Observatory Hill & Observations

October 2012

Being a tourist in your own city is tricky. Much like trying to pick a movie to watch, when the time finally arrives for watching a film or visiting a new place, the mental lists seem to vanish completely. We fall into our old patterns and old routines.  Only later do we realize the missed opportunity, but the cycle inevitably repeats. On one sunny, Pittsburgh Saturday, I finally came to cross one place off my mental bucket list: the Allegheny Observatory & Riverview Park.

The Observatory History

In the mid-1850s, prominent Pittsburgh businessmen formed the Allegheny Telescope Association and built an observatory on Perrysville Avenue in the City of Allegheny containing what at the time was the world’s third largest telescope. In 1867, the observatory was turned over to the University of Pittsburgh to study sunspots. The observatory also was used to tell time by the position of the stars, supplying information for the official clock system of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
(Source: Pittsburgh Park Conservatory)

I was so shocked when I first learned of this bold and beautiful building. How had I not known about the massive telescopes contained in its brilliantly white dome? However, this hilltop, historical wonder is hidden from the main drags of the city, making the arrival at the foot of the park all the more rewarding. Being that we went adventuring in the day, this visit was only about the exterior and the park, so I’ll have to make a concerted effort to gaze at the stars another time (tour info).

Upon visiting a place called Observatory Hill, it seemed appropriate to spend some time observing and reflecting, something I’ve been trying to do more of lately.  I’ve been asking myself questions like “What should I be doing more? What should I be doing less? What are my skills? What are my talents? What have I learned so far? What makes me happy?”

Observations: Things That Make Me Happy

Dinner parties, scooter rides, chubby baby feet, balconies, people watching, discovering the next song I will listen to obsessively, watching a fruit pie shrink in the oven, snarky resumes, the magic of turning heavy cream into delicious whipped cream, camel pose, stoop sitting with dear friends, underbaked chocolate-chip cookies, krimpy dog fur, face squishes with my special one, the little white creases on tanned fingers, sunshine and warmth, airplane departures, azaleas, talking to my mom about recipes, when foreign languages form a sort of musical backdrop, full ice cube trays and shaggy sheepdogs just to name a few.

Observations: Lessons Learned

I can’t document everything.
I should assume the person next to me could become a great friend (still working on this lesson).
I’m sensitive and thoughtful, but that counts!
Movies aren’t always a waste of time.
Life is a mix of planning the course and riding the tide.
I need people in my life and close relationships.
I need to relax. Sometimes it’s okay to do nothing.
Technology is merely a tool. Discipline is the responsibility of the user.
The world is complex and gray.
There is still so much to learn!

Observations From Others: Recommended Reading

On the note of observation and reflection, I recently read and recommend a book called 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.

Synopsis: After a chance encounter with a remarkable ninety-year-old woman, renowned gerontologist Karl Pillemer decided to find out what older people know about life that the rest of us don’t. His quest led him to speak with a thousand Americans over the age of sixty-five—many of whom can remember the Depression and World War II. While some of their tales reaffirmed timeless wisdom, others surprised Pillemer with the unexpected.

A takeaways from the book…

“A Latin aphorism has come into common usage: carpe diem. Made famous by the movie Dead Poets Society, it is usually translated as ‘seize the day.’ The meaning of the original Latin, however, is closer to “harvesting the day.” It is in this sense the experts endorse carpe diem: that each day has an unharvested abundance of pleasure, enjoyment, love, and beauty that many younger people miss. A very common human failing, they argue, is not taking advantage of life’s pleasures and attending to the very joy of being alive. Indeed, a number of the experts (Jews and non-Jews alike) quoted a phrase from the Talmud: We will be held accountable for all the permitted pleasures we failed to enjoy.”

How appropriate to think of harvesting pleasure, enjoyment, love, and beauty from each and every day, especially as the season changed from growth to harvest.

Maybe the beauty is the building or the plethora of colors in the fall palette. Maybe the joy is discovering Benji and Baxter (I just named those dogs myself) watching you from the dog park. Maybe the enjoyment is knowing you finally crossed something off a bucket list. Maybe the love is having a best friend who will venture with you.

What will you harvest from your day?

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