by Leah Sweetland from Winnipeg, MB

So my son is a bit of a junior astronomer. He’s got this big, honking telescope that looks like something out of NASA. He pours over sky maps and plots the movement of celestial bodies. A cloudy evening can really bring him down.

The kid loves space. He talks about space endlessly and uses words I’ve never heard of and concepts I don’t understand. I’m always asked to look at pictures of nebulae and to ponder along with him the idea of the black hole.

He likes to show me his finds too, through his telescope. And I like that. I’ve seen the moon in all its phases. There’s something huge about the contrast of light and shadow on the moon that makes you hold your breath for just a second.

Lately, he’s been dogging Saturn. “It’s in our sky now,” he says. More sky maps. More searching. More looking thoughtfully out the windows into the sky. Sometimes I worry that maybe he’s really looking for the planet that he came from. Ian, phone home.

So, then he needed a compass. South by southeast. That’s where Saturn was. He needed the compass to find his way. When could we get one? Well, he had a day off school and spent all of it helping me in the library where I work. He shelved books and did endless tedious chores on the computer. I figured it was a good day to get him one. We went to Mountain Equipment Co-op after school.

The guy at the store was just like all of them there: healthy, vigorous, outdoor-loving. He was enthused when he found out we were looking for a compass. “What’s it for? Orienteering? Map work?” I couldn’t resist. “He needs it to find Saturn,” I said, indicating Ian beside me. “Astronomy! Cool!” he said turning to Ian and I became the dork once again The two of them poured over the compasses, selecting just the one for Ian. He fussed with it all the way home advising me of my exact bearings.

At 10 pm, tucked into bed there was a knock at my door. “Come and see this,” he said. So, I went. He pointed to the telescope and I looked. “It’s Saturn. Can you see it?” You know what? I COULD see it. I could. It was Saturn, unmistakably thus. From my living room window, there between the branches of the big basswood tree, south by southeast, was Saturn. And I felt profoundly good. I could have stepped away from the telescope and pointed into the sky directly at Saturn and known it was right there even though I could not see it. And there is comfort in that.  

The world is big… and bigger still if, like Ian, you want it to include the black holes and the nebulae and Saturn. But it’s also right there. Right there beside you, or right there worlds beyond where your finger can point. It doesn’t matter. If you use the maps and record the findings, it’s right there.  

I’m glad my boy has a compass.