December 26th, 2009

Telescopic Adventure

The sky was clear with only a few clouds, but an icy ground fog rose to form a haze. Not a good night for viewing. Only a few stars twinkled in the black sky, but those few were enough to try out a Christmas telescope.

Twin astronomers, 2009

Twin astronomers, 2009

Instead of packing the telescope out to the dark fields where the nearest Christmas-light decorated house is a quarter mile away, tired Grandpa, who did not stint on the Christmas turkey with sausage-cornbread stuffing, stayed on the deck where a mercury yard light shines on the farmyard from dusk to dawn, justifying himself that this is only a trial run. Unsure of himself on new equipment, he fusses with false starts before he settles on a location for the telescope. Light bucket, he calls it, although its four and a half inch aperture hardly justifies the title.

Grandpa aims the scope at good old Aldebaran, at least what he thinks is Aldebaran, the only star he can see in the limited sky from the deck. He gets it in view, a pinpoint of light somewhat brighter in the scope than he sees it with his naked eye. He calls the seven-year-old twins, who are working on a lifetime alliance with the Mario Brothers to save the princess. The pinpoint of light is not much to look at, but Grandpa aimed the scope, and that is the something, he guesses. The boys come out into the cold, but in their heads they are still kicking koombas.

Matthew arrives first. He grabs the eyepiece, jostling the scope enough that Aldebaran is out of view.

“Grandpa, I don’t see anything.” he said and started to wipe the eyepiece with a finger sticky with Christmas candy.

Grandpa, who was taught to shed blood before damaging a tool, grabs the grubby and abrasive finger hurling toward a multi-coated lens in a reaction that skipped his cerebral cortex.

“NO. Never touch the lenses. Not the eyepiece, not the spotting scope, don’t touch any lenses.” Grandpa’s voice is straight from the reptile brain fueled by fatigue and frustration of a long day with festive relatives. He regrets his words as he hears them.

Matty, who was up before dawn and has been over-excited ever since, starts to cry. He is not used to Grandpa, who is impatient and demanding, unlike mothers and grandmothers.

Grandpa assures Matty that he is not mad at him, but equipment must always be treated carefully. Grandpa walks the thin line between comforting a scared and tired little boy and being clear that Grandpa will be just as gruff next time. Matty’s brother Chris watches and listens carefully.

Mother and Grandmother appear, glaring at Grandpa, and spirit the boys inside.

Grandpa looks in the eyepiece, adjusts the direction a little and realizes that the lenses have fogged in the cold. Viewing will have to wait for the lenses to cool and the condensation to dissipate. The boys have returned to saving the princess and Grandpa has a moment to mull over his growing despondency.

He walks around the farmyard, behind the old pig yard, giving the lenses time to clear. The grass is crusty with a heavy frost and he stumbles over the frozen ground. He walks out to the field, taking in the full view of the sky without the mercury light and the trees that surround the farmyard. Looking up, the gibbous moon shines in the cold and he realizes that Aldebaran was a bad choice.

He returns to the deck, his fingers stiff and his arthritic knees aching with cold, but he swivels the scope around and aims it at the moon. He fiddles with the direction, the finder scope is not adjusted perfectly, and twists the focus. He gasps slightly. There on the line between lunar day and night, the crater Copernicus jumps out, stark and craggy. He has never looked through a telescope like this before, never seen Copernicus as a stark crater on the moon in the farm’s sky. Suddenly, he possesses the surface of the moon in the way he owned the mountains he once hiked.

He calls the boys out. Carefully, very carefully, they look through eyepiece. “Awesome Grandpa. Awesome,” Chris says. “That’s really cool,” says Matty, and they each spend their minutes looking, then they return to the crusade to save the princess, shouting “The moon is Awesome.” … “I love telescopes.” … “Next time, we’ll see Betelgeuse, right Grandpa?”

3 comments to Telescopic Adventure

  • Sabine

    This little vignette sums up Christmas with kids to a tee. Great line about shedding blood before damaging a tool. You really captured a very poignant moment. Nice. Merry Christmas (belated) and a Happy New Year. See you soon!

  • Matthew

    Grandpa- I’m sorry I touched the lenses and I forgive you for yelling. I can’t wait to see Betelgeuse! Love, Matty

  • Christopher

    Dear Grandpa,
    I can’t wait to see Betelgeuse! You’re the bestest grandpa because you can show us the stars.

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