In March, 2020, two months after Anya and I arrived in Australia, I bought a pair of astronomical binoculars.
In other words: binoculars meant for stargazing.
Star gazing binoculars are heavy because their viewing lens – the lens at the end of the binoculars as it were – must have a wide diameter in order to let in enough light on nights when there is no moon and its only on moonless nights that serious star gazing is possible.
Because of their weight, star gazing binoculars are not the sort of thing to just pop into your rucksack – and until February that year, Anya and I had been living out of our rucksacks: crossing borders and experiencing different places and cultures.
Then came The Virus…….
We couldn’t leave Australia.
Our Plan B was to travel north to Central Australia in our old Japanese car with our bikes on the back, stay at caravan parks, and ride over unsealed back roads.
What did the weight of star gazing binoculars matter if they were on the back seat of our car, along with our clothes and tent and insulation mats and sleeping bags and fold out chairs and supplies?
Deserts are the best places gaze at the stars.
They are distant from cities and suburbs and the air is dry and clear. As far as the best star gazing deserts go, outback Australia is in a class all of its own. The only other place on the planet in the same league is the Atacama desert in Northern Chile – and it, like Australia, lies in the Southern Hemisphere. The Southern Hemisphere is better than the Northern Hemisphere for star gazing; it affords the best and most expansive views of the night skies.
So I was looking forward to our trip to central Australia. Bike riding during the days and star gazing at nights.
In April, the Virus struck again.
It was uncontrolled. Untamed. An invisible beast.
National borders being closed was one thing. But then the state borders were closed. One after the other.
Then everyone had to stay where they were and not move outside their locality. ‘Stay in your own postcode’ was the message.
Stay in your postcode!
Only two months previous, the world’s horizons were limitless, now our lives were narrowed down to a metaphorical pinhead!
Within a short space of time, the idea of departing the city and its suburban limits and travelling to a remote place in the far north and – focusing my binoculars on the wonderful desert night skies – was impossible.
I had bought a pair of star gazer binoculars and now had no skies worth looking at.
In the meantime, Anya had been making her own kind of preparations for a possible future departure.
She had gone through our pile of maps and sorted through them, selecting the ones covering the north of South Australia (an enormous area as big as France or Germany). She had spent time on the net checking towns which had caravan parks as well as places to rent.
One afternoon, she suggested that we erect our two person tent in the backyard. I thought it was a bit premature but nevertheless the purpose of the exercise was obvious to me. The tent was a dome tent and although we had bought it a few years ago, we hadn’t used it that much. The chances were we had forgotten how to set it up.
During our long years of trekking in the Indian Himalaya and then afterwards, doing long bush walking journeys in Australia, we had used tunnel tents. We were programmed to using them and setting them up quickly. The dome tent was roomier than a tunnel tent – and heavier – but its structure was quite different. So that afternoon, we went out into the backyard and set to work.
It took ages. It was a long winded process of trial and error.
Afterwards, we crawled inside and lay down there a while and listened to the musical chortling of the Australian magpies.
When I went to dismantle the tent, Anya demurred.
She wanted to leave the tent up.
The sight of the tent in the backyard suggested to her adventure and hopes for the future.
It was a symbol.
Two days later, Anya yelled out to me: ‘There’s going to a supermoon in a few days!’
She drew my attention to an article she was reading on a news website. It bore the heading:
‘A circuit breaker for the virus lockdown and all you have to do is look up!’
On April 7 it said, we would be able to see the biggest full moon of the year. It would be at least 10% bigger and brighter than a normal full moon. In its monthly orbit around the earth the moon would draw closer to the earth than normal – it would be a mere 356, 907 kilometres away.
A circuit breaker for the lock down?
But I wasn’t interested in the moon. The moon was the enemy of star gazers.
The moon’s light bleached the night sky of all but the most brilliant stars. The moon, at whatever phase, made any attempt to peer into the depths of the Milky Way pretty futile.
But oh well, I thought, I might as well focus on that craterous butter ball in lieu of some decent stars.
And what a focus.
I found myself on a journey to one of the most remote places on earth at a time when we were confined to our homes and our postcodes…it’s light entered star gazer lens like a magic spell.