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Recovering scientist on photographic walkabout

A mountain morning send-off, with 1 goat & 3 foxes

CHILE | Thursday, 15 May 2014 | Views [809] | Scholarship Entry

The "rays of God" mark the first light of dawn. Sounds come scarce,
their arrival as soft whistles and drawn-out wails. The nighttime
cotton blanket begins to pull back slowly; small puffs break
loose from low-lying areas and push west towards the Pacific.

The sun climbs higher, shadows grow shorter, and morning fog parts.
A spectacular view is unveiled at a height of over 2000 metres. Dry
river beds twist and stretch along canyon floors. Cactus and desert
scrub blanket neighbouring hills in faded greens and dusty browns. To
the east rise jagged teeth capped with white frosting, fixing the
location of the Andes along the Chilean spine.

I wonder about the brave and hardy few who make their home in this
part of the Atacama desert. They're farmers, prospectors, and
miners, carrying individual loads for financial endeavour. People have
always been digging: plant, mineral, or any kind of pay dirt.

But there's another human enterprise, one that looks up into clear
skies and seeks different rewards. People come to ask questions of
the universe. How do planets take shape? How do stars form? How are
galaxies assembled? How far back in time can we look back? These
concerns occupy guest astronomers here on the summit of Cerro Tololo,
the telescopes pointed up, reaching for elusive answers.

I'm never bored of Chilean sunrises, impressive as always over the
great cordillera. Fifteen years will pass, and every sunrise is a
marvel. I'll witness hundreds of Andean sunrises, but today is
different. I'm leaving the mountain for the last time, and soon, I
will leave astronomy.

All the signs told me to change course, although continuing was
a safer bet. I fought against changing times and priorities. Grief
over my loss eventually transformed into great relief, and I'm
fortunate to have departed science on my own. I have no regrets
about my time as astronomer, but I'm likely never coming back.

Now, I have a new imperative and a new journey: to take on a full year
of travel with visits to family and friends around the world. I'm okay
jumping into the unknown with many questions and few replies.

Some furry four-legged creatures arrive to greet the morning on
Tololo. A scruffy mountain goat appears to see what the hubbub is all
about. Three diminutive desert foxes join the party, but they soon
leave disappointed, their attempts at begging for food thwarted.

I smile and wave at their retreating backs.

A fitting validation, a final valediction.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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