It’s funny how memories work. Not funny ha-ha, but funny strange.

Before six years old, memories are kind of spotty, and some stuff sticks out more than others.

One of those memories that sticks out is the very first satellite I recall seeing.

I wasn’t even five years old and we were going into the mountains. When I talk about the mountains, I’m talking about a tract of land in northern New Mexico just east of the town of Chama, New Mexico, and south of the State line. In later years we’d follow Highway 17 up and around Cumbres Pass, and come in through a different road.

This was our summer range where we took cattle for the summer.

But at this time, we took the road up through Osier.

Osier was a frequent stop for us whenever we were going into the mountains. At the time, it was the site of a large water tank for the steam engines that moved between Antonito and Chama. The tank was so if they needed water for their boilers, they could fill up there.

My Dad told me a story of riding out of the mountains once, and camping out near the water tower. While he slept, the train came though and filled its boiler from the tank, and added and left cars. Those operations make a lot of noise. He was so tired he slept through it.

The Osier I remember from so many years ago.

Fed by a spring, the tank was always full. The thing I recall most was a small pipe that ran out of the base of the tank. This was an overflow of sorts, and water straight from the spring that fed the tank flowed through it. We always stopped and drank water from it. The water ran in a small stream from the tank, through a small culvert under the road and down the hill where it trickled into the creek below.

It was some of the best water I’ve ever tasted.

The other things I recall most was the station itself. At the time, it wasn’t open, but in this particular memory, there was power on in it. I’m probably mistaken in that, and I’m confusing that with the light of a lantern.

We’d started for the mountains, and as best as I can remember, it was already late in the day. This was a family and extended family trip with uncles and grandparents. We were going to go up and stay in what we called “The Green Cabin.” (It was a nice cabin, painted green, of course.)

A storm moved in, and it rained heavily. So heavy in fact that we aborted the trip into the mountains. The pickups (none of them were four wheel drive) spun in the soft mud and threatened to get stuck on the mountain roads. Unable to go forward or go back, we stopped at Osier.

The old station was unlocked, so we took refuge there. I recall everyone bringing in bedding and we found a corner to sleep in. A fire was started in the old stove, and a meal was prepared. We ate, and everyone sat around talking.

I liked listening to the old timers talk. They told such interesting stories, and I wish I hadn’t been so young and could remember them all. My old Granny told stories of coming out here with the Mormon expansion, and others spoke of coming from Lebanon. Still others spoke of being here, or the stories that had been handed down from our ancestors.

That evening, the storm cleared out and the skies opened up. Washed by the rain, the stars were hard and bright.

“Echo is supposed to be passing over,” I remember someone said.

“Echo?” Someone asked.

“Yes. That balloon satellite they put up a few weeks ago.”

As a four year old boy, I had an idea of what a satellite was. I’d seen TV shows that had them, and so I was expecting to see a full sized 1950s style rocket thunder overhead with fire coming out the end.

Of course, that’s not what I got.

We all went outside into the night to look for it.

The Project Echo Satellites were launched in 1960 and 1964. The idea behind them was one we take for granted today, but a little history is definitely in order. Way back in 1945, Science-Fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke (of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame) came up with idea of using satellites as a means of communications. The following years, experiments using a more natural satellite (our Moon) to reflect microwaves for communications were tried.

Echo 1 – The men standing in front of it gives you an idea of how big it really was.

With the launching of Sputnik, Clarke’s ideas were on the verge of becoming reality.

The first real attempts at this idea was simple. Put a big, aluminized balloon in space and bounce the signals off it.

It took two tries to get the first Echo satellite up.

On May 13, 1960, the first attempt at launching Echo ended with the satellite in the Atlantic.

The next attempt was a few months later on August 12. This time, the satellite was placed in an orbit some 1000 miles or so above the Earth.

So what you had was a 100 foot across, aluminized balloon miles above the Earth. It was an easy target for the eye.

And we stepped out into the cool air of the mountains to look for it. I’m not sure we really knew what we were looking for but I looked up and almost got dizzy. On the loading platform of an aged train station, I stood at the edge of infinity. Knots and tangles of stars were overhead. A ghostly cloud stretched from horizon to horizon and stars of every color and by the thousands blurred into it.

I’d never seen anything so glorious!

“You see the light of those stars,” I remember Dad saying. “They’re so far away, light left them before you were born. They’re so far away they might not even be there anymore, but we won’t know it for a long time.”

The speed of light meant nothing to me, but if they were that far away, then how far was far?

Suddenly, I felt very small and very lost in it all.

It didn’t scare me.

It thrilled me because my cosmos had just grown amazingly big and I was part of something so much bigger than me.

For a young kid, the horizon is incredibly close. My universe had ended at the mountains that ringed the San Luis valley. There was little beyond it. I’d seen that outside world reflected on black and white television screens, and I’d heard of exotic places with names like Denver, Pueblo, and Santa Fe, but I hadn’t put two and two together yet and realized there was more to my universe than I knew.

And now it had gotten very big with a single sentence.

My uncle pointed. “Look,” he said, pointing at a bright start. “Is that it?”

“No, that’s Jupiter.”

I didn’t even know enough to ask what “Jupiter” was.

We all peered into the sky, each quietly searching for something.

Finally, after several minutes, someone pointed. “There! There is is!”

I looked and here’s a star moving quietly across the sky.

I watched it travel like some magical force among the stars that in years to come, I’d learn so well. The star moved with so much quiet and dignity it amazed me. It would be several seconds before I remembered to start breathing.

I watched it move, and then fade away into the night.

And even at four years old, a part of me wished I was up there riding along with it.

Today, I’ve seen God knows how many satellites fly over. I try to watch for the Space Station when I can, and I’ve seen it fly over with the shuttle not far away. I surf the Internet and magazines, and study pictures of distant worlds visited by our machines. To me, these places used to be nothing more than a dot in a telescope. Now they’re worlds and my universe just keeps getting bigger.

I look at the pictures of the machines we sent out there on the cosmic sea, and like that four year old boy, I still wish I was along for the ride.

PERSONAL NOTE: If you ever get the chance, do ride the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. It travels through some of the most jaw-dropping country you’ll ever see. The train has been featured in a number of movies to include Missouri Breaks, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Butch and Sundance: The Early Days.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Like my blog and stories? Check out my novels available on Amazon. I have two out right now, The Cross and the Badge, and Against Flesh and Blood. A third novel, The Judas Tree will be coming out soon. Click on the novel names to be taken straight to them.

As always, thanks for dropping by and for your support. God Bless.