John Lowry Dobson
My old bud John Dobson passed away last month, January 15.
(Though he was 99-years-old when he left his body, I'm referring to my long-time acquaintance with him). At the time he left, I resisted writing about him here, because he was not a Skye man. Having thought about it, I have to say he belongs here at Angel on Skye, because John was mist and shimmer, myth and dream, fertile invention--if anyone could build a cloud castle, it was he.
John Dobson was my orb of the night, my loony lunar play-pal, my shooting star--a star-gazer mad and fleary as thistle down. He was a searcher and teacher of physics, with the levity of eider down let loose on the island moors.
This dancer through life was a joyous gossamer thread to follow. I do rejoice in the memory of his rush from any part of the world to make it to our Hollywood Hills Christmas caroling ventures, in that he chose me for my voice and laughter--arm in arm--we raised our song like hounds at the moon.
The ladies swooned over John for his loving camaraderie, his great sense of humor, his guitar-plucking, his easy ways which made us all feel like this is the kind of man we want in our lives--our ideal for true marriage of souls...we could say we wanted to marry him and thank goodness he never took us seriously.
John served as a Vedanta monastic in San
Francisco and Sacramento, U.S.A., for twenty-three years (1944-67). There, Swami Ashokananda
assigned him the task of reconciling Advaita Vedanta and modern
For many years, he visited the Vedanta Society of Southern
California--for several months at a stretch. When
residing at the Vedanta Society, he presented a series of fascinating cosmology
classes, each over a month in length. In his cosmology series, John started out
teaching some basic ideas about the universe, the birth, growth and death of
stars. Then he turned to the nature of the electron and proton, Heisenberg’s
uncertainty principle, and Einstein’s equation for the objective separation of
events in 4-dimensional space-time. This led to a discussion of what is behind
space-time-matter-energy and how we get from it to this universe that we
perceive. His cosmology directly corresponds with the ideas of Advaita Vedanta.
John then explained how spiritual practices naturally follow from this
cosmology. This brilliant, twinkle-eyed science guru turned me on to physics and I am forever grateful.
Twice while visiting Southern California, he appeared as a guest on
the Johnny Carson Tonight Show.
John Dobson is the founder of the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers. His books are: Astronomy for
Children Under Eighty (1973); Advaita Vedanta and Modern Science
(1979) (republished as Beyond Space and Time); "The Moon Is New": Time Comes In With A Minus
Sign; and Plans for Building a Sidewalk Telescope (free download)
(1991). John also penned two articles in Prabhuddha Bharata (1985-86) and six in
Vedanta Kesari (1988-96). Nearly all of these addresses and writings were on the
subject of Vedanta and modern physics, particularly in relation to the
scientific cosmology of Albert Einstein.
When in Southern California on
a yearly basis, John also presented a class for constructing personal large-size
telescopes at a fraction of their normal cost. He has become world famous for
helping thousands of people make their own telescopes. Even today, many manufacturers copy his simple and elegant design, which is dubbed “the Dobsonian”. He and
many of his students have made it possible for hundreds of thousands of people
to view the rest of the universe through a telescope. He felt that it is
important for people to start wondering about the nature of this universe, and he said that letting them look through a telescope is a good way to get that wondering
During the last few years of his life, John resided at the
Hollywood monastery of the Vedanta Society. He impressed many with his zeal for
life and his regular meditation habit. He left his body on Wednesday, January
Obituaries appeared in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. For a glimpse into what his friends valued him for, a number of videos of John Dobson can be found
Thanks to the Vedanta Society and Swami Atmavidyananda for bio notes.
Friday, February 21, 2014
Monday, February 10, 2014
Sun raises his glory a little earlier...
one brave eye peeks over the bedsheet more hopefully...
leaf buds appear and some dare to swagger forth in lime radiance and apparent defiance of the ominous slate on the horizon...
mad-cap geese sail near the icy wind and tip, and almost flip...
a lone tit pecks frantically for a peanut before perhaps the late-winter gale catches her plucky spirit...
…while snowdrops bow to whatever may come, tiny lion-hearts of February
Skye and as you can see, these Orbost Highland cattle are dancing a jig...
well, this guy is just very good at playing poker--but I know by the tilt of the hip, he is swaying to the pipes.
The petite homesteader on the hill at Orbost estate showed a very good tossing arm. What a wall and what a great day to find snowdrops...
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Excerpt from my favorite book about Scotland (mine!), Gimme the Song O' the Pipes!
The boys keep making sounds about my clotted cream belly again, after my gorge on chocolates last night. My host fills the jar every day--why, why? Today is my walk around Irishman’s Point in Broadford. It sounds like a simple, interesting walk along the Broadford Bay coast. Fooh and Angus say they are ready for an adventure...little do we know...
We happily tread past the hostel, which has a prime location looking out over the bay. Fooh is impressed that I recognize the oystercatchers, with their bills even longer than their long legs which end in big chicken feet. Photo-taking of blackish, brackish seaweed turns on my artistic soul, then over a stile, around the point, along the edge of the water—when all goes haywire.
69. Irishman's Point.
It is a mucking mess, if I may say so. The rocks and basalt are slippery, so it is too difficult and no fun to walk close to the edge of the water. Up a bit is the deep sloshy, grassy muck. I become discouraged and decide to head up the hill and along a fence. The view is magnificent, with the isles of Crowlin far off in the distance, and closer up, Pabay and Longay. The going is just as tough here and I plan to move right up over the hill to the road on the far side of the conifers. No messing around.
The fence is un-crossable here, so we follow it around the corner and keep climbing. I have to go pee, but decide to wait, then it gets worse, because I have to go poo. Oh dear. This happens to me every time I go into a bookstore. But why here? Okay, so it could be readily taken care of, except there is nowhere to step except on my bit of patchy grass. So my task is to squat in my own bed, so to speak, find bits of dried leafy vegetation to use and move on, hoping the troops aren’t close behind me—I can hear them now...oh yuck, what the...?
Up a ways there is no trekking onward, too much vegetation, so I climb the fence and double-over to move under bushes—Fooh and Angus in my hood yelp occasionally when a twig snaps in their faces. As I creep along, hunched and slipping and sliding, I feel like Hyacinth in a comic sketch, but it gets worse. I am now looking across a vast stretch of clear-cutting on the hill. To the left, way up and over, is a long forest-like stand of fir trees. As I begin stepping into the mess of stumps and piled branches, it becomes immensely—I say immensely because my mind has just exploded with the realization—immensely obvious that this is going to be a nightmare. With each step is the possibility of dropping down into several feet of water and rotting, stinking-of-sewage vegetation. I am going to royally get paid back for my soiling in my bed antics. Fooh keeps saying we could or should go back the way we came, but the optimist in me says this can’t last forever and I hate to go back to the muck. After about an hour, I pause to take a self portrait of my plight, in case I never get out. They will have a last- moments-of-my-life illumination to give to my daughter Woo.
70. I'm smiling because
Fooh and Angus have toppled over and are on my right
in the muck, but first things first...
I pause for the camera, hanging on and standing on a root...
I choose a path, climb over stumps and realize that it is safest to try to follow the line of the tree roots. One path after another--guessing games of this way or that leading to the hill over there, or perhaps a road up there, end only in disappointment and frustration. I discover various trails made by tractors and follow up and down, and they lead to nowhere. Each step is tentative and I barely move five feet per minute. When finally we reach the line of trees at the top and think okay, we can go through the forest to the road, it only gets more treacherous. That is not a viable solution.
I decide to move along the edge of the forest and by this time, I can barely move without falling into a bog or one leg dropping down into a hole under the delicate, rotting branches. Now, the terrain gets more lumpish and trenchy. Streams are moving under everything and I climb down and then up. This all strikes me as ludicrous, because I can’t be far away from anything.
But I see no one—just rolling brown trenches and steep water-filled ravines and stumps and clumps of high grass--this Angus suggests I concentrate my weight on, which turns out to be my saving grace. Then my feet turn every which way, my ankles twist, my new fleece pants and shoes are filled with smelly water, mud and crap. On I stumble, wanting to cry, but why? What good will it do? It becomes almost impossible to move in any direction.
After hours of this, I see some buildings. It turns out to be the company that is cutting these trees. Now the final hour—of acres of bog, six-foot piles of Christmas tree branches with no bottom, and all intermingled with—oh, la, what a surprise—berry vines! Acres of berry vines—wrapped around, trailing through, tangled in all of the above. I have fallen from grace with the gods and have been plunged into a dark hellhole. So close and yet, so far, far from any place I would choose to be rather than here. Angus wants to shout out for help, but I am too mortified. How embarrassing and how could I betray my country by revealing my stupidity to these Scots?
No, I bumble on, tumble down; scratched, grabbed at by every nasty prickly bit of berry vine. My legs and hands bleed, each step catches me, digs at me, I pull and pull and pull the vines away and each step is another imprisonment. I can actually hear the men shouting to each other over there but they ignore me. For this I am grateful—once they heard my American dialect, I’d be a laughing stock. I practice my London dialect, thinking if they do notice me, I can convince them I’m an idiot from the south.
By the time I break free and find my way through a junkyard of planks that want to flip and tip each time I tentatively put my foot on them, and climb over the fence, it has been four and a half hours since we left the water’s edge. When I step onto the blacktop of the road across the street from the Highland Free Press, I feel I have never been so happy to walk with a road under my feet and the boys cheer me on. I am exhausted.
At Caberfeidh, I leave my boots on the porch, toss the guys onto the bed and walk straight into the shower, clothes and all. Afterwards, somehow refreshed, I take a walk to the Co-op to replace the candies in my room. By the time I get ready for bed, I have eaten half of the chocolates and am sick of myself. My last fading thought before sleep is, ‘Spare me from pigging out tomorrow.’