The supermoon was due to arriveonthe night ofApril 7, 2019.
Early that evening, Anya and I were sitting in plastic chairs with the astronomical binoculars between us, waiting for the moon to rise.
Above the hills on the distant horizon were clouds and I wondered how much we would see.
On the lawn in front of us was the dome tent we had erected a few days before. The idea was to practice setting it up so that when the lock down was over, we could travel to far deserts and camp out – and at nights, do a bit of stargazing. But once the tent was up, Anya had insisted on leaving it there to remind us of past adventures and the promise of future ones.
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.
On first appearances, the community hall, an abandoned galvanised iron shed, seemed like the last place where anything significant might be found. But our guide, a 93 year old man, knew its story and he was keen to tell it to strangers, conscious of the fact that he and the hall were living on borrowed time.
As he talked, I sometimes felt that he was talking to himself, to the darkness….
It was late afternoon and we had been riding our bikes over unsealed roads into a powerful headwind for most of the day. The wind was far stronger than the weather report had indicated. Along with the wind, we also had to battle the dust. We knew we weren’t going to reach our destination, a town where we had planned to stay the night at a caravan park.
We desperately needed to stop. But we were surrounded by undulating crop land as far as the eye could see. It was autumn and everything was barren and dry. There was nowhere we could pitch our tent and our water was low.
I was in a bad mood. The grievances piled up.
When we had arrived in Australia that January, our plan was to leave in March/April, fly to Beijing, and then take the train to North Korea. Now thanks to Covid-19, international travel was impossible and who knew when – and if – the world would ever return to what it once was. I had this uncomfortable feeling that a viral Frankenstein was on the rampage. Former irritations – e.g., crowded airports, endless cues and long flights – were now reasons for nostalgia.
So here we were, plan B, making the best of our situation by …riding our bikes into a vortex of dust and wind with no water, no prospect of stopping for the night, surrounded on all sides by a great nothingness.
Then it appeared in the distance, like a mirage…..