Saturday, July 30, 2011

Stars: Our fading fascination with space

The days of America sending astronauts into space is over.

Last week, NASA's Space Shuttle program ended with the successful landing of Space Shuttle Atlantis.

What has been a regular fabric of my lifetime ~ American's fascination with space exploration ~ has waned in recent years. There just isn't the same interest in the American space program that I remember as a child, when man was first exploring Moon, starting with the historic Apollo 11 flight in 1969. Remember "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind?"

While Space Shuttle Mission STS-135 was authorized last year, it initially had no appropriation in the NASA budget. There were questions about whether the mission would fly. After a lot of haggling on Capitol Hill, money was found and, finally, STS-135 got the green light to proceed in April. Space Shuttle Atlantis was launched on July 8 and was originally scheduled to land on July 20. However, it was extended by an additional day.

On July 21, Space Shuttle Atlantis safely returned to Earth at 5:57 a.m. EDT and NASA's space shuttle program, for all intents and purposes, ended with the mission's conclusion. Ironically, it was 53 years ago this week that President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which created NASA.

Thinking about our nation's space exploration, I am reminded of the ethereal sound scape "Stars" by German electronic musician Ulrich Schnauss, a song I've been listening to on my iPod with great frequency.

Beginning or end.
When it's all gone,
Why should I pretend?
All these days,
Will never come back.
Do you remember,
Or did you forget?

Losing with every step I take,
Losing with every move I make.
Turn into everything I hate,
Losing with every move I make.

Looking at the stars, must be a reason.
Why our hopes feel lost in the glow for every season.
Looking at the stars, I see that they move on.
Because I'm not sure if you miss me, I move on.
I move on ... 
Carry on.

Now, looking up at the sky and admiring all those bright stars on a clear night just won't be the same.

"Stars" lyrics by Ulrich Schnauss, copyright 2007.
Video courtesy of YouTube.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The pleasure of our gardens, part 19

The pleasure of our gardens ...

Rainbow colored rose 

White rose

First Prize rose

First Prize rose

Orange rose

Queen Elizabeth roses

... is what's on my mind this summer.

I've been thinking a lot about a quote I recently came across attributed to the late author Leo Buscaglia.

"A single rose can be my garden ... a single friend, my world."

One beautiful thought summed up in 12 simple words.

Such beauty, love and kindness.

Indeed, it's the pleasure of our gardens.

All photographs by Michael Dickens. Copyright June and July 2011.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A splendor in the Wimbledon grass

Novak Djokovic / He's the new No. 1 men's player in the world.

Sunday's Wimbledon gentlemen's singles final between Novak Djokovic and defending champion Rafael Nadal brought out many great qualities in both players. It also served as a reminder to us why tennis truly is a global sport. 

This year's final was watched with the same eager anticipation and interest by my Facebook friends around the world: in Serbia and Spain, the native countries of Djokovic and Nadal; in Austria, Morocco, Tunisia, Thailand, the Philippines, even here in the U.S., where interest often wanes when there isn't an American competing on the final Sunday. 

There are not many sports or sporting events ~ except maybe international football's World Cup ~ that draw such a diverse audience, regardless of the time of day we watch it in our respective countries. For me, residing in northern California, watching Wimbledon live meant waking up early at 6 a.m. Yet, that is why it's billed by broadcast network NBC as "Breakfast at Wimbledon" here in the U.S. 

Looking back, it doesn't always matter who wins or loses, but how the game is played. And, Djokovic, who knew prior to the final that he would be the newly-ranked No. 1 player in the world as of Monday replacing Nadal, showed great all-court skill in all facets of his game ~ serving, volleying, ground strokes, returns ~ and, he proved to everyone why he is worthy of his No. 1 ranking. 

This year, Djokovic has won titles on hard courts, clay and, now, grass. He started 2011 by winning the Australian Open in Melbourne in February, then won tournaments in Dubai, Indian Wells, Key Biscayne, Belgrade, Madrid and Rome. He won an amazing 43 consecutive matches dating back the 2010 Davis Cup final tie in December before losing to Roger Federer in the French Open semifinals last month. As for Nadal, 25, himself a two-time Wimbledon champion, he showed why he is the eternal optimist. El Matador, as he's known by many of his most passionate fans, never gave up when he was behind. He battled his way back into the match from down two sets to win the third set ~ and, Nadal nearly forced the championship match to a fifth and deciding set. 

In the end, Djokovic won 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3. It was the affable 24-year-old Serbian, who enjoyed the Bjorn Borg splendor in the grass moment as he joyfully collapsed to the grass before Borg and other past champions in celebrating his victory on Centre Court.

In tennis, the best are known simply by their first names: Bjorn, Martina, Roger, Serena. Or, in the case of this year's final, their nicknames. On Sunday, good sportsmanship prevailed on the battle-tested Centre Court between Nole and Rafa. When the match ended, Djokovic embraced victory by planting a firm kiss on the grass. He had become a first-time Wimbledon champion and, thus, fulfilled a childhood dream. He would return home the next day to a hero's welcome in Belgrade before hundreds of thousands of fans and fellow Serbians. Meanwhile, Nadal and his fans could take solace in knowing that for Djokovic to become the best, he had to beat the best in Nadal.

Tennis was the winner on Sunday and throughout the fortnight at Wimbledon. Now, a great rivalry has been firmly seeded in the green grass of London SW19 for many years to come.

Image of Novak Djokovic courtesy of TennisChannel, 2011.