A few days ago a friend of mine asked me if I was going to stay up to watch the Blood Moon. I had totally forgot about the lunar eclipse, but prompted me, in my excitement, to ask if she was an astronomy nerd. You see, I’ve always been somewhat of an astronomy nerd, myself, even though I hardly am in practice these days. If nothing else, I could fall asleep under the heavens every night and still be doused in an overwhelming feelings of awe by the stars every night. Light pollution might upset me more than environmental pollution.
When I was a kid, my dad got us a telescope. It was probably just a cheap little kid’s telescope, but it might have been the favorite gift I ever received. We didn’t even get to use it a lot, but the times we got to are some of my most fond memories; standing at the top off our street, trying to figure out how to work the lenses and properly fixate on the moon. I’ve always wanted to get another one, in fact, it is on the top of my wish list with a bike.
Then I realized where it had all come full circle this year. Back when we were still running on our first computer, an IBM with a 386 processor, I remember sitting with my dad into the thin trails of the night trying to download a an animated sky map that would show all the stars, constellations, and planets visible in the night sky at that time of year. In retrospect, it was a simple thing, but it was the most exciting thing imaginable at the time. So there we were, father and son, fumbling around on our 14.4kbps connection on CompuServe, wasting an hour or two trying to get these mystical GIF files to work so that we could marvel at the splendor technology had brought us. I should note, this was our first exposure to gif files, which are now of cat and other brainless image fame.
After an exhausting struggle, the boys Curtis conceded. I think this event might have shaped my attitude with technology and computers. If I’ve broken something or not been able to get something to work on a computer, I’ve always tortuously exhausted myself until I figured it out. Might be that the bitter, partially numb sting of coming up short that one time shaped that attitude. My dad and I never got to see that sky map, but we looked at the night sky together plenty more times.
Fast forward 20 years. There I was, standing on the beach next to my dad, looking at a full Hawaiian star scape that not even the imagination could capture. My dad stood next to me, hand over his son’s shoulder, beer in his left hand, raving about the sky, the wonder, creation, how happy he was to be next to me, and the moment. I hate to admit that I was torn in that point at time. In part because everything he said resonated to me. I knew that moment might be understated like punctuation, but that like a good period or well-placed comma, it would make something whole. In my experience, you need that spirit of wholeness for a memory to last. On the other hand, I was markedly upset with the man at the same moment because he had upset my mom, but I couldn’t let him know that because I didn’t want to dampen the moment.
So I tried to go East and West at the same time.
All the while, he had gotten so excited at the planet clearly visible above that he had pulled out Google’s well-known SkyMap app and set out to discover what it was (94% sure it was Venus).
Despite the dichotomy and subtext, I cherish that memory as much as I do the times with the telescope and the GIF failure, but it wasn’t until this week that I realized that it was an aged version of my sitting with him that night on dial-up.
After all these years, we finally had succeeded in viewing our animated sky map. We experienced the horizon in a way we had always wanted.