Monday, August 6, 2012

Frank's 50th Birthday

Sunday’s weather began benignly enough. I went horseback riding in the morning and it was sunny, if a bit warm. But as guests gathered to honor a dear friend and colleague’s fiftieth year on this planet, so did ominous storm clouds coming fast from the west.

I know Frank because he has served with me on the board of directors of the Friends group for Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area for many years now. Frank has been a longtime volunteer at Soldiers Delight NEA, helping with invasive plant eradication as well as rare ecosystem restoration and, for the past few years, has served as Treasurer of our board.
Frank and me
Frank is an astrophysicist by trade, employed at the Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory in their Civil Space Business Area, which makes critical contributions to the missions of its major sponsor, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Frank’s particular area of expertise is the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which launched in 2005 and has been searching, ever since attaining orbit around the fourth rock from the sun, for evidence of water on the red planet. Frank coordinates and prioritizes requests from scientists around the globe for projects they want the Orbiter to undertake. Right now, Frank’s Orbiter is enjoying some great publicity for having provided fantastic footage of Sunday night’s successful descent by parachute of the Mars "Curiosity" rover, which landed successfully a little after midnight. Frank’s girlfriend, Dawn, who hosted the 50th birthday bash for her handsome guy, is also employed at Johns Hopkins’ APL, specializing in educational outreach in school systems throughout the country.
Frank and his beautiful girlfriend, Dawn
You can well imagine that a party attended by Frank’s friends, colleagues and fellow astrophysicists, held just hours before an important landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, would be filled with heady conversations about, well… outer space. And you would be right. But we also talked about the weather, as people scrambled to move the bountiful array of potluck dishes further beneath the shelter’s modest roof when the first clap of thunder cracked with a vengeance. Within moments the heavens opened, and it poured. Frank’s festive party came to a temporary standstill.

But, as with most thunderstorms, this one moved off at a good clip and Frank’s fete resumed with robust enthusiasm. Knowing the day would be hot and sultry, I donned a pair of vintage white shorts I’ve owned for decades and a delicate pale blue camisole by Arianne that was in a box of clothing recently sent to me by my best friend’s mom, Joyce, of Spokane. I wore simple silver-toned jewelry that I’ve owned since the 1970s and donned a pair of white gladiator sandals by Olsenboye for Macy's.

Since Dawn declined to give out any ideas for a suitable birthday gift for Frank, I bottled up some of my homemade vinaigrette and a jar of freshly made peach barbecue sauce and tied both with pretty ribbon.  I hoped that would suffice. 

I brought along a pair of tennis shoes in the event these scientific sorts were into lawn games (Frank is an Ultimate Frisbee competitor) and, indeed, there was a sand volleyball court right next to our picnic pavilion at Centennial Park in Columbia, Maryland. Unfortunately, the intense rain dashed anyone’s hopes of breaking out into teams and expending any kinetic energy, so my gear stayed in its bag, although after the storm passed, the parental types did take their children down to the edge of a nearby lake for some stone skipping and geese feeding.
The rest of us contented ourselves with food, drink and scintillating conversation. And when it came time to cut the birthday cake, Dawn actually lit 50 candles for Frank to blow out! He tried mightily to vanquish the flames in one gigantic breath, and if the birthday-candle fairy grants pleas based upon sheer effort, then surely Frank’s birthday wish will come true.

It was a marvelous, if a bit soggy, afternoon, rubbing elbows with space-minded brainiacs and embracing the camaraderie of good friends gathered together to celebrate the birthday of a wonderful man.

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