To most folks, the binoculars I bought last week on eBay might not seem like much. They are just Bushnell 10×50 wide angle binoculars. They cost less than $35. And while they are nice to have, I don’t really need them. But that’s the point. I don’t really need them, but I have them.
My new binoculars
A year and a half out from the divorce and my debt is down to a less onerous level. Cash flow is where it was before I got married and I don’t have to wait for a paycheck to come in to pay the light bill. Not wealthy by any standards, but not broke either. Able to own something like a nice set of binoculars capable of spotting Messier objects in the sky and an occasional comet.
I have always been fascinated with the night sky. I learned it from my dad. At an early age, I would follow him out of the house after dark on a clear night and watch him watch the sky through his binoculars. After a while, he’d take the strap off of his neck and hand me the binoculars and say, “Here, look at that.”
I’ll never forget the first time I saw the Pleiades. I thought my dad and I had discovered the “Question Mark” Galaxy. It was amazing to see those seven stars through the binoculars where they just looked like a smudge in the night sky without binoculars.
As a teen, my best friend Merrill and I would sit on the hood of the car out in a sugar cane field, leaning back against the windshield, drinking Miller ponies, smoking cigarettes, trying to name the constellations and marveling at the Milky Way while we talked about life, the universe and everything.
When I started working offshore, and no longer had to wait for a paycheck to pay bills, one of the first things I bought was a pair of binoculars. Jason brand. 7×50. $120 from Service Merchandise in 1977. Quite a bargain. I took them everywhere. You would not believe the stars you can see while laying on the heliport of an offshore oil rig at night. I loved watching the skies while camping along the Gulf Coast or at the beach at Grand Isle.
Comet Hale-Bopp, 1997
(That’s the Pleiades in the upper left corner)
When Haley’s Comet made its once in a lifetime visit in 1986, I got to know that unspectacular snowball through the eye pieces of my Jason binoculars. When I lived in Lakeland, Fla., I could see the space shuttle rise in the sky after launch through my living room window thanks to those binoculars.
In the mid ’90s, the comet bug continued to bite me and I followed Comet Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp with my binoculars. (And photographed them with my Pentax K-1000). And after the move to Tennessee and our new home on the edge of the city, I liked to spend quiet evenings in the back yard searching the night sky with my binoculars. I kept them on a cabinet in the corner of the dining room, out of the way but handy when I wanted to step out on the deck to gaze at the sky and just enjoy the stillness of the night. Watching the Space Station through them was always cool.
But once they started to build houses behind ours, I gave stargazing a rest because I didn’t want to have to try to explain to the police that I was looking at M-43, not the neighbors’ windows. But I kept the binoculars handy on the cabinet, just in case the mood hit.
About six years ago, I got a telescope for Christmas. Quite a surprise and something I’d wanted since using Merrill’s telescope in our Haley’s days. After I got the telescope set up, I reached for the binoculars to use to help spot a particular star. That’s when I discovered the eye pieces were bent at a weird angle. A closer look and I discovered that the body was cracked. Try as I might, I couldn’t make them work.
My heart wasn’t the only thing broke. I couldn’t afford to replace the binoculars. By that time, I had come to terms with the downside of trying to appease someone and live beyond our means. I had enough debt on credit cards and wasn’t going to add to it. Jason had gone out of business, which didn’t help matters, either. And I was devastated to realize that I lived with someone who couldn’t be honest with me about something as simple as a pair of binoculars getting accidentally knocked off of a corner cabinet in a room that we rarely used.
Fast forward to a week ago. News of Comet PanSTARRS caught my eye and rekindled my desire to sky gaze. I tried to see the comet on a clear night, but with my recent eye surgery, my glasses didn’t work on one eye and my repaired eye wasn’t able to focus on dim objects in the sky and I said, “man, if only I had my binoculars …”
You say “If only” a lot after a divorce and quite frankly, I tired of saying it almost as soon as the ink was dry on our settlement. So that night I went on eBay, found the Bushnell’s which look a lot like my old Jason’s and bought them. They came in the mail today. Too late for PanSTARRS, but I’ll get plenty of practice using them before Comet ISON comes into view in November. I can’t wait to pack them for my camping trip in two weeks.