The light from the burning campfire was reflecting on the dark waters of the bay, mixing and dancing with the reflected lights of the town two miles away. Mike laid the last log of the evening on the embers and gently poked the flames back to life; he stood up and joined his wife on the blanket. For a moment they stared into the flames, not saying anything but pressing their seated bodies close together. “Tell me a story.” Kathy asked her husband softly.
“See that planet up there?” He pointed his free arm out over the bay and upwards. “That’s Jupiter. Do you know Galileo discovered the Jovian moons early in the 1600’s. Lots of people think he invented the telescope but in reality that was done by the Dutch. Galileo did however build the first telescopes accurate enough for precise astronomical observations.”
One advantage of living with a science professor is that he could always find something to talk about. “Almost as soon as the telescope was trained on Jupiter Galileo discovered four moons orbiting the planet. With an eye on their continued patronage, he proposed to name them after the Medici family.”
“Imagine that.” Kathy smiled at her husband with teasing look. “And you complain about having to write grants. Did he?” “No, he did not. I don’t think the Medicis were convinced that those moons were actually there. There were a great many scientists who thought Galileo had simply made a mistake or had observed some kind of optical illusion. Mostly, the reason was that this discovery challenged a basic belief about the nature of the universe. Many people believed that the earth was the center of the universe and that the sun, stars, and all the planets revolved around it.”
“But now we know better.”
“Yes, darling, now we know that Boston is the center of the universe.”
Mike was always ready with a joke about the self-importance of a city that was home to Harvard, MIT, and Tufts. He went on, “obviously if Jupiter had moons revolving around it, then the earth was not the center of the universe.
“Quiet dear, I don’t think they know that yet. Where was I? Oh yes, in time other astronomers obtained good telescopes and eventually Galileo’s observations were confirmed.”
The two people sitting on the beach snuggled closer more for companionship than for warmth. “The moons of Jupiter fascinated astronomers for years. As better clocks were developed, they began timing the orbits of the moons and measuring their eclipses. But one thing puzzled everyone, as time went on, the eclipses were coming later and later. Finally they happened about eight minutes later than the time astronomers predicted for them. Next the gap between the predicted time of the eclipse and the observed time grew shorter and shorter. Then the cycle repeated itself.”
“Why?” Kathy knew how to keep one of her husband’s stories going.
“Funny you should ask. The eclipses that were late usually occurred at times when Jupiter was farthest from earth. In 1676, one astronomer, Ole Roemer of Denmark, wrote, though it might be because Jupiter was so far away that it took the light up to eight extra minutes to reach earth. At the time, opinion was divided about the speed of light, some thought that light traveled instantaneously, which is to say its speed, was infinite. Others thought that the speed of light was finite but too fast ever to be measured. So Roemer devised a simple experiment, he took the distance between earth and Jupiter when the times of the eclipses had been correctly predicted. Then he measured the distance when they were late, then he simply divided that distance by the time.”
“Was he correct?”
“Yes and no. At the time, neither the size of the earth or the exact distance to Jupiter was known with sufficient accuracy. So his result was only about two thirds of the actual value. But when his data is recalculated with modern measurements, his result is really quite close. Given the available tools, his value was about as accurate as could be expected. You see, to measure the distance to a planet it is necessary to triangulate…”
Kathy interrupted, “Spare me the math. Does this story have a happy ending?”
“Oh, very happy, Roemer had trouble convincing his colleagues that he really did measure the speed of light, so he arranged a dramatic demonstration. He publicly announced that on a certain night, the eclipses of the Jovian moons would be eleven minutes late. They were, and his value for the speed of light was accepted throughout the western world. Even though he was wrong, he did prove you could measure the speed of light.”
They sat in silence for a few moments. Kathy slipped off her sneakers and held her stocking toes close to the fire, wiggling them now and again while she looked at the flames.
“Now you tell me a story.” Mike asked, taking his arm from around his wife and stretching out on the blanket.
“OK, now you see those seven stars there?” She pointed now.
“Yes the Pleiades.”
“Not to the Kiowa, they knew them as the Seven Sisters. Know how they got there?”
Mike was silent. A children’s book editor for many years, Kathy had many stories too.
“Once upon a time there was a Kiowa band crossing the prairie. After a long time they made camp on the edge of a stream. As is happens, some Bear People living nearby smelled the Kiowa and decided to eat them. The Bear People’s hunters set off to find them.
“Seven young girls had been gathering berries up the stream and they were set upon by the hunters. Although the girls ran as fast as they could, the bears caught up to them. At last the girls came to a rock and sang a pray to the rock to protect them. Now the rock had never been prayed to before so he decided at once to help the seven girls. After they climbed to the top, the rock began to make himself taller.”
“But as tall as the rock grew, the hunters prayed to the bear gods and they too began to grow taller. They clawed and tore at the rock, which created huge scratches and tore loose huge stones that rolled down the sides.
Kathy pulled her feet under her and gave her head a shake.
“In time the bears gave up and went home. Because the bears still had not returned to their normal size, they were seen as giants by the Kiowa people who hastily broke camp and fled. They saw the giant rock and supposed that it was the home of the bears. The rock became known as “Tso’ Ai’,” or “Bears’ Lodge.”
“What happened to the girls?” Mike asked.
“They were stranded on top of the rock. Their families thought they had been eaten by the bears so nobody stayed behind to look for them. But they sang and prayed again, this time to the stars in the sky. The stars were so pleased to hear their song that they took the seven girls up into the sky. That constellation we are looking at, the Seven Sisters, passes over the Bears’ Lodge every night and they smile down on the rock that saved them.”
They two sat in silence for a few moments. Then Kathy became practical. “When this wind dies down, we’ll be eaten alive by mosquitoes.”
“Time for bed then?”
“Yes dear, but not for sleep.” They doused the fire and crawled into the tent. Once the flap was securely zipped behind them they began undressing in the warm darkness. Now naked, Kathy unrolled the sleeping bag and crawled inside. She gave her husband a look of unmistakable invitation.
“Do you want me to be a bear?”
“Anything you like dear, just don’t go at the speed of light.”
With a low growl he slid naked into the sleeping bag, brushed his wife’s hair from her ear and gave it a playful bite. “Roar, roar.”
They folded themselves into each other’s arms and began stroking the exposed skin in all the special places known only to each other. As his fingers lightly played over her breasts, Kathy rose and stroked her husband’s organ with one hand while running the fingers of the other through his hair, thinning now, but still soft to her touch.
“Now,” She soon asked with a calm that neither of them felt.
Rising above her he lowered himself on and into her, pausing after the first penetration to savor the moment and whisper his love. They did not pause very long, as soon their hips locked in a mutual spirited trashing. Kathy looked up at the roof of the tent and felt their bodies melting together, skins fused with sweat, hair and arms tangled. With a groan of pleasure Mike began his climax, picking up on her husband’s joy, Kathy became shaking as her own pleasure wrapped her body.
In the close air of the tent, breathing afterwards did not come easily and so they laid very still.
From time to time they whispered “I love you’s” across the dark space between them.
“Back to parenthood tomorrow.” Kathy observed after kissing Mike. “Don’t forget we have a school program Friday night.”
“Back to work, and bills, and responsibilities.” Mike agreed. He could see the lights from the distant town faintly illuminating the tent flap.
“We don’t have to return until late afternoon. We could spend some time swimming,” she suggested. With that Mike made another grring sound. “And then you can catch our breakfast.”
“Good things bears are great fishermen.”
“And bares, make great swimmers.”
And with that thought, they drifted off to sleep.
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