I've had an interest in astronomy as long as I could remember, but I never really got a good start until rather late in life. Something always seemed to get in the way. There were a few occasions where I was introduced to the sky briefly in passing, but it never was much more than a simple hello and goodbye.
I remember seeing my first satellite when I went camping while in the Boy Scouts in the 1980's, and Hale-Bopp in 1997 through my father's old Bushnell binoculars. But living just a dozen miles south of downtown San Francisco, the sky never really opened up. Hale-Bopp was just a faint blob and I was lucky to get even that view. Not only was the light pollution horrendous, but I lived in Daly City, where it was either foggy or overcast for most of the year. A clear sky was really just an afterthought and about as rare as a blue moon.
When I went to the Grand Canyon in 1998, a stunning thing happened. I was there past sunset in the early fall and darkness descended quickly. As I was getting into my car on a moonless night, I looked out the window and just about stopped breathing. "No way. It can't be," I gasped.
I stepped out of the car and looked up. What I was seeing couldn't have been real. It was my first time in a dark sky location, and the sky was so bright with stars. Even with recent exposure to the interior lights of the car, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. As my eyes became more dark-adapted, the Milky Way opened up like a curtain pulling back and letting the light in. Stars were everywhere! My eyes were swimming in the light. I never thought such a view was ever possible from the ground, and until then, I thought that pictures I had seen in the past could only have been made with special photography equipment and powerful telescopes. But there it was in plain sight, as clear as, well... day.
It would take over a decade more for me to become reacquainted with my old friend, as it's easy to forget the night sky when you live in the Silicon Valley. But in June 2009, I finally bought an Orion XT8 Intelliscope. Seeing the faintest deep sky objects is still a challenge, but I feel fortunate that I'm finally getting a chance to get to know the friend that had been following me since before I was born. Everything I look at is new to me, so every nebula, every cluster, every double star, and every galaxy is like another secret my friend shares with me. But it was that one auspicious night at the Grand Canyon that made me realize that the stars are up there, even if I couldn't see them.
Good day, old friend. I'll see you tonight.