Archive for November, 2016

Serendipity

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

Even the rankest of greenhorns gets caught up in expectation. You do a thing a handful of times, you figure out the patterns, and – voila – you’re suddenly bound to something. Even if you don’t know squat.

“Dave and I are running at eleven,” Ginny says.

“The battlefield?” I ask. She nods.

The slow-rolling morning has sharpened the tiniest, little bit. When she walks to the door a little bit later I smile. “An hour,” I tell myself.

I love hitting the switches. First the power supply. A modern, switching supply so it doesn’t really need to warm up. But I can pretend. Waiting a few pregnant moments before I hit the button on the radio. While I wait I remind myself that someday I’ll have an honest-to-God tube-type rig to go with the modern stuff. And I won’t have to pretend anymore.

After enjoying the momentary power-on display – does one ever get tired of seeing their call sign? – my hand reaches towards the coax switch. My mind abides for the most fleeting of moments… the wire strung up in the tree outside, just outside the window. And then just as quickly returns to the task at hand. As I flip this last switch the faint buzzing – the pure noise I can hear before even putting the earphones on – turns to something else.

Patterns, patterns. I bend towards the radio and with an ease which has already grown practiced, gently lay my finger upon the VFO knob. And begin the slow dance I have already fallen in love with.

On a motorcycle, soft hands might be the difference between living and dying. Here, it’s nothing nearly so dramatic. But, still, it’s important. It’s the difference between making the contact, or not. And the gearhead in me is deeply impressed with the weighted smoothness of the control, its delicacy, its lovely precision.

First, the tour from 14.350 down to 14.225, pausing a few times at the QSO’s in progress. Just like always.

Then a quick click down to 40 meters, and the same thing there.

I quickly debate calling CQ. And just as quickly decide against it. Partly because of the mic shyness which still holds sway. Partly because I want to try something else. Something new.

Turning to the laptop, I click a couple times. With the skimmer lit, the graphic of the globe rotates to North America, with the glowing dot of my own location in the mid-Atlantic superimposed with my call sign.

It only takes a few seconds. And then there’s the pinging sound and my radio changes frequency and the globe on my Mac rotates on around. We’re off to the races.

What I’ve already learned about Ham Radio is that people not in the hobby think it’s about talking. But they’re wrong. It’s about listening.

And so that’s what I do. Listening to the pings and watching the map roll around and hearing the voices. Lingering there.

For years I’ve gone into the November woods with rifle in hand, climbing the steep ridges behind camp in the dark. Emerging hours later in a different place. A place lit by desire and exultation and hope and excitement. Breathing the clean, sharp air and feeling for the patterns of the earth. Seeking to discern the endless, aching puzzle in front of me.

I don’t know much, but I already know that radio is like that. There’s something ethereal in it.

My heart ratchets when I hear a station in Puerto Rico. Fifteen hundred miles. Never worked. But although I’ve got him solid coming in, he never hears me. After ten minutes I reluctantly move on.

The minutes tick by. Skimming and tuning and adjusting this and tweaking that.

Changing bands once again, the clear, British accent catches my attention. Posting up his call sign, at first I don’t believe it. Surely I heard this wrong?

But, no. I listen as he works carefully through QSO after QSO. Soft spoken, unhurried, his cadence is polished and smooth. I envy his poise.

But I’m utterly gobsmacked that I can hear him. I think of my little barefoot rig and its 40-meter OCF dipole. That little strand of wire runs almost directly north-south, not nearly high enough. And although I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how its off-the-ends performance has been – north to Canada and south to Florida both seem a cakewalk – this is something totally beyond the ken.

The Falkland Islands!

Reaching for the mug off to the side, I take one last swallow of coffee. Then I grasp the boom on the Heil and pull it down. Turning to the radio, I hit the ‘VOX’ button. Waiting patiently, it doesn’t take long.

I make several calls. Nothing. And no surprise. I can’t imagine he can possibly hear me.

Glancing at the Kenwood, my eyes quickly scan the display. A touch verifies that I’m putting out every one of my hundred, precious watts. I think to adjust the pass band filter. But, no. At 1400 hertz I’m already narrower than I need to be. And I can hear him just fine.

I shake my head at the S-meter every time he comes through. Never higher than 5-3, but clear as can be. Just like on 6 meters yesterday. What a difference a low noise floor makes!

Thinking back to the spreadsheet I made the afternoon I hung my antenna, the one where I filled in the SWR readings for each of the bands, I remember that 10 meters was only okay. Reaching forward, I press the ‘AT’ button. It only takes a second to get the beep from the internal tuner.

Back in, it’s like false casting into the dying light at dusk. The rises felt and sensed more than seen. But then there’s that ineffable moment when you know. Even before the 3-weight line and 6x leader fall upon the water.

Back through the ether his reply comes. To me.