When I was in 3rd grade, I lived on a tiny island nation in the Pacific Ocean.
I loved learning because school didn’t have any negative connotations yet. I was one of many kids whose favorite time of the year was when it was time for the book fair. We were not the most accessible and advanced of places if you can imagine that, and we didn’t get to walk into a library with tables and tables piled with books, scented pencils, and other awesome knick-knacks to entice our young and still eager-to-learn minds. What we got instead were the little Scholastic pamphlets that said we could have the tale of Johnny Appleseed for just $9.99! Pick of the Litter is only $6.99! Let’s not forget the coveted Mystery Kit for only $24.95! “But mom, it has the cool detective invisible ink that you can use to write secret messages! NO ONE can see unless you use the special light!”
Mom didn’t buy it, figuratively or literally.
What she did decide she could shell out for was the stargazing kit. I don’t remember it being my idea to get it but I didn’t really notice because heck, I was giving my teacher a large order and I wasn’t just buying the fat, foot-long pencil! Just you wait, classmates! In 3 short months when a ship finally reaches these sandy shores with the school order, my package is gonna be bigger than the one with your name on it. [I know. Cringe. 3 months?! Clearly since I didn’t know things could be shipped faster, 3 months was the norm! And on an actual ship too! Shipment. Hehe.]
Well that little stargazer kit arrived safely and “swiftly” and my mom, sisters and I decided to test it out. Ha-ha. The joke was on us. Hello? Tropical, tree-laden jungle island? There were not a lot of places that allowed you large enough and clear enough glimpse of the sky! Well played Scholastic! So we used our little kit a few times parked in a small church parking lot because the trees were mostly cleared to put down the concrete there. I learned the constellations Orion, the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, Virgo, and Scorpius.
It was kind of disappointing, I’m not going to lie. I spent money and time waiting for this little thing and didn’t end up using it a lot. When we could make it up to the parking lot at night, the clouds were in the way. I was waiting for this kit to open up the skies for me! To help me on my way to being able to look up at the stars and tell you what time of year it was because of the position of the constellations. I was going to be a little wide-eyed, grubby faced star expert. Such high hopes, but I had never noticed before how little I could and did see the stars.
Here I am, many years later, sitting in the backseat of a car headed from Logan, Utah to Salt Lake City, Utah, and gazing up to a clear sky. Maybe I’ve had many chances at seeing open sky since I left the island nearly 9 years ago, but as I go through this mountain pass and I look up at this deep, dark night with blinking, winking lights, I can’t help but feel that that little failed attempt at stargazing is what makes me so attuned to the beauty of the heavens at night.
I have long since forgotten how to recognize most of the constellations I learned in 3rd grade, but I still like to think that I am an expert even if I’m just an avid stargazer at heart.