To live within your comfort zone, in whatever sphere of life, serves no purpose at all unless you want to experience a life less lived. That’s quite a difficult sentence! But we are here to experience Life, and if we always want to be comfortable, we will miss out on so many facets. I always say that I live in Cape Town because the weather is seldom extreme (actually I’m just lucky this is where I ended up after being born in East London, EC) and that certainly is a good reason to be here. Living in a warm and comfortable, yet thankfully modest house by the sea has to be one of life’s great privileges. Night-time temperatures in winter seldom drop below 10 degrees. The prospect of a spot of amateur astronomy out in the country is always enticing, but winter can be bracing to say the least, and weather always unpredictable.
My friend and I decided to change our normal stargazing adventure from spring and autumn to dead of winter. Autumn has often been freezing and spring has brought substantial rain; not ideal for tent camping, but not life-threatening and with the right equipment, dry. We anxiously watched the forecast, which varied every day from cloudy with rain and -2 degrees to partly cloudy with showers and -1 degree. Of course, stargazing requires clear skies and being outside in the middle of the night. The decision to go was made the day before departure, based on the premise that we shouldn’t be wimps and must step outside the comfort zone.
Wispy high cloud covered the Western Cape on Friday, but temperatures remained mild to warm, and it was 17 degrees at Leeuwenboschfontein. Towards evening, puffy clouds drifted in from the west, but as night fell, we could still see stars among the dark patches. Encouraged by this, we waved our arms skyward and muttered the magic words, and lo! the clouds melted away and the magnificent Milky Way arched overhead, inviting us to put on all our spare clothing and head up the hill to the observatory. The wind that had preceded the clouds was only a whisper.
The dome of the tiny observatory was rolled back to set the sky search in motion, and out on the lawn, the 16-inch mirror was already catching starlight for our eager viewing. Omega Centauri, the split between the Alpha Centauri star system, the Stargate in Corvus, the Sombrero, Hamburger and assorted other galaxies and the spectacular Eta Carina nebula were but a few of the sights to delight before the arrival of the cold front. Ample clothing, hoods, hats and balaclavas, gloves and hot chocolate made it easy to forget the frigid night air, and the opportunity to expand the mind and our knowledge of what we know and think is out there left no time to ponder whether it was cold or not.
Stepping out of the comfort zone really took very little effort, just some preparation and a willingness to experience new things. We will do it all over again!