Bill and Jeff have issued a challenge to find something buried beneath my keyboard. Jeff's runner-thin body contains a hidden spring of limitless creative energy, while Bill's wit and insight completely fail to hide his appreciation for the finer things in life. I, on the other hand, have a writing style charitable referred to by an English teacher of old as "prosaic".
Alas, Bill and Jeff both wield the spirit of the moose over me, so I must accept the challenge.
The other weekend, we headed out camping with my sister's family. The weather forecast was decidedly mediocre, with intermittent rainfall throughout the weekend. While it rained on the drive down there, by dusk the skies were clear, for likely the only time that weekend. As the last rays of light faded from the sky, my brother in law, my eldest son and I, left the comfort of the fireside, and headed down to the beach.
When I was a child, growing up in a small city further north than most people ever go, I can remember the night sky. I loved seeing the glows of cities and towns when we would travel by night, peeking out my car window. I remember the Milky Way, faintly stretching across the northern sky.
In my early 30s, I finally got to look through a real telescope for the first time. Living in suburbia, the sky was lighter than the skies of my youth, and I would have to wait well into the night to coax the Milky Way out from behind the glow.
Earlier this year, finally living outside the city, I laid out in the back yard with my kids, watching the Perseid meteor shower. I tried to point out the Milky Way, and remarked that it was the clearest I'd ever seen it. It gave me a bit of a thrill when they would describe a meteor as "it went right through the Milky Way!" Clearly, they were really seeing it.
On the beach, that night, was another level. Of course, it doesn't hit you all at once. As your eyes adjust from the glow of the campfire, and the flashlight you needed to get there, the view just gets better and better.
It wasn't a question of whether you could see the Milky Way, but rather just how much detail you could extract from it. The Great Rift could be seen running through Cygnus. The glow seemed to thin out a bit as it passed through Cassiopeia, only to return in Perseus. The double cluster could clearly be seen, and turning a bit, the Andromeda Galaxy was also visible to the naked eye.
The longer we stood there, the more we saw. Binoculars were brought out. We went hunting for the brighter deep sky objects, and it was a joy to find that quite a few were actually visible. Jupiter showed 3 moons, even in the shaky binocular lenses. Even just passing the binocs over the Milky Way itself was a joy - there were just so many stars.
Eventually, necks got sore, and people got tired, and we reluctantly turned away from the spectacle, back to our campfires, and tents.