Joey and I 1998
On a semi warm night, half-past dark, I packed up my truck with my 10" Dobsonian, all my essentials and invited my seven year old grandson, Joey, to come see the night sky. Joey was a little uncertain where his grandmother was taking him. Why were we bundling up on a warm summers night? Why were we leaving the house and going to a dark hay field? The red flashlight was a big hit. Its beam’s bounced off the inside of the truck and made there way out into the darkened night.
Never before had he experienced the grandness of an open field where the sky went from horizon to horizon. "There are so many stars," Joey said while looking outward and moving around to take it all in. Laced in the darkness came the sounds of coyotes howling in scattered unison and Screech Owls calling out for their friends. To Joey it was exciting and worrisome at the same time. I stayed close and explained their presence. He seemed content with my answers. With Joey as my flashlight assistant, I unloaded my equipment and readied for our nights viewing. For the first time I took a fine look at the sky. Its charcoal presence warmed my mind. I was home.
As I looked for the North star, I noticed the onset of the Northern Lights. I shared my excitement with Joey. Words of discovery, newness and joy rang forward. We sat down upon a two tiered stool, me on top step and him on the lower step. I wrapped my arms around him and together we allowed the sky that touched our hearts. Seeing the aurora was the first time for him and, as always, it feels like the first time for me. I never tire at how childlike, how grand and vibrant these aurora dances are. I never find the right words to say what I see. I take pictures but they never honor the magic of electrons bouncing in the air. Its just something you hold in your heart as a memory. After 20 minutes the aurora melted back up north.
At home, Joey’s has his bedroom walls and ceiling painted dark blue so that his glow-in-the-dark stars and planet stand out even in the daytime. Tonight Joey wanted to see the real thing. He was saddened by the absence of the moon and planets that I had showed him last year through the telescope. I proceeded to show Joey the Andromeda galaxy. After words of wow, he turned to me and said, " Let me show you something."
I have learned with my grandchildren that if I just allow the events to just be, if I try not to control anything and just be an observer, that I receive so much more in return. Joey gently swung the telescope around and looked in the eye piece, made adjustments and then said, "Here Grandma, check this out, its really cool."
Within the eyepiece hang ornaments of white glitter. He had discovered a group of stars. From then on we take turns showing each other the sky. As time passed my age melted more towards his. Showing a child took me out of my repetitive routine of star gazing and opens my eyes to the simple wonders I have long forgotten. I was reminded of the Milky Ways awesome star collection. That the beauty of a bright orange star hanging just above the tree line up North, would be Joey’s greatest discovery for the night. He had to see it in the telescope. The smoke and dust in the atmosphere had added to the star’s color and the earths daily heat made it dance above the trees. This beautiful star was Joey’s discovery.
We later ventured to the globular cluster, M13 and to M81 and M82, two galaxies we could view at the same time, one edge on and the other oval in shape. At one point we spread out a carpet in the field and we laid down and watched the sky unfold. The Perseus meteor shower was just beginning its month long pass and a few ventured in our view throughout the night adding to our experience. I don’t know if he ever really grasped what he was seeing but it didn’t really matter. For it was the joy of sharing that had brought us here. It was the search for something new.
Within an hour and a half the lateness of the night and chilling wind had us packed and back home. But we had seen the aurora, a few meteors and he had showed me his star and areas that had no stars at all. He had reminded me of the simpleness of viewing and the joy of just pointing the telescope at anything. I showed him that darkness had wonder and beauty and that red flashlights are way-cool. If you want to learn as you teach, go invite a child to view and then just let the night unfold.