I live in Montana, which has some disadvantages, and some very clear advantages. One of which is that the stargazing at my home is probably easily better than 99% of the citizens of the Republic enjoy. The nightly course of the stars has come to be a regular part of my days, and a regular part of my time keeping. I don't consider this to be a hobby, as much as a clear and obvious thing that I can't help but notice.
Recently, I went on vacation to the cities of Portland and Seattle. While not either extremely large or smoggy cities, they were still large enough that for two weeks I didn't have clear viewing of the sky. When I came back, the weather in Montana was unseasonably cloudy, due to some fairly long chain of events starting with the Humboldt Current and the jet stream. A lot can happen in the sky in three weeks. I couldn't see Venus, and thought that it had disappeared, although it was fairly high in the evening sky when I left. I went to Sky and Telescope on the internet, and after viewing their site, I learned that Venus was still out and bright, and Mars and Saturn were as well. Mars and Saturn were quite a surprise, because they had faded from my view even before I had left on my trip. But apparently Mars, Venus and Saturn were all in syzygy- not at all a frequent happening.
I have a fairly frequent dream, where for some reason, I have been placed back in some grade, because some Xeno's Paradox of academics has determined that I have not actually finished 7th grade. (That this dream is caused by my rather checkered academic history is another issue entirely.) In some ways, I think I have in the back of my mind the idea that the past is always present, just in ever and ever vaguer shapes and images. And so this news that Mars and Saturn, who had been my constant companions through the long winter, were actually still in the sky, sparked something in me.
Today was a clear night. I went outside, and stared at Venus, which was very easy to see. Mars and Saturn were on either side of it, although in the twilight, they were invisible, even at the first magnitude. I stared hard at the spaces they were supposed to be, for some minutes, until I finally went inside and got my telescope, which is weak and has no tripod. I moved it across, fixing Venus and then trying to sweep it towards the supposed locations of both Mars and Saturn. The tremor in my hands and the fact that the telescope reversed everything made searching for the small points of light that were Mars and Saturn difficult. Once, I flashed over a point of light that was dimmer than Venus. I kept searching. Finally, after much hardship, I picked them both up easily. Saturn only once, but Mars, being higher, I managed to track for a bit longer. I put down the telescope, and for a while I thought I could actually see a little flicker of light in Mars' position, but perhaps my eyes were playing tricks on me after so much squinting. But through the telescope I could see it easily. Finally, as it set, I tracked it, moving (in the telescope, at least) quickly towards the concealing ridge of the Bitterroot Mountains. I worked my willpower to keep my hand steady on it as it set, knowing this is perhaps goodbye to the last ghost of winter. I managed to hold it steady until its disc moved against trees, high on the mountains.
And now it is gone.
Mars and Saturn will be back, in two or three months, and in only a little time after that, they will be hanging high in the night sky. So to pay to much attention to their temporary disappearance is perhaps foolish. But, of course, the cycle of them being high in the sky that was the winter and spring of this year will never, ever come again.