By David H. Levy
“How would you like to go to prison?” was one of the first things that Frank Lopez asked me. My stunned expression prompted Frank to clarify: “The Federal prison off Wilmot Road has an astronomy club.” That was enough: we enjoyed two wonderful evenings down there, and even showed Orion to the group using one of my favorite telescopes.
I dealt with Frank once again in the last few months, as our Jarnac Observatory’s Shaar house, the major observatory building in my back yard, threatened to collapse earlier this year. The Shaar name is from the Hebrew word for “gate” or “opening” and I use the name because the structure resembles a miniature version of our Shaar Hashomayim synagogue in Montreal. The observatory is as much a temple for me as the Shaar was.
Frank brings a lifetime of experience to the observatories he builds and repairs. He came up with a plan that would restore my building with a brand new sliding roof. Working occasionally with assistants but mostly alone, the construction took several months, virtually all last winter and spring. (Actually my sliding roof is the entire top half of the building.) During this time I learned a lot about Frank’s work ethic. He does not rush things. He takes his time and works steadily for three days a week with construction and maintenance; the rest of his time he manages his “Stellar Vision” astronomy store in Tucson. I learned that he built most of the observatory complex for Dr. Tim Hunter’s Grasslands observatory southeast of Tucson near Sonoita, and a large observatory structure for David Rossetter’s 25-inch Dobsonian northeast of the city center.
Throughout most of southern Arizona,
Frank’s Stellar Vision observatory business is really the best game in town. He knows what he is doing and brings his decades of experience to each project. Frank builds observatories with energy, strength, and even humor. (https://stellarvisiontucson.com) These structures do a lot more than house telescopes over many years. They store the memories of a thousand and one nights under the stars. They offer stories of terrible nights when a telescope fell off its mount, of only slightly less frustrating nights when cameras failed to work. They protect their telescopes from the winds and the rains that Arizona occasionally goes through. But mostly they protect memories of precious nights under the stars.
Finally, I like to imagine that long after I have closed up and gone to bed, the telescopes talk to one another about what they have seen, and what they have yet to see.
One recent evening after a big monsoon storm after the Shaar was finally completed, I went out and discovered that the telescopes inside were safe and dry. On a drier night I went out, opened its big roof, and stared at the stars. I felt as though I was starting my love of the night sky all over again.
David and Wendee Levy live in Vail. Together they run the Jarnac Observatory.