Before I began the glamorous work of becoming a writer, I was a high school teacher. I worked in several high schools over the years, doing everything from teaching English to driving the van for science field trips, but my favorite job was my first (and longest) in Bishop, California. One of many small towns flanking the high desert of the Sierra Nevada range, Bishop is on the highway between Los Angeles and Reno, and many view it as nothing more than a place to stop and get gas before they go skiing at Mammoth Mountain.
But I loved it there. In fact, I never intended to leave. Until I fell in love and then I did leave, but that’s another story.
Bishop Union High School is a small place filled with a band of passionate teachers, most of whom have chosen to work and live in the Owens Valley for a certain way of life. Pretty much anything you want to do outdoors is at your feet there. Bishop has Mule Days (a whole weekend devoted to celebrating the mule; it’s fantastic; you must put it on your bucket list), world-class fishing and rock climbing, hot springs, and a rich history of conservatives and liberals working to get along. I could go on. Someday I’ll move back.
My favorite tidbit about my old stomping grounds is this: Recently, students at Bishop Union High School sent a rubber chicken named Camilla into space.
What’s more, their venture was (will continue to be) sponsored by NASA. Camilla is NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory mascot who has upwards of 20,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter. I’d like to say I still have my finger on the pulse at B.U.H.S., but I only know about the project because the students involved were interviewed on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me last weekend. Instantly transported back to my time as a teacher there, I listened as Peter Sagal interviewed young scientists from Earth to Sky, a team of Bishop’s middle and high school students who are working on various astrobiology projects. Probably it was a coincidence, but the kids Sagal interviewed were all girls. I almost cried at the great, good hope of a tribe of young girls choosing science ( at lunch; it’s not even a class!) instead of the raft of pursuits they no doubt feel culture expects of them. But, I digress. I’m sure there are plenty of boys in Earth to Sky, too. They just weren’t interviewed.
I’m tempted to pack my bags right now and join up with Earth and Sky. Or just hang out with kids pumped about science. Right now they’re waiting to see what Camilla’s “radiation badges,” sent away to a commercial lab for testing, will reveal. My guess is Camilla’s relationship with Bishop’s kids isn’t over. I bet they’re already planning what she’ll be armed with the next time she goes up.
A SHORT LIST OF DELICIOUS DETAILS ABOUT CAMILLA’S LAUNCH
The kids launched her into “near-space” during a solar radiation storm in a helium balloon that went up to 124,00 feet
Her balloon popped, of course, and she floated back to earth by parachute
She was fully rigged with 2 GPS units
She wore a knitted space suit made by a gal from Missouri
7 insects and 24 sunflower seeds were along for the ride
None of the insects survived, but you can find them pinned to the “Foamboard of Death” as examples for all future adventuresome insects about what will happen if you try to go to the edge of space (maybe this explains Camilla’s look of horror…or maybe that’s joy?)
The 24 sunflower seeds have been planted by 5th graders to see if radiated seeds will produce flowers, too