I’m not sure we did, either. Two of us saw a slim white vertical streak in the sky right after the sun dropped into the ocean. Tony, who really cared, and the kids, busy racing around on the sand, never spotted it. But it was worth the try, a good excuse to zoom out to the beach for the hour before dinner. When spotting a comet promises to be so easy — just look in the sky right after the sun has set — who can resist?
Not me. As a kid, I remember being woken up for celestial events. My grandmother had a star chart and could identify all the constellations. She’d pull us out of bed on a summer night and we’d sit in the meadow to watch shooting stars or once, a rare flash of the northern lights (in Connecticut!). Even earlier, my parents woke us all for a fuzzy telecast of the moonwalk (though I was two: can I really remember this? or do I just remember the story?).
Tony and I have also gone out of our way for celestial events. When I was pregnant with Ben, we rose at 2 a.m. and drove halfway up Mt. Tamalpais for a particularly amazing meteor shower. We were directed away from the summit — too many cars already ahead of us — but found a good spot to pull over on the side of the mountain. I loved the party atmosphere, the hundreds of star-gazers: some true astronomy buffs, with their high-powered telescopes; plenty of hippies with drums; families with sleepy, confused children. All of us bundled up in sweaters and scarves against the chill. We spread our sleeping bags out on the hood of the car and started counting, but we quickly passed a hundred and gave up, just gazing at the lights streaking yellow and pale pink across the sky. We drove home after an hour or so, and spotted two more: one sailed over Geary Boulevard and seemed to shoot into a gas station; the second lit up our backyard for a moment, which seemed a promising omen, somehow, for our baby-to-be.
Comet McNaught has headed off to the southern hemisphere now, so we won’t see that again anytime soon. But we’ll keep our binoculars handy for the next one.