"Whenever a mind is simple and receives divine wisdom, old things pass away,--means, teachers, texts, temples fall; it lives now, and absorbs past and future into the present hour." - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
Sharing a short and sweet excerpt as I'm running out the door. Finished this week, Rocket Boys--now on my short list of favorite books. It's a first person account of a group of high school kids inspired by Sputnik to learn rocket science on their own in a small mining town.
This passage below takes place Thanksgiving weekend 1959 in Coalwood, West Virginia. (Yes, it's a true story.)
And happy gratefulness to all of you today. (Bonus, I'm launching--nope, not a rocket--a pop-up art project Penny for your Charms that urges you to also walk on water. Hope you can join in over the next month as it unfolds.)
I used up almost all of my [propellant material] zinc dust loading the Auk XXIII. Getting more was a problem. The BMCA [the boys' rocket club] treasury was bare. Still, I wasn't terribly worried about it. I just had this belief that whenever I needed anything to build my rockets, somehow it was going to be there, provided by the Lord or whatever foolish angels had taken on the BCMA as a project. O'Dell said he'd think about a way to get us some money.
. . . I was tense as I began the coundown. Although Quentin was confident, I was a little afraid of the big rocket. I took a deep breath and turned the firing switch on the professional-looking console Billy and Sherman had built.
. . . There was no sign of our rocket at all. It had simply vanished. Quentin rang up and reported the same result downrange. A towering funnel of smoke gradually drifted over us. Auk XXIII was up there somewhere. What if it came down on the crowd or on us? What if it went uprange and landed in Coalwood again?
"I see it!" Billy yelped. Good old sharp-eyed Billy!
It was just a dot, but it grew, and it was downrange, although veering toward Rocket Mountain. It hit the top of a big tree, which shivered from the impact, as if to let us know it had caught our rocket. Picking up our shovels, we ran down the slack, the crowd cheering us as we went past.
"Forty-two seconds," Roy Lee cried breathlessly as we ran.
"Seven thousand fifty-six feet," both Quentin and I called out at about the same moment, both of us capable now of working out the calculation in our heads. It was our highest rocket yet, but it wasn't what my nozzle design had predicted. "What happened?" I worried as we pounded down the slack. "According to the equations, it should have gone three thousand feet higher."
"Don't know," Quentin puffed. "Have to look at the rocket."
Billy led us up the mountain, weaving through the trees and bursting through a line of thick rhododendron into a green glade beneath a ridge. Auk XXVIII was buried there, up to its fins in soft, wet loam. O'Dell looked around and held up his hand. "Stop, boys," he ordered. "Don't trample this place!"
We pulled up short. "Why?"
He dropped to his knees beside a big oak and dug carefully with his shovel, pulling up a gnarly root. "You know what this is?"
When we all shrugged, he smiled. "Money."
"Not another crazy scheme," Roy Lee groaned.
"No, this one's for real. It's ginseng. This glade's full of it. I've never seen so much!"
"What the hell is ginseng?" Roy Lee asked.
"Indian medicine. People over in Japan and places like that think it cures everything."
"How much is it worth?"
"Well," he said as he dug up another root. "I don't think we're going to have to worry about zinc-dust money for a while."
I had vaguely heard of the stuff being dug around the county, but had never actually seen any of it before. I looked at the dirty ginseng specimen O'Dell handed me, thinking of God and whatever angels He had assigned to BCMA. "The Lord preserves the simple," was Mom's response when I mentioned this to her.
Another favorite excerpt from Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, Jr. in my Footnotes blog.
Photo credits: Rocket lighting (and explanation of rocket lightning) from Gizmodo.