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The next night we stay up until 1:30 a.m., peeking through holes in the clouds. We find the Sombrero galaxy. We find M13, a majestic globular cluster of stars. We find the Whirlpool and Black Eye galaxies. We eat more doughnuts. We go to bed and rise at 4:30 a.m. to have a peek at the space shuttle Discovery, which is closely trailed by the Hubble telescope. An omen, that.
The next night is our last at Star Hill, and we are glum. No stars. All the guests are sitting in our cabin under an overcast sky, drinking brandies or Diet Cokes. Just after midnight, I go out to scratch the ears of a three-legged dog who has taken up residence on the porch. I blink. The sky is clear.
"Stars!" I yell. Brandies and Diet Cokes hit the coasters and everyone flies into action. The big scopes come out. The sky maps come out. The doughnuts come out. Telescopes bob and weave as people call out their sightings: M65, M66, Lagoon nebula.
At 4:30 a.m. we line up in concert to look for Austin. We mount the inn's giant binoculars, which have a wide field of view and great light-gathering ability, onto their heavy tripod. We stand side by side, scanning the eastern horizon over the ponderosas.
Then there it is. The dreaded little cloud is back. I look at the priest. He says he does not think it has appeared because we have sinned.
With only five minutes of viewing time before dawn, two people spot the comet. "There, in that break in the clouds," someone whispers. "Whoops! It's gone."
"There it is again. Right over the—uh-oh, gone again."
My husband moves the tripod and aims the binoculars at the spot where the comet should be. "Now when the cloud breaks," he tells me, "it should be right in the frame." We watch the clouds. It's getting light. We have, maybe, two minutes left. The cloud doesn't budge. Then it does.
"Got it again," one sky-scanner says, "Get it in the big binocs."
I step up to my station. In doing so, I hear two things. One is someone telling me exactly where the comet is. The other is the sound of my foot hitting a tripod leg. The tripod skitters around 60 degrees and the binoculars end up pointing at the three-legged dog.