Washington column for Aug. 30

Planets on display at future Dark Sky Park

More than 90 people, ages 5 to 92, from Rappahannock and surrounding counties and states met at the Rappahannock County Park for a fun-filled evening with clear skies for viewing the full moon and four major planets.

The dark sky event Saturday was jointly sponsored by the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection (RLEP) and the Rappahannock County Recreational Authority (RCRFA). The Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC) kindly brought telescopes to share the celestial views.

Activities kicked off with RLEP president Rick Kohler explaining interesting facts about the vast distances between the earth and objects we see in the sky, and then impressing us with how incredibly fast we travel through the universe — almost 2 million miles per hour! Two slide shows followed presented by Torney Van Acker: “What to See on the Moon and Planets” and “Why Dark Sky Parks Matter,” the latter in support of the application for a Dark Skies Park designation from the International Dark-Sky Association.

Photographer Joyce Harman displayed large prints of her unique night sky photographs featuring the Milky Way, demonstrated how unshielded outdoor lighting impacts night photography, and explained how to take a quality picture of the moon with a smart phone.

Gasps of awe from children and adults alike when they discovered the beautiful rings around Saturn. Photo by Torney Van Acker

On the “observation pad” at least seven telescopes ranging from a 2-inch refractor to a 14-inch reflector were aimed at the full moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn — the main events for the evening. You could hear occasional gasps of awe from children and adults alike when they discovered the craters on the moon, the beautiful rings of Saturn, or the colored bands on Jupiter orbited by three of its moons.

The biggest hit of the evening was Joyce Harman’s spotting scope with a special attachment to allow everyone with a smart phone to get a closeup shot of the moon to send to their friends. Photo by Torney Van Acker

But the biggest hit of the evening was Harman’s spotting scope with a special attachment to allow everyone with a smart phone to get a closeup shot of the moon to send to friends. The waiting line was as long as any ride at Six Flags! Images of the full moon started showing up on social media almost immediately. People enjoyed the evening so much some stayed until after 11 p.m. The next dark sky event will be at the park on Saturday, Oct. 6.

Doggie Camp

Many of you have seen Gail Swift walking her dogs around town; what you may not know is that she and Hammie compete in agility. Hammie loves his jumps, tunnels and everything else agility related. This past weekend, Gail and Hammie, along with friend Averill Ring from Amissville (also their agility teacher) and her border collie Salsa, spent three exciting days at an agility camp held at Canine Companions in Pennsylvania. They not only practiced specific agility handling under the guidance of well known instructors, they also had a class in safe approaches, a very critical lesson for them and their dogs.

In between classes, the dogs swam in a pond, did barn hunts, had an odor recognition contest and, Hammie’s favorite, a lure course! This was a hundred foot long course with a bag tied to a rope that was pulled very very quickly up and back by a machine. This was a time game for how fast they could run. Hammie ran it in 24 seconds! Fly boy! When not at camp, Gail, Averill and their dogs hiked near the wonderful B & B they stayed at on a bluff overlooking the Susquehanna River.

This incredible experience helped prepare the two teams for the many agility trials (contests) that they will compete in this fall.

Street festival

The Annual Taste of the Mountains Main Street Festival in the historic town of Madison is Saturday, Sept. 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be arts and crafts, bands, folk music and bluegrass. There will be many individual vendors in their booths as well.

There is also lots for the kids to do including pony rides, magic shows, face painting and more! Free admission and free parking shuttles from Madison County High School.

$5 bag sale

Firehouse Treasures Thrift Shop operated by the Washington Ladies Auxiliary will be holding its $5 bag sale on Labor Day weekend, Saturday, Sept.1, from 8:30 to 5 p.m. Hours of operation are Tuesday and Wednesday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Saturday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, call 540-675-1245.


My deepest sympathy to the family of Nancy Keyser on the passing of her dear son, Henry M. ‘Scott’ Keyser III, age 57 of Washington. Scott passed away on Sunday, Aug. 12 at his home in Washington.

God’s garden must be beautiful, he always takes the best Nancy. He knew that your son were suffering, he knew he was in pain, he knew that he would never get well on this earth again.

Scott, you will be missed by everyone who knew you. Nancy my prayers are with you and your family at this sad time.

Cooler days

Summer is finally winding down, farmers getting their last cut of hay in, displays of colorful chrysanthemums for sale in the garden centers — symbols of the return of the chilly season, the approach of Halloween, falling leaves. I’m switching gears here to welcome the fall weather, shorter days and cooler nights.

But just because kids have headed back to school and Christmas layaways are available at Walmart, we don’t have to pack up the patio grill. Labor Day is the perfect time to throw a fantastic season-ending cookout. Invite your friends and family over and have a blast.

Just remember that law enforcement will be out in force this weekend, making sure the roads are safe for us. Let’s keep our focus on the road while we are traveling to and from family and friends.