If you’re on my FB, you might have seem a quick post on Sunday about my ancient telescope which I got out of storage to take a look at Mars, seeing as it’s the closest it will be for a while. Spoiler: it looks just about the same, a medium-size orange/red dot. Jupiter was a lot more interesting with the four moons I could see all in a perfect row. (I found out why they form in planes like that. It’s not gravity or just things knocking about. It’s the planet’s magnetic field that corrals the dust and chunks into a flat disk. Same thing for solar systems and galaxies. So how cool is that?)
This thing is heavy. The tracking motor doesn’t work, and I have to keep adjusting it as the earth spins and everything moves out of the field in a matter of seconds. The mirrors are dusty, and one is damaged. I only have one lens. And yet, it has stuck with me for over thirty-five years and four major across-state-line moves, wrapped in cellophane to keep it all together.
I got it from my grandpa when he cleared out his garage one summer. I was 12? Maybe younger. We lived near a lake and the skies were dark, especially in the winter. So on the odd night when I felt my wanderlust the worst and my books could not satisfy, I’d drag that heavy-ass thing down two cement steps and point it at stars. It was taller then me, and awkward. I was usually in my long purple robe and slippers, freezing and blowing steam. I never knew which star would blossom into a planet, too impatient to use the charts more than a rudimentary, “that direction.” I found Jupiter and Saturn that way, and when I see them in the sky even now, I smile, remembering the first time I tightened my focus and they appeared, perfect and sharp against a more perfect black.
Last night, after thirty-plus years, I got my scope out again, ripped off the brittle packing wrap, and put the feet back on. I lugged it out over a step and put it in the drive, pointed it at a bright star to work at getting the spotting scope aligned, and boom, it was Jupiter–four little moons in a beautiful straight line.
And then something really nice happened. I went to move it so Mars would be visible from behind the trees. My arms tucked under the drive in the exact same spot it had thirty years ago. I lifted, already knowing the balance of its weight against me would be perfect as I shuffle-walked to a new spot.
The scraping sound as I set it down was familiar. The feel of the spin as I shifted the barrel was smooth and grinding all at the same time. I had a confident knowledge that the configuration was going to end up where the scope and lens would be at the right height for easy viewing. I bent low to find Mars through the scope, and my left arm curved around the barrel looking for the release toggle without thought. It met my fingers exactly where I knew it would be, and in seconds, I had everything aligned.
I found more than Mars and Jupiter last night. The things that make us up stay with us for far longer than we realize–they are there when we reach for them, meet us like habit and graceful patten, most times to our unawares. I’m not so far from where I was thirty years ago. Gotta bring more of that back into focus. I’m going to need it as things realign.