“When sorrows come, they come not single spies,
But in battalions.” (Hamlet 4.5.76-77)
This column begins with a delightful quotation from Hamlet, where King Claudius reflects on the deaths of Hamlet’s father, Polonius, and the madness of Ophelia. In this lonely period of my own life, the one constant I have is being able to continue doing the stargazing that I love so much. In recent months, the losses of Don Machholz, Constantine Papacosmas, and Wendee have tested the strength of observing the night sky as never before. But I must add to this the passing of my closest friend from my youth, Carl Jorgensen, on October 18. Of these four transitions that occurred late this year two of them—Don and Carl, both died from Covid. This is strong evidence that we are nowhere near being done with this dreadful illness.
Our lifelong friendship began in November of 1963. I had just returned from a 14-month stay at the Jewish National Home for Asthmatic Children in Denver. At the observatory of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in Montreal, Isabel Williamson introduced “young Carl Jorgensen” to “young David Levy” and our friendship never wavered over 59 stargazing years after that.
We both especially enjoyed observing shooting stars. In the late summer of 1965 Carl and I were counting Perseid meteors (that all seemed to radiate from the constellation of Perseus) when Carl began to sing to himself the lyrics of a newly released song. Carl went on and on under that clear sky. “Carl,” I asked, “what are you singing?”
“Bob Dylan’s new song, ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’”
“How long is this song supposed to last?”
“About six minutes.”
“Carl, you’ve been singing it for over half an hour.” By the next time Carl and I met for observing, I had become a staunch Dylan fan as well.
In March 1976, those of us who liked comets were still reeling from the failure of Comet Kohoutek to live up to expectations. Another comet, found by Richard M. West, was supposed to be in the predawn sky, and Carl drove me out to see it. As we drove into a darker sky south of Montreal, I looked out past Carl’s window and saw a magnificent comet rising in the east. Carl reacted to my exclamation: “OK, we’ll find a spot, set up the telescope, and try to find it.”
“Carl, just look to your left!” Carl glanced out his window, and nearly drove the car off the road. What an unforgettable morning that was.
Carl enjoyed a lifelong interest in double stars. His favorite (and mine) was a beautiful triple star in the constellation of Cepheus. Known as Struve 2816, it is a magnificent triple sun. It is easy to find and wonderful to watch.
It is particularly evocative now . “Doubt that the stars doth shine,” Hamlet might have complained, but I think that even he would enjoy being with Carl to enjoy the sight of that lovely star.