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Pie in the Sky

Sunday, 2 March 2003
written by Teresa

I see you have pie.

The Pie-o-neer There is a remote town in New Mexico so devoted to the baking, eating and selling of fruit filled pastry cases, that it changed it's name to Pie Town in the 1920's. To call this somewhat shambled and partly derelict collection of buildings a town, may be a slight exaggeration but the pie part of the description cannot be disputed. On a mid week afternoon we arrived to find at least a dozen varieties on sale at the Pie-O-Neer café. Behind the counter in the dark wood-lined, throwback-dining room are a number of First Place Ribbons from the Annual Pie Festival. A large wood-burning stove in the centre of the room gives off a steady determined heat, the entire experience being a step back in time. Thick, crumbly pastry and luscious moist fillings make the pies deserving of their accolades and it is just as well that we were only passing through.

The antennae of the VLA, in motion Just down the road from the town of dessert is the Very Large Array (VLA). This is of course distinct from the Not So Big Array (NSBA), the Middle-Sized Array (MSA) and the Miniscule Array (MA). The VLA is a radio telescope made up of a group of twenty-seven individual dishes, which collectively form the largest such device in the world. The signals from each are electronically connected producing the same effect as one Absolutely Enormous Single Dish (AESD). One might have hoped that such an important piece of scientific equipment would have been given a slightly more illustrious name but I hesitate to conjecture on the possibilities.

The VLA is on the isolated high Plains of San Agustin, suitably distant from concentrations of population to avoid any interference. The gleaming white parabolic saucers stand in orderly lines against a landscape of yellow vegetation, distant mountains and quickly changing skies. In their tightest configuration the Y-shaped layout is clearly visible and results in the widest angle of view. The layout that strings each arm out over thirteen miles gives the highest resolution of a small area of the cosmos. Each dish weighs two hundred and thirty tonnes and measures eighty-two feet in diameter. To move the antenna from one configuration to another takes up to two weeks and deploys a dual rail transport system specially designed for the facility.

The collective identity of the dishes reveals itself in their graceful, near silent dance of synchronicity, apparently unbidden but for the call of a distant quasar, reminiscent of sunflowers scanning the path of their namesake. A stark poetic beauty shines from the tonnes of metal dipping and sweeping in concert, searching the skies for news of ancient celestial events, looking back in time even to our origins.

Geese And Cranes Bosque Del Apache also demands attention skywards. Massive flocks of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes winter here in the comparative warmth of New Mexico feeding on the plentiful supply of food found in the myriad lakes and marsh of the Wildlife Refuge. It offers the sight and sound of thousands of geese sweeping across the sky with the approach of dusk, in their somewhat orderly but haphazard lines, their white bodies and black tipped wings contrasting against the pale blue background, deciding at the very last possible moment (VLPM) to descend en masse to a small pond, jostling and noisy in their positioning on the water. The majority of the cranes have already gone north in preparation for the coming breeding season, but sufficient numbers remain to stand in groups, surrounded by a sea of geese, their size no help in the battle for space.

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