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A Second Look

Posted by bob hill   11/29/2004 12:00AM


Joy that comes as bliss is rare in my experience. And when it comes it often lasts but a moment. Last night I experienced such a moment.

I had camped in an aspen meadow in northern New Mexico hoping to hike, gather some mushrooms, and spend a weekend resting in the cool, high air. Toward evening I set up an eight inch telescope that I had labored to bring along. In spite of a fatigue that I felt, I looked forward to revisiting some familiar celestial sights.

As the sky darkened I was disappointed. A gibbous moon was brightening the night sky; I knew I would see little of the faint nebula that I looked forward to viewing. And the clouds were not dissipating as I had hoped. The evening air was turbulent as evidenced in the noticeable twinkling of the appearing stars. But after all the loading and unloading, the sighting and the dew protecting required to ready the telescope I could not just go into the camper for the night and succumb to resignation. I looked at a few double stars and some of the brighter objects in the evening sky, but their glory was more remembered than visual. With a sigh of regret I turned the battery off in the viewing device and reached to remove the eyepiece.

Suddenly, without much expectation, I had an impulse to briefly view some clouds that were being back lighted around their tops by the moon. I turned the telescope toward the top of one of the clouds and refocused the eyepiece.

In the eyepiece was ecstasy! Visual poetry; a symphony to my sight. Golden vapor billowed and cascaded and swirled in quickly changing movements – more graceful and more intriguing than any artful dance. The golden vapor was given indescribable substance by the ebony black sky behind. Also behind this ever changing golden mist were pulsing points of brilliance. Light from distant stars, often thousands of years in transit, were now entering my eyepiece – counterpoint to the mist which was changing so quickly that it would not even be reasonably the same for the time it would take me to call someone from the camper to share this visual feast.

I adjusted the controls of the telescope and followed the outline of a billowing cumulous cloud. As I visually ascended its bulbous, vaporous contour I could see golden mist rising into the cool black sky – buoyed from its recent encounter with the heat of the daytime sun. And just when it seemed that nothing could possibly be more breathtaking, the bottom of a gibbous moon appeared in the upper part of my eyepiece.

Suspended in ebony, a golden mirror. Cratered with explosive impacts, covered with the undisturbed dust of unmeasured eons, rough and textured and covered with the crisp detail of lava flows and mountain shadows, this mirror reflected the sun’s radiance and defined with enormous contrast a vaporous veil beginning to cover part of its surface.

Above, the reflected record of perhaps a billion years; below, golden water vapor, the very stuff of life. And in the middle arriving from almost unimaginable distances were points of brilliance, photons now finishing their journey through time and space. The eternal was set beside the temporal; a crescendo of contrasts sent a surge of joy and bliss through my emotions and I drew back and exclaimed into the night air, “Lord God! Is this what it looked like at creation? Did you see such sights as these?”

I returned to the eyepiece but the clouds were already moving away from the moon. The moment was passing, the symphony ended in silence.

I stepped away from the telescope and looked up at the sky. Now that the joyous bliss had passed it was time to be philosophical. How ironic, I thought; a moment ago I was disappointed that the moon was so bright, that the clouds had not gone away, and that the stars were twinkling so noticeably. Yet in a moment of joy these faults combined to delight me immensely. How good that I followed the impulse to look one more time; how good to be surprised by joy.