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Hollie Grimaldi Flores: If tomorrow never comes

No matter the circumstance, my belief that I am not the only one is often confirmed when others chime in to let me know it is true. If that is the case, then lately, many of us having been working through a great number of life’s challenges. Over the last couple of months, I have experienced the joys of new life in the form of a grandchild and the birth of children of distanced associations – a great-great niece and the birth of children of my children’s friends. It’s a reminder that I am indeed getting older, as in a conversation that goes something like, “I remember when you were born, and I remember when you gave birth. How is it possible that your daughter is now having a child of her own?” When did I get old?

On the flip side of celebrating the joys of new life starting out on this journey, is of course, those nearing or completing their time here. I spent part of the last weekend celebrating the life of a dear friend’s father and mourning the ninth anniversary of my mother’s passing. And I will be attending the remembrance of the life of another friend’s mother this weekend.

In between I’ll be joining others as we commemorate the life that made me a mother a mere 31 years ago. That would be 31 years ago today, as a matter of fact. The best kind of celebration of a life still unfolding.

So many turns between sadness for endings and joy for beginnings it could make one’s head spin. And spinning is a pretty accurate description of how I am doing today.

Meanwhile, one of my closest “chosen family” is near death. This particular friend is in the last stages of the ravages of cancer. We know he is not going to get better. He is, in fact, dying. Hospice of the Foothills got the call and stepped up to perform their remarkable services. I find great comfort in knowing the time he has left will be spent in the highest quality of care thanks to their compassionate and professional staff. He and his loved ones are in a better space with that support.

For me, acknowledging the reality that my pal and I are not going to be doddering on a beach together somewhere as centenarians, has been a shift. While I have, on some level, known it was coming, my optimistic self chose to ignore the possibility that he would be leaving this realm any time soon.

Given the reality we are facing, the question I have been asking to everyone I know, including my buddy, is this: Given the option, would you rather know you are dying, or drop dead unexpectedly? If you could take pain out of the equation, would you rather know or simply drop dead? An informal poll of many of those in my circle has ended in a stalemate. In equal proportion, those asked to have responded with an “I would rather drop dead of a heart attack” to “I would like to know.”

I personally see the gift my friend has in being diagnosed with a chronic illness. While I have pretended the disease was not working insidiously all these years to bring his time on Earth to an end, he has used the time (and knowing) to say what he wants to say to any and every person he wants to say something to. He has been able to heal relationships, make peace with choices, apologize for transgressions, and bestow wisdom. That is a gift.

But once all of that is done, how difficult is it to just keep breathing and enjoy the passing of one day to the next? Selfishly, I want him to stay. I see that he is tired. But if he is not suffering, I urge him to keep breathing, to stay with us, to spare us the pain of living the rest of our life without him.

For those who simply wish to drop dead one day from a heart attack, car accident, or other calamity, my hope is that you have your wishes, finances, and other matters of importance in order. If you are wise enough to have clean relationships, and “no regrets,” I say, “good on ya!”

Because here is a reality check. We all have an expiration date. We should all be living as my friend has been living these last months. No one is getting out of here alive. Spend your days doing the things that bring you joy. Find a way to go, do and be. Heal the relationships that matter.

Somewhere along the evolutionary path we were all taught that having and achieving were the priority. I have come to understand the pursuit of stuff is actually not what this journey is all about. Experiences and relationships with others are what really matter.

When we come to the end of our own journeys, it is never going to be about the accumulation of goods but will undoubtedly be about the connection and impact we make with others.

To that end, let’s spend our days doing what matters to us. We have gotten so locked into the trappings of success – mortgages and car payments and the need to have more — that we waste years in jobs we don’t enjoy, in relationships that don’t bring us pleasure, pedaling as fast as we can without making any progress – we are all here on a limited basis — let’s all wake with the notion that our time here is coming to an end.

Today really is the day to live like you are dying.

Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire, as well as a podcaster at HollieGrams. You can hear her episodes at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1332253. She can be reached at holliesallwrite@gmail.com

Andrew Withers: Teaching, learning and adapting together

Great teams and partnerships have a way of coming together during difficult times! While the Grass Valley School District is extremely thankful to be able to offer full time in-person instruction this school year, teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic continue to pose significant challenges. I would like to take a moment to express my sincere gratitude for everyone’s hard work and support during the start of this school year. I am beyond impressed with the work of our learning community to ensure our students, staff and families get the resources and assistance they need.

The Grass Valley School District adheres to the strictest COVID-19 health and safety recommendations and we have created a detailed Safe Reopening Handbook as well as detailed COVID-19 Exposure and Symptom Flow Charts to help us communicate and clarify district practices. While we have needed to quarantine large groups of close-contacts this school year, we have now signed an agreement with an outside agency to offer COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic students and staff when they are exposed to a positive case. This is critical and will help us keep students and staff safe and in school. We are awaiting formal approval from our Nevada County Public Health Office and we look forward to implementing this very soon.

One of our school district’s essential focus areas is the development of a clear Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) which will be used to guide all academic, social-emotional, and behavioral supports for students. Critical to the academic support is our use of individual student assessments in English Language Arts and Mathematics which help us target our instruction and academic support. We are also furthering our work and structures to address the social-emotional and behavioral needs of students as these have been dramatically impacted by the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To support high levels of engagement we have numerous activities happening throughout the district including the official opening of the new Bell Hill Academy library and multipurpose room, district cross country team competitions, 7th and 8th grade boys volleyball competitions, as well as the return of the Artist’s In Schools Program at Bell Hill Academy and Margaret Scotten. It is activities like these that help school “come alive” for students. A special shout-out to our Lyman Gilmore boys volleyball teams! 7th grade is 5-1 and the 8th grade is undefeated with a 6-0 record.

Teaching and learning during a pandemic is challenging work, but in Grass Valley we work to ensure student engagement and success are thriving.

Andrew Withers is Superintendent of the Grass Valley School District

Lyman Gilmore students during PE class.
Provided photo
Seventh grade Lyman Gilmore boys volleyball team in action.
Provided photo
Students in the new Bell Hill Academy Library.
Provided photo

Al Stahler: Sky calendar


It’s been getting dark earlier these days.

It’s also been getting dark faster.

The world globe on teacher’s desk never sits upright. The globe is always catawampus, twenty-three-and-a-half degrees off vertical. Were it not for that jaunty tilt, Earth would be a much less interesting planet.

Earth leans always toward Polaris – the north star – 24/7, 365.

In some parts of our orbit around the sun, the tilt toward Polaris also tilts us toward the sun; we lean most toward the sun at the summer solstice, in June.

On the opposite side of our orbit – while still leaning toward Polaris – we lean away from the sun; we lean away from the sun most at the winter solstice, in December.

Were we not to lean toward or away from the sun – if we had no tilt – Earth would have no seasons. Sure, we’d feel slightly warmer when our orbit brought us a bit closer to the sun, every January … and we’d feel slightly cooler, when our orbit took us a bit farther from the sun, in July. But a slightly warmer, closer-to-the-sun January, slightly cooler, farther-from-the-sun July would be nothing like summer and winter. Without Earth’s tilt, we’d spend our lives forever in spring.

Eternal springtime sounds rather pleasant … but would we really appreciate spring, if it did not follow winter?

Our planet does tilt, and we tilt most toward the sun at the June solstice, bathing us in sunlight, and making days long, nights short.

This past Wednesday, daytime was neither shorter, nor longer, than night. Wednesday marked the autumn equinox (“equal night”), with night as long as day, day as long as night … twelve hours each.

The equinox has an effect, too, on twilight – the time between day and night.

Earth circles the sun in rotisserie mode: We spin, making a complete rotation in twenty-four hours. Sometimes turning us toward the sun, sometimes turning us away, this spin gives us day and night.

Between day and night is twilight, when the sky is neither bright blue nor dark black. At the end of day, twilight provides just enough light to pick up our tools, pick up our toys, and get inside.

Twilight happens after the sun has sunk below the horizon … but not very far below. The sun is still close enough to the horizon for some sunlight to leak over the horizon and light up the sky (if not the ground).

The sun goes down because Earth spins. If we did not spin at a slant – if Earth did not tilt – the sun would head nearly straight toward the horizon, and keep going, below the horizon, every time it set. But because of our tilt, for every “step“ the sun downward, it takes a step sideways. At the solstice, summer and winter, that sideways step is a large one.

Stepping sideways so much, at solstice, the sun, after it’s set, moves only slowly, down away from the horizon, giving sunlight plenty of time to leak up over the horizon, giving us a long twilight … plenty of time to pick up our toys.

But at the time of the equinox, spring and fall, Earth’s tilt is mostly cancelled, and the sun moves through the sky with the smallest of side-steps – nearly straight down.

Once below the horizon, the sun at equinox, continues moving quickly downward, down from the horizon, cutting twilight short.

Next Saturday night, Sept. 25, at 7:30 p.m., local astronomers will gather where the old Downieville Highway meets State Route 49, just outside Nevada City (well before Newton Road), to set up scopes and share the sky with our neighbors. It’s free – bring the kids, and bring a sweater.

Maintaining a space station – crew and equipment – requires a lot of electricity, and thus, a large area of solar panels. Covered with glass, the panels reflect a lot of sunlight. Brighter than any other satellite, a station flyover is unmistakable.

Next Tuesday morning, Sept. 28, at 5:47a.m., the foothills will enjoy such a station flyover, almost directly overhead (get out a couple minutes early – moving 17,000+ miles an hour, the station doesn’t remain long in the sky).

This flyover will not be by the International Space Station, crewed by astronauts from the U.S. and other countries (and for which I’ve many times put out a heads-up). This Tuesday morning, the space station flying over the foothills will be Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”), now under construction by the People’s Republic of China.

Al Stahler enjoys sharing science and nature with friends and neighbors in The Union and on KVMR-FM. He teaches classes for both kids and grown-ups, and can be reached at a.a.stahler11@gmail.com

Construction crew.
Photo courtesy China Manned Space Engineering Office

Rose Murphy: Financial aid for college


One of the most important actions families can take to pay for college is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you, or your child, are thinking about attending a university, community college or trade school in the next year, the following information may be helpful.

Oct. 1 marks the first day families can access, complete and submit the 2022-2023 FAFSA Application. Some families will skip the application, but I would like to provide you with some essential reasons to not pass up the opportunity to fill out this free application for need-based aid. By filing the FAFSA as early as possible, more time is available to research options and create your college fund availability.

Not completing the FAFSA in a timely manner could be a costly mistake. Nearly all students who apply will qualify for some type of aid. By filing the FAFSA, and for resident undocumented students, a CA Dream Act application, students may be offered government grants, low-interest loans as well as scholarships.

No matter the family’s financial situation, students will qualify for the Direct Federal Subsidized Loans through completing the FAFSA. The current Direct Federal Loan has a fixed interest rate for the life of each loan based on the year it is issued. Cal Grants are available to CA students who meet certain GPA and income requirements. Some students will receive funds that will fully cover their tuition at UCs, CSUs or community colleges. State and federal aid can generally be used to pay for tuition and living expenses at four-year universities, community colleges or trade schools.

Work study is also a benefit because the student can earn income while attending college. A student must complete the FAFSA to qualify for this option. Work study is usually on-campus, accommodates the student’s schedule, and matched to the student’s skills and interests.

The California Promise Grant has provided many benefits to students who attend community college. You may have heard of free tuition at Sierra College. Are there requirements for this? Yes, one of the requirements is to complete the FAFSA!

If a student does not submit the FAFSA, colleges may wait until after the deadline before they provide award letters. The deadline to submit the application varies from college to college. Missing these deadlines could jeopardize the student’s eligibility for aid. Some scholarships offered by organizations or institutions will request FAFSA information. Students could miss out on institutional-based scholarships if the application was not completed or delayed. For those planning to apply during the early decision or action rounds, these financial aid deadlines are often Nov. 1 or 15.

It is easy to submit your tax return using the IRS.gov Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). The retrieval tool will auto-populate your tax information into digital form. This assists in making it easier to complete the application and prevents mistakes. For those concerned with using the DRT submitting tax returns in an acceptable alternative.

It is helpful if students have a list of the colleges they will be applying to; ten schools can be listed on the FAFSA. The information will be sent directly to each financial aid office. The office at these institutions will then create a financial aid “package”. Students should list a state school first, in case they are offered state-based aid on a priority basis. Students can add or change schools to the FAFSA at a later date, as well. However, it is important to change the school names as soon as possible, as university grants run do out.

There is no age limit for receiving federal financial aid. If you are over the age of 24 and planning to attend a post-secondary school, it is in your best interest to complete the FAFSA.

Families can create a Federal Student Aid account by setting up a username and password. Each student and one of the parents will need their own FSA account (FSA ID). Both parents and students will need social security numbers.

If your family has received a reduction in income since the 2020 tax year contact the financial aid office at the colleges where your child is applying. Schools have the ability to assess your situation and adjust awards.

The CA mandate to have all seniors complete the FAFSA in their senior year will go into effect (most likely) in the 2022-2023 school year. This was added to the CA budget package in hopes that it would encourage all high school students to consider continuing their studies.

FAFSA provides free resources at https://studentaid.gov/resources.

Rose Murphy is a retired high school counselor now working as an independent educational consultant. She can be reached at abestfitcollege@gmail.com or abestfitcollege.com

Learn music composition through InConcert Sierra’s Composers Project


“The feeling of listening to music can only be rivaled by the creation of music itself,” affirmed Composers Project student Jamie Thomas-Rose.

The Composers Project is a comprehensive youth music education program, sponsored by InConcert Sierra and designed by composer and Education Director Mark Vance, that teaches Thomas-Rose and his fellow students how to compose music.

The Project is a nine-month series of classes and private lessons for ages 12-25 that provides in-depth instruction in composition, notation software, conducting, melodic and rhythmic dictation, theory, harmony, music history, ear training, solfege and rehearsal/performance techniques. The students receive input and master classes from both world-renowned and regional musicians and composers who have performed for InConcert.

During the year, students create two original compositions: one piece for voice accompanied by the student’s instrument of choice and a second composition for solo instrument or ensemble. Both works are premiered by professional musicians.

Each season, a community partner is chosen for the students to learn about as inspiration for their final works. During last season’s interdisciplinary second semester, the students studied about the increasing number of wildfires in California, climate change, and what different organizations are doing to help remedy those things. Experts from the lumber industry, Cal Fire, US Forest Service, and other fire and climate scientists worked with the class. This season’s community partner will be announced shortly.

To view how extraordinary both this program and its student musicians are, the final concert for the 2021-22 season can be viewed on InConcert Sierra’s YouTube channel. Past seasons, prior to COVID, concerts were performed live for community audiences. InConcert hopes to return to this format as soon as possible.

“This is a course students will want to include on college and scholarship applications and job resumes. You will meet some influential people who may be instrumental in your pursuit of musical goals, while attending concerts that you may otherwise never hear. It is a meaningful and powerful experience,” said Vance.

Students, parents, and musicians rave about this program. One parent wrote, “I want to thank you very much for the wonderful, enriching opportunities through the Composers Project and your dedication to their learning. It’s such an enriching experience for our son!”

From student Baraka Anderson, “Thank you for continuing to teach this awesome program during the pandemic over Zoom. I look forward to the next year of being in the Composers Project.”

Pianist and InConcert’s Artistic Director Ken Hardin said, “I love performing the works these young students compose. I wish there had been a course like this when I was a teenager; it would have been incredible.”

The first Zoom class meeting is scheduled for Saturday morning, Sept. 18, 10 a.m. to noon. Classes will be both in-person and via Zoom, dependent on public health guidelines.

The nine-month course is $1,200 for new students and $1,100 for returning students. Payment plans are available. Applications are currently being accepted online at https://www.inconcertsierra.org/composers-project/. Late applicants are also accepted.

Source: InConcert Sierra

Composers Project ensemble from July 2021 videotaping of final composition, from left, Kristen Autry, viola; Zoe Schlussel, violin; Eliza Hagy, composer & violin; Jia-mo Chen, cello.
Photo by Craig Silberman
Composers Project class field trip with Joe Flannery of United States Forest Service.
Photo by Craig Silberman

Musical landscape for young people


As a lifelong musician and lover of music, I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about music, studying different instruments, and partaking in the amazing musical gifts this community offers in its generous sweep and variety of genres.

My daughter, Eva, like many children who live here, has had the privilege of growing up in a community overflowing with musical performers, performances and opportunities. Beginning as a toddler with “Music Together,” Eva moved on to piano lessons with the late Anna Gold, then to more piano with Joan Tumilty. She has also studied trumpet with Glenn Smith for many years.

Like many of her friends, Eva has participated in every possible music program from elementary school through high school. In 5th grade, she started trumpet with Ruth Mary Harrup, and went on to band and choir at both Seven Hills and Nevada Union. This translates to many hours of music played on any given day while in school as well as after school and on weekends.

Summer brings joyful immersion into Alasdair Fraser’s Sierra Fiddle Camp. Her father and I rarely experience a day without Eva’s trumpet, piano, singing, and humming weaving through the texture of our soundscapes.

Five years ago, Eva started studying with professional composer Mark Vance, in his brilliantly constructed Composer’s Program that teaches composition to middle and high school students. Mark has a special talent for igniting compositional interest in students and enormous capacity for guiding that interest into well-constructed pieces that express each student’s unique sensibilities. While several short films have been made about this program, it’s easy to imagine a full-length documentary about the creative relationships that are fostered between teacher and students, as well as students with each other.

During her years in Mark’s program, Eva has composed many different musical arrangements, based on poems by Adrienne Rich, Mary Oliver, William Butler Yeats and Robert Frost, as well as in collaboration with local nonprofits and agencies, including Hospitality House, the Crocker Art Museum, SYRCL, Sierra Harvest and the US Forest Service. Notably, all pieces completed within the project are performed by professional musicians.

Children and young adults participating in InConcert Sierra’s Composer’s Program learn a variety of excellent life skills including research, public speaking, resume writing, composition software, and visioning and overseeing performances of their pieces. They learn what goes into musical composition and develop sensibilities about art, creativity, and music that easily transfer to writing, dancing, theatre and other forms of creative expression. They learn what steps are required to bring the seed of a creative idea to fruition.

While a good number of his students have gone on to pursue musical careers in performance, film and theater scoring, and other musical paths, Mark is clear about his prioritization of teaching skills that can be used in life in addition to music.

In the past year and a half we watched Mark pivot, seemingly effortlessly, to meet the needs of his students once Covid-19 prevented meeting in the usual way. The compositional results were better than ever. As father and stepfather to five young men, and an active grandfather to all of their children, Mark has an easy-going, unflappable, humorous approach to working with young people wherein he is able to meet each child at their individual skill level and set of interests to create works of art that will be noteworthy and beautiful.

When students see their pieces performed, they are amazed. I’ve witnessed incredulity, as though they were thinking, “I did that. I had an idea and look where it went.” In a world where a sense of agency and volition are critical to navigating forward to solve the myriad problems facing humans, this kind of inventive thinking brings joy and comfort and carries over to many other aspects of life. Doors open for these students as they build confidence and believe in their talents.

In response to the most recent series of compositions resulting from the Spring 2021 session focusing on wildfire in collaboration with the US Forest Service, professional cellist and former Nevada County music instructor David Eby writes, “As a professional cellist versed in contemporary music, I am astounded at the level of creative artistry in each of the young composers’ pieces over time and in this most recent concert on Sunday, Aug. 8. I love seeing how Mark Vance taps into what the young composers want to express. I love that he makes subtle suggestions that bring fuller expression in the pieces, but leave them in the composer’s voice. Instead of ‘here’s how I would do it,’ Mark opens the door for the young composers to see for themselves other possibilities that light them up.

The compositions in these performances hold no trace of intellectual entanglement, and express beauty without pretense.

As a performer and composer myself, listening to this music is the freshest experience imaginable. I love it.”

InConcert Sierra’s Composers Project is just about to begin accepting applications for the ’21-’22 year. For more information, visit www.inconcertsierra.org > education > composers project.

Annette Dunklin is a resident of Nevada County since 1987. Her daughter, Eva, is a senior at Nevada Union High School

InConcert Sierra's Composers Project is just about to begin accepting applications for the ’21-’22 year. For more information, visit www.inconcertsierra.org > education > composers project.
Photo by Craig Silberman
Children and young adults participating in InConcert Sierra’s Composer’s Program learn a variety of excellent life skills including research, public speaking, resume writing, composition software, and visioning and overseeing performances of their pieces.
Photo by Craig Silberman

Children’s book focuses on beloved Nevada City tree


We who are fortunate enough to live in the beautiful foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains are, these days, faced with the prospect, when we dare to venture outside, of seeing an unrecognizable universe. It is more akin to a vision of New Delhi or Mexico City on their worst days. Smoke! The once beautiful forests aflame spreading toxic smoke in every direction. Perhaps the only saving grace in the end is the actual trees still standing.

Is one tree important?

Less than one year ago, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Union and other media outlets were publishing stories about cutting down the old historic trees of Nevada City. Some of the headlines:

Nevada City Residents Fight PG&E Over Cutting Trees (Sacramento Bee, Oct. 2, 2020); ‘Bella’ Comes Down: Nevada City Police Escort People Away During Tree Cutting (The Union, Oct. 22, 2020); Upset Residents Watch PG&E Cut Down Century Old Tree in Nevada City (KCRA, Oct. 22, 2020)

One reader wrote: “Brush and ladder fuels (profuse in the areas surrounding Nevada city) carry fire, not large diameter trees in the center of towns.”

Many people in Nevada City gathered together to try to save Bella, the large Blue Atlas Cedar in the of center of downtown on Broad Street.

Lia Gladstone wrote what became a children’s book, titled simply “Bella Blue,” with illustrations by her neighbor and designer Kathy Dotson, who also lost trees during that fateful fall when some community members tried and mostly did not succeed in saving some of Nevada City’s trees. Another neighbor and lover of Bella, Jessica Leigh Henry, contributed her painting of Bella for the cover.

To make publication and distribution of “Bella Blue” a reality, Lia has launched an online Kickstarter campaign. She is hoping to raise enough funds to share this beautiful and important book.

“Yes, she is just one tree,” says Lia, “but for many of us she represents and is symbolic of what we desire for our planet for the next generations and beyond.”

To contribute to the Bella Blue Kickstarter campaign and get a sneak peek at the book, visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bellablue/bella-blue-a-childrens-book-honoring-a-majestic-tree

Al Stahler: Birthing stars

Before there were clocks or calendars or compasses, there was the sky. Stars and sun and moon tell time and date and direction.

Stars in the pre-dawn southeastern sky remind us that the rainy season is coming.

Missing for months, the constellation Orion has now re-entered the night sky, rising before the sun, in the southeast. A major constellation of the rainy season, Orion not only announces the coming end of the hot, dry summer, but also allows us to look back – way back – into the past.

First thing to catch the eye, when hunting the Hunter, is the Hunter’s belt –a line of three, medium-bright stars. Hanging from the belt is another line of three stars, not quite so bright: The Hunter’s knife.

Binoculars reveal the middle “star” of the knife as an imposter. All the other stars in the glass are twinkling points, but the middle “star” of the knife is a fuzzball.

A small telescope reveals the fuzzball to be a ginormous ball of gas and dust. And within the fuzzy ball of gas and dust, the binocs reveal true stars.

The knife’s ginormous ball of gas and dust is cosmic womb. The stars within are babes, born in regions where dust and gas fell in on itself, squeezing the gas and dust hot enough, first, to glow, then hot enough to glue the nuclei of hydrogen atoms together to make helium nuclei. The process – fusion – releases energy: Starlight.

Events taking place in that ball of gas and dust in Orion are repeating events that took place in another ball of gas and dust, four-and-a-half billion years ago.

Long ago, moving among the star of our galaxy, this ball of gas and dust would slowly approach, then abandon, one star after another. Not much happened … until the ball of gas and dust drifted close to a massive star nearing the end of its life.

A massive stars dies in a humongous explosion: a supernova.

(A smaller star may experience an occasional, non-fatal outburst. Previously invisible, the exploding star would suddenly burst into naked eye visibility. Early observers, thinking something new had been born, called this a “stella nova” – a “new star,” soon shortened to “nova.” A supernova is way more powerful than a nova.).

Four-and-a-half billion years ago, before the ball of gas and dust could drift away, the massive star went supernova. The shockwave from the explosion squeezed gas and dust together. Then gravity took over, pulling gas and dust toward the center, squeezing it yet harder. The ball collapsed. In the center, a star was born: our sun. From some of the gas and dust remaining, planets formed.

Prior to collapse, the ball of gas and dust had been spinning.

A pizza chef takes a round ball of dough, and spins it. Even as the edges of the dough ball stretch outward, the top and bottom pull inward. The ball flattens into a pizza-shaped disc.

Our spinning ball of gas and dust did the same – it flattened into a disk. The solar system is flat as a pancake … flat as a pizza. All the planets lie inside that pancake.

Looking down on the spinning ball of gas and dust, prior to collapse … looking down from above its north pole … we would have seen the gas and dust spinning counterclockwise. We know this, because planets circle the sun counterclockwise; planets spin, giving us night and day, counterclockwise. Even the sun spins – over some weeks – counterclockwise.

We live in a carousel: The solar system – sun and planets – is a merry-go-round. Each planet is a horse on the carousel. We ride the horse called Earth.

But … something odd. The horses (planets) themselves are spinning.

When the sun sets, our horse is facing backwards – facing back, in the direction from which we’ve come. The stars that come out as the sun goes down are the stars of the previous season.

By midnight, though, our horse has turned enough to look outward …To look at the stars of the present season.

And then – by dawn – our horse has turned enough to look straight ahead – to look in the direction toward which the carousel is carrying us. Now we can see the constellations of the season ahead. And thus, before dawn, Orion climbs high in the southeastern sky … telling us the rainy season is coming.

Astronomers recognize close to a hundred constellations. But, moving in their flat pancake, planets and moon can pass before only a dozen or so of those constellations – the constellations of the zodiac.

Constrained to the same, narrow part of the sky, planets and moon often pass one another.

Our moon will pass planet Venus tonight (Thursday), right after sunset. Venus and moon have already passed each other several times this year, but so close to the horizon, I’ve held off mentioning them. Now, where I live, they’re just high enough to get briefly above the trees. So if you’ve got a decent view of the western sky – someplace from which you can watch the sunset – Venus and the moon will be a treat, just after the sun goes down, before the sky grows dark – 7:30 or 8 o’clock. (There will be more, easier ops to see Venus and moon together, later this year.).

Another planet has been shining in the early-evening sky for some time: Jupiter shining brightly in the east, after sunset.

Al Stahler enjoys sharing science and nature with friends and neighbors in The Union and on KVMR-FM. He teaches classes for both kids and grown-ups, and can be reached at a.a.stahler11@gmail.com

Baby stars in their dusty womb in Orion.
Photo by NASA, ESA, M. Robberto, HST Treasury Project Team

Hollie Grimaldi Flores: A long way to go

I try, really try, to stay away from controversy. I am not always successful, but for years I have held my opinion to let others speak their own. It was my job as a news reporter, and it was the way I was raised – seen but not heard was the mantra of the times. I later convinced myself that if I didn’t know enough to defend a position completely, it was better to remain silent. And, I do not like to argue, fight or confront, which comes across as nice, but, at times, feels a bit like cowardice. To be clear, I am not saying I am not opinionated, I am simply saying I often stand back when it comes to defending a position. Today, however, there is much on my mind. It’s time to say something.

As a country, we are about to acknowledge (celebrate is simply not the right word here) the 20th anniversary of 9/11. In the West, fires have burned and are still burning in the million-acre range. In the East, hurricanes and flooding have wreaked havoc in regions growing accustomed to extreme storms and hitting other areas at unprecedented levels. Worldwide, people are still getting sick and dying from COVID-19 and the Delta variant – most active cases from folk who refuse to be vaccinated, in protest or protection of their rights as humans. And, in America (as well as other parts of the world), women remain under attack, as governments make laws that limit their ability to function in a free society.

Just over 101 years ago, the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. It was hard fought and a right not to be taken for granted. Voting rights were determined to be a human right. It was a win, but a long way from equality. A half century later, the “Mad Men” of the late 1960s created a catchy advertising jingle, touting a brand of cigarettes made just for women which included the lyric, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Even the brand name included bias toward women – Slims — like our little fingers weren’t quite robust enough for a manly cigarette!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying women have not come a long way, but when you consider the starting point was no longer being considered property, (“So, Mr. Blah, I see your assets here are one cow, two pigs, one bed, two bureaus, a sofa and oh yes, is that your wife? So that’s one cow, two pigs, one bed, two bureaus, a sofa and one human. Exceptionally good, sir”) coming along way still means we have a long way to go.

Truly. Just look at the percentages of women in positions of power versus the percentage of women in the population. Consider the gender-based wage differential. Look at the number of women who gave up their jobs over their male counterparts when the country shut down and it was time to homeschool the children. You don’t have to look hard to see how much change still needs to come and recently, it has become even more concerning, as women are actually losing ground.

There is no way to convince me the latest attack on women’s rights in the not-so-great state of Texas is not about power and control. Men have been ruling since the beginning of time and certainly in the United States of America, white men created a system that benefited white men. Over time, they have given the repressed small (like letting us wear pants to work), and not so small (such as voting rights) victories, but as those victories chipped away at their total dominance, those in majority rule have been quick to remind us of who is really in charge. I don’t understand the women who follow along.

Regardless on your position around women’s reproductive rights, a frightening aspect of the law passed in Texas is the fact that it deputizes private individuals to sue anyone who performs the procedure or “aids and abets” it. Those individuals are entitled to $10,000 and their legal fees covered if they win. People will be able to make a fairly good living as vigilantes.

Knowing the law legislatures wanted to pass would be found fundamentally unconstitutional, devious legal minds developed a work around. It is a very slippery slope and one I hope will soon be overturned in the higher courts on grounds not yet explored. That egregious act, along with voting suppression tactics that are taking place, are exactly why there are higher courts.

But I am disheartened. I heard a “joke” last week from a man who stated that since the death of Justice Bader Ginsberg, the Supreme Court has been “Ruth-less.” Ruthless. The pun stung – too true to be truly funny.

The legacy of the last commander-in-chief is three Supreme Court Justices and a country that has lost its civility toward those with differing opinions. It is a frightening time to be a minority in the United States of America.

Twenty years ago, when our country was attacked, we came together. Fear brought us together. The common enemy was “out there.” For a short time, we did not judge each other based on gender, color, sexual preference or any other bias. Sadly, it did not last and today we are not only polarized in our beliefs, but we have also lost the ability to allow differences of opinions and beliefs. The previous administration brought out the worst in us and gave the underbelly of society a shining light. It is not pretty.

There must be a way to turn it back around. Fire, flood, plague and pandemic have not been enough to bring us together. Even though we don’t all agree, we need to find a way to protect our free society.

I believe, at our core, we are primarily good people, doing our best in an uncertain world with an uncertain future. We came a long way and then we lost our footing. Now you know where I stand.

Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire, as well as a podcaster at HollieGrams. You can hear her episodes at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1332253. She can be reached at holliesallwrite@gmail.com

Founding conductor returns to Music in the Mountains with postgraduate degree

Music in the Mountains announces that Wayland Whitney is returning to take the reins of the Music in the Mountains Youth Orchestra. A native of Northern California, Whitney directed the youth orchestra from its inception until he moved to New York State in 2018, where he earned his master’s degree in conducting.

“As music and strings programs are cut from school budgets, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for young people to develop and maintain music skills,” explains Whitney. “Yet society as a whole needs to continue cultivating musicians. MIMYO offers a friendly, nurturing environment where young students can work with their peers, which studies show is important.”

Ryan Murray, Music in the Mountains artistic director and conductor commented, “I’m thrilled to be welcoming Wayland back to MIM. He is a truly gifted musician and educator and I know our students will get so much out of working with him. I’m looking forward to our first MIMYO concert this year and all of the great music this season.”

Whitney will also serve as assistant conductor for Music in the Mountains and has recently been named conductor of the Modesto Youth Symphony Orchestra. Wayland co-founded the Placer County Youth Orchestra in Roseville during his undergraduate work at U.C. Davis. He also served as assistant conductor for Rancho Cordova-based Symphony D’Oro and has written and arranged music for a series of Auburn Symphony school outreach programs.

The Music in the Mountains Youth Orchestra offers the orchestral experience to players in grades 3 – 12 under the direction of a professional conductor. String, woodwind, brass and percussion players work on classical repertoire during weekly rehearsals at the newly renovated Center for the Arts, where the group will also perform. The youth orchestra is generously underwritten by Julia Amaral, Mark Straite, Felix Bors and Tailan Izet.

The application form and calendar may be downloaded at: https://www.musicinthemountains.org/education/youth-orchestra/

Interested students may also contact Marge Shasberger, education programs manager at: marges@musicinthemountains.org, or call 530-265-6173.

Source: Music in the Mountains

Music in the Mountains has announced that Wayland Whitney is returning to take the reins of the Music in the Mountains Youth Orchestra.
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