When I was a child, my mother used to show me the Big Dipper in the night sky and Orion. I dutifully nodded but was never able to discover them myself. To me, they were stars like any others. Beautiful to look at. Somewhat mysterious. Certainly, no constellations.
Then, our city built a planetarium, and my parents took my younger brother and me to a show. To me it was like a movie without a plot. Interesting but not exciting. I remember that the speaker talked about supernovas. Armstrong and Collins were also mentioned. It was bewildering and somewhat scary – worlds without life. Everywhere, endlessly.
I started looking for constellations only early in my twenties. Funny enough at the most unlikely place – outdoor parties at my university campus during warm summer nights. Not much to discover in a sky that was lit by the city lights. By now, I was able to find the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, and – in the colder seasons – Orion.
It was my husband who sparked my real fascination for the great beyond with a telescope he produced one very cold winter night in England. Back in the day, he was living in a small village with a big, dark night sky above. He looked at astronomic maps on the internet on a regular basis, and whenever there was an interesting planet to be seen, he’d take his telescope from the conservatory, place it onto his lawn, and search the sky. When he showed me Jupiter for the very first time, I was smitten.
Since those days, we have checked a lot of phenomena of the sky. We have even traveled to catch a glimpse of a spectacular Blood Moon eclipse, chased a total solar eclipse (which unfortunately was eclipsed by clouds), and have taken along the telescope to campgrounds. In short, the once scary endlessness up there has become something way more friendly, meaningful to me.
Only this week, during the Harvest Moon, we took our telescope onto our patio and watched Saturn and Jupiter as they traveled the sky. And I found the horn of Capricorn and parts of Aquarius all by myself with my bare eyes. What a discovery!
Some years ago, my husband and I went exploring in uptown Port Townsend and ended up in an antique store. I fell in love with an old telescope immediately; its feet were wooden, the scope itself was decorated with beautiful brass elements. I knew I wanted to have it. My husband went all through the store and seemed to be oblivious of the instrument. I should have known better. For, while I was still wondering should or shouldn’t I buy something that would only serve decorative purposes at home because of the much better-quality telescope we already had, my husband was already at the cash register. And the antique telescope was ours, now an eye-catching item in one of our rooms.
Fall and winter nights are ahead of us. Many will be too clouded to see the planetary gorgeousness in the sky. But I’m already looking forward to the times we will take turns behind the lens, huddled in our coats, stomping our feet to get the chill out of our toes. You might try this for yourselves. It’s some wonderful bonding time over something that is so ancient – and yet always so new!