Good Morning Star-shine

The Perseid Meteor Shower. Isn’t that sometime soon, I wondered as I star-gazed briefly standing beside the car after arriving home Friday night. But the question vanished like the trail of a passing sand speck, burning up to nothing in the atmosphere before I reached the house. I suppose I would have missed the celestial event entirely except that it came up in dinner conversation with friends last night.

When we got home around 10, I went into auto-shutdown mode: undress, brush teeth, make coffee, collapse in bed.

“I thought you were going outside when we got home” Ann reminded me. Great timing, I thought, as I’d already started sinking below the lily pads, some synapses already winking off.

But I got dutifully dressed, found a small flash light and a white plastic lawn chair out by the shed and slipped into my rubber boots without turning on the the back porch light. I crunched down the gravel driveway to the road, crossed the footbridge and stepped high into the sweet-smelling pasture. I wanted to avoid looking at the soft amber light from the bedside table across the creek in our bedroom, but knew I couldn’t resist–such a tranquil sight not often seen.

I didn’t see anything overhead, if meteors are the only thing that counts. But they were not the whole reason to be out there, honestly. I don’t usually sit in the middle of a night time pasture in a plastic chair for the heck of it. It takes the excuse of a special production. More the pity.

No meteors. I left the chair in the grass, thinking I’d be back in the morning to give the Perseids another chance, since in truth, the shower wasn’t expected until midnight–way too late for this early riser. For a half hour after I came in, the deer snorted at the alien white thing that smelled of human. Their agitated wheezing was the last thing I heard before I sank quickly into sleep.

I had sat down with my first cup of coffee this morning at 4:15 when Ann asked if I’d seen anything last night. Darn her timing. I hadn’t even had a chance to check my email. So I grabbed the light and slogged my way to the open space beside what was almost a garden.

And they came, about one a minute for the ten I spent there: greater and lesser flashes of pale blue perfect lines silently scratching the indigo sky. From where I stood, the Pleiads perched just above the maple, the Big Dipper in minature. I counted as many of the Seven Sisters as I could see–a good indication of the clarity of the summer sky.

One. Two. Three. And a dark shape startled me–close at hand, enormous by the measure of a meteor’s thin light–ghostlike, upon me, and gone, shadow into shadow. A screech owl’s search for breakfast brought me back to earth.

Persistent trails surprised me up over the roof of the house even as I reached the pavers beyond the back door, and told Ann so. “Let’s go see” and we both went back out, just beside the lilac bush, in the dark. “There!” And another. And after a dozen breaths, we came indoors, momentarily removed from ourselves, lifted for a few moments above our petty obligations and calendars, tiny motes of humanity under a heaven in motion.

Update: Nice to have this morning ramble noticed on the Guardian/Technology blog today. Small world, isn’t it? We were fortunate for such clear skies, often far more hazy in this very humid month.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I too, sat in a lawn chair in the middle of the night; amazed at the Milky Way. Then there were the meteors, impressive, but why not do this more often? The deer did not like my chair in the meadow either. I doe started stamping behind me, I a snorted back at here (my imitation of a deer sound). I got a real argument going for a while until I stood up and she realized I wasn’t a stray deer. I am not a hunter, but why use a blind when a lawn chair works so well and is more comfortable?

  2. Oh, I’d also forgotten. And midnight is quite late for this early riser as well. Puppies need letting out at 6:30, so this becomes my wakeup call…or gentle woof sound, now that they are each one year old.
    Thanks, Fred, for sharing your vision, & I agree, we need to move away from our habitual paths. Oh, and it is COOL this morning!!!

  3. we stretched out on a blanket in our yard from 10 p.m. until 11. we got to see one of the ‘earthgrazers’ and some smaller meteors in between. i may have done better to have gone to bed early and woken up before dawn to see them in their glory.

    but, as you said, the meteor shower itself was not the only reason to be out. it was such a clear night and i hadn’t star-gazed in quite some time, living in town the past 9 years. i, also, took my white plastic chair out around 2 a.m. when my bladder woke me up….but only saw a tiny one pass overhead. magical, nonetheless.

  4. My daughter was born at the height of the Perseid storm 19 years ago so as part of her birthday celebrations we never fail to catch the comet’s tail

    This year, between 11pm & midnight we counted 28 shooting stars

    Which is a good enough number for a small family’s wishing-on-a-star’s