It took me about 40 minutes and all the nerves I had left, but I managed to get Teena (Celestar 8" SCT) packed up and carefully and completely with books, charts, binos, flashlights, cap chair, 6" hunting knife (courtesy of Future-Son-In-Law), quilt, water, trail mix, bug spray and EPs. A good Girl Scout is prepared for any eventuality. I drove a scant 5 minutes from the house to a back side of our older neighborhood that connected to an underdeveloped housing adventure that presented roads, but no houses, lights or cleared lots. I parked in a cul de sac surrounded by trees and the song of cicadas and dusty, if light polluted, night sky. I would have preferred my darker cemetery, quietly nestled between wooded houses and my horsey companions, but I'm trying to to gently into that good night and stay closer to home. I was still somewhat under the Rogers, AR light dome - unfortunate - and the sky was not as crisp as I would have wanted for our first serious night together. I lifted the wedgpod out and made the adjustments to level it as much as was practical, then beasted the OTA "case" from the back of the Uplander into the cooling night air. Two-inch longer arms would have come in mighty handy. If I had a dollar for every time I've said that...I huffed her out with confidence and tenderness and set her up. It was quick this time. We are getting used to one another and beginning to evolve into a quiet efficiency. At last! Cherished time alone in the dark. Time to relax, become more than acquainted, attuned, to find an unspoken uniformity in our journey. I felt like she deserved better that my inexperienced fumbling, but I promised to become more worthy, if she could find it to be forgiving. I would make her proud. I drug out the manual, donned goofy red headlamp and double my determination to master polar alignment. Apparently it does the mind a good deal of good to read, alone, in the dark. Since I was already set for the correct latitude (+/- a degree) all I really needed to do was to point her true north. Why did that seem impossible yesterday? I suppose the best things just come in their own time. Ursa Minor was much too milky and faint to be visible, but with a little encouragement from Stellarium mobile, we could at least find Polaris readily enough and I centered it up in the forks. So cold, but damned useful, that star. Sitting was a challenge. Camp chair is a bit too tall for me. Sitting on the ground is entirely too low and the tripod is not adjustable. I brought a sturdy plastic step stool and ended up perched on it the majority of the session. I resolved to buy a drummer's stool or the like for observing sessions. I turned the clock drive on. Here we were. I couldn't help but run my hands over the OTA, feeling her cool strength, her sturdiness. There was so much in us both just under the surface - so much potential, so much beauty, and suddenly it wasn't theoretical. It wasn't an alluring daydream. It was tangible and immediate and real and mine. I was nervous, but so ready. I took the caps off the finder scope to center up Polaris and it didn't take me long to understand why all the SCT scopers at the last star party were so eager to show me their Telrads (will be researching and ordering). Not to say that the finder scope wasn't useful (would have loved to piggyback the binos), just not as precise or clear on its own as desired. Got good and set on Polaris, then took her blindfold/lens cap off. BIG, deep breath. Oh, my. 'Sup, Polaris? Lovely to meet you. Ok. Focused in nice and crisp, and just practiced moving Teena, clumsily, bit by precarious and precious bit. Left to right flipped and upside down is a strange learning curve. It isn't natural for me by any stretch, and she's stiff and out of practice. I consulted the manual, rereading about settings and dials and DEC and RA and according to the reading, the dials and my feeble mind, I was about where I should be. Figured I'd try settings and practice this witchcraft on Vega and was looking through my materials for cords. Was studying the various parts of this navigational system, used the binos to get Vega generally pointed to, centered it into the finder and was about to check all of the settings, dials, numbers, letters etc. - then cursed - profusely - like a sailor - nah, like twin sailors late back from shore leave. I'd already done the hard part, the real work, why did I need the dials on a known object? God, I'm so stupid! I was making this so much harder than it needed to be! I crept back over to the camping chair, pulled my ponytail holder out and leaned my head back to take in the sky. I drifted from Polaris to Cassiopeia, back over toward Cygnus and over to Aquila. I should have known. When in doubt, follow your heart home. I grinned and went back to my step stool, guided Teena back over to the left and pointed her home, toward Tarazed. It took a couple of minutes - general area, finder scope, center, scope, focus. Brilliance - singularity - blinding - stunning - breathless. Cup o' happy. In the binos, it was my Butter Buddy; in the scope, it was God. I was so deeply awed and just glued to the eyepiece it took several minutes to realize that WE DID IT! From brain to sky to scope. Holy s**t. No tears. Not tonight. Cheesey grins. Big ones. Just sat, smiling in the dark, listening to the quiet whispering mmrrrr of the clock drive. We did it. Turned Pandora on, turned it up, stepped carefully away from Teena and just danced. Arms thrown over head, sauntering down the darkened road, six years old again and twirling like a pinwheel until I got dizzy, singing off key, deliciously drunk on light. I am 7 feet tall. I can fly. Had to go back and peek again and was still wowed. Seems like we had drifted off center a bit, but our screaming orangy yellow fellow was there and just gorgeous. But could we do it again? What to choose next? Nothing like double the trouble. Albireo. We worked at it for a few minutes, but it's just so easy to get lost up there in Cygnus. Now, that being said, it is the best kind of lost there is. Got very distracted, and very, very happy, but this just wasn't quite right. Had to have a long look. Had to think. Had to close my eyes and think back to Perseids, to wide-angled star fields, to memories. Nothing else for it - Andromeda. Closed my eyes and remembered the weekend star-party and hearing my astro-buddy in my head as he rattled off the square of Pegasus, down the leg, two over, now up, should be just....there. Pulled the binos up to my face and could certainly discern a patch of faint glow just where it ought to be. The things you can learn from the right teacher and the kindness of strangers... Moved Teena, noting that there is no real "handle" on the scope and that I had to almost hug her to move her. Think I'll be trying to rectify this. Got pretty close and not sure whether the finder scope was tremendously helpful, but I got pretty lucky with placement right off the bat. Focused in and there it was. My first Messier. My first galaxy. From head to sky to scope. Astro-buddy’s imagery was so precise and I couldn't find better. Really is like looking at a "firefly through fog". Clear and furry at the same time, like a hazy dandelion bloom, with a more warm and lightened...idk...core isn't quite right, but can't find better, off slightly to one side. But I didn't want to be just here. I wanted IN there. I wanted clarity. I swapped out the 25mm for the 12.5. Better. Brighter "core", but I felt like the wider FOV felt, idk, right. Tried barlowing the 12.5. Hahahahaha. Well that was fun. So totally not focusing. Just blur. Went back and let the tracking drive hold and went off and took a bit of a walk - more music, more grinning. Found that I was talking to myself and it dawned on me, all those reports from other people. So many of them elated when they had someone in the yard to share it with, or several who felt the frustration of not being able to get anyone else out. That sunk in. Came back and checked, and yes we are drifting off center. Hmm. Let's try again. Recentered, rewalked. 10 min. later...off center. Not sure what I had done. Perhaps not perfectly aligned? Then just like that, like coming in from a really cold day and feeling your body slowly warm back up, I could feel the exhaustion creeping through me. I haven't slept well in 3 months (averaging about 4 hours a night), and it was all coming in on me. I guess contentedness will do that to you. I had a last, long look at Andromeda, said my thanks, promised to come back. Felt like it took forever to get everything back in the car and back to the house. Got Teena tucked into the garage in her case and patted her on the way out. Slept like a rock...for six and a half hours. Hold your hearts close and your scopes closer. Clear skies, friends.