming their ways. But Femke Van den Driessche might as well be projected on a telescreen for the next Two Minutes Hate.

1984-front

And drugs are better than motors?

Anyway, I was less interested in the cheating than in the event in which it occurred- cyclocross. I know this is the hot new trendy thing among people looking to buy still another bike, but I remembered reading about cyclocross decades ago in Greg LeMond’s Complete Book of Cycling.

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[Why did nobody think aerodynamic handlebars were “mechanical doping” in 1989?]

Cyclocross began as a way for European riders to keep fit in the winter months. They would put tires with a little more traction on their regular bikes and ride through cow pastures or along wooded trails. When they came to unrideable sections like rivers or steep muddy hills, they had no choice but to dismount and carry their bikes across or over. Doesn’t that sound perfect for a curmudgeon? “Son, when I was your age, we didn’t have these fancy mountain bikes with all their granny gears. We ran up the hills. And we were thankful!”

1930_champparis

[Real men.]

 Because riders could not go anywhere near as fast as they could on the road, and because they had to run for significant stretches, it was much easier to keep warm and stay happy.

Now, as my hero Bike Snob NYC recommends, I have a metal bike whose configuration I can change around any time I like and try out new stuff. Remember it?

Components2

Because I built light, strong, tubular wheels for it, I can simply put knobby, slightly-wider cyclocross tires on it and give a new (to me) sport a try. The fenders will need to come off so the knobs don’t rub, but they will find their way onto whatever I ride on the road in the rain.

Tell me this doesn’t look like a blast.

Not a doper or a piece of carbon fiber in sight.

 

Hobbies and Such

Last Sunday,  the weather forecast indicated the temperature would reach the mid-to-upper 50s. AND IT DID. I could not pass up the opportunity, so on the last day of January I went for my first bike ride of the year. I know what some of you are saying. It has been such a mild winter that you never stopped riding. Plus you have your “smart” blue-tooth toe heaters in your new graphite shoes, so you’ve leveraged the performance parameters by uploading your blood flow numbers from the monitor in your crank to the heads-up display in your sunglasses, which indicated it was all right to keep pedaling.

But, seriously, there have been plenty of opportunities for all sorts of outdoor recreation this winter. It’s just that they are not the usual ones. It has made me observe the way I engage in my hobbies, and I can describe it best as “streaky.” I seem to concentrate on one particular pastime for a while, and as long as I get to do that thing, I don’t get cranky or impatient with life. Then, suddenly, I feel like doing something else for a while, and I concentrate just as hard on that. While I’m doing it, I think to myself, “Hey, I’d forgotten how much I enjoy this.” I suppose it keeps me fresh.

You may remember that I was a competitive cyclist when I was younger, but for about the last five years, I was all about tennis. I decided to make practice time count, and actually teamed up with some hitting partners who would work on skills with me rather than want to play for points all the time. I learned to string my own racquets so that I could experiment with different types, gauges, and tensions of string. I even joined a club so that I would face different levels of competition. It was thoroughly satisfying, and I hardly thought about cycling.

Then, my wife’s youngest daughter graduated from high school. Being an avowed Anglophile, she wanted a three-speed bicycle with a basket to ride to class. While there were some new, retro-type models out there, we knew she wanted an actual vintage machine, so we searched classifieds and ordered her one. When it arrived, I started putting it together, and began again to smell the unique bouquet of road grit, leather, old rubber, and 3-in-1 oil that is peculiar to vintage bicycles. I felt the grunge under my fingernails, and it felt good. I realized how much I missed riding, and I have not picked up a tennis racquet since.

Last summer, I rode nearly every day. For the first time since I was in college, cycling became the activity I needed to feel as though my day was complete. My wife began to notice that, no matter what we were doing, I was checking my watch to calculate if we could make it home in time for a ride. We incorporated bicycles into lots of activities, like touring historic homes and visiting our favorite tea importer, but more often than not I wound up handing her the keys to my truck and riding the extra thirty miles home.

Then one day, I was done. I wasn’t burned out or injured, but I’d had enough. As fall progressed and the nights began earlier, all I could think about was setting up my telescope and searching for galaxies I had never seen before. In the same way that I had looked forward to a bike ride every day in the summer, now I planned my time to avoid the moon and made sure I had time for naps in the afternoon if my targets were going to keep me up until all hours. I did not even crave the exercise I was no longer getting, because my mind was completely wrapped up in astronomy.

I wrote in a previous post about following the Mets through the playoffs, but to get an accurate view of how that happened, picture someone sitting in pitch darkness in the yard with the radio tuned to a ball game in the background, staring through a telescope at tiny, faint patches of light whose photons began their journey toward me before human beings even existed on the Earth. For me, that’s a perfect evening.

On one hand, the mildness of this past winter made stargazing more comfortable than in most winters. Lots of my archived sketchbooks and log pages are smeared from the tears the wind has forced from my eyes. On the other hand, mild winters tend to be cloudy, and lately there have not been many opportunities to see stars. I was just beginning to feel cabin fever coming on when I received word of an estate sale arranged by the antiques dealer down the street. So last Saturday, as I browsed through the re-homing of someone’s worldly possessions, I came across a work stand that holds bicycles while you work on them. I purchased it for a song, brought it home, tinkered with my brakes, swapped some pedals between bikes, and suddenly I wanted to take a ride. And that’s what began on Sunday.

I wonder how long this streak will last.