Perseids: Zzzipp! Pop! Wowww!

The last remarkable Perseid meteor performance before this one was in 1999. We were living on Walnut Knob and our son, Nathan, was home from college for the summer.

Ann and I gave up on the skywatch early that August 12 and headed to bed. Nate stayed up most of the night, sitting on the ridge across the road on Max Thomas’s sloping hillside, not content to miss a single hurtling incandescent sand grain as it hit Earth’s atmosphere.

He was speechless the next morning at breakfast, in awe of the display he’d witnessed–greens and blues, persistent tails, and for a few those the line of trajectory was directly DOWN not across the sky, coming right at him, exploding in the fiery bits like a Roman candle.

I remembered all of this at 4 this morning, not rewarded nearly as richly as our son was 17 years ago. But then, I only dedicated a half hour to the spectacle. You get what you pay for.

For my appreciation there were a number of “yep, saw that one” short bright lines that covered an arch of sky only as wide as a thumb at arm’s length. A dozen or so covered a handbreadth, a few leaving persistent tails. One zipped, exploded and persisted in a glow most impressively. I’m sure for that one, alone in the dark, I exclaimed audibly: Oooooh! in a 4th-of-July fireworks kind of way.

It was not stellar. But I made an effort. And honestly, it was the first half-hour in the darkness I’ve spent in far too long a time. The darkness. The silence, save for the raucous babble of Goose Creek never once depleted over the entire summer. In the distance, a barred owl cooked for me.

There in a folding chair in the middle of the road–that someone recently described as “more like a 4 mile long driveway” I made contact with the ultimate reality show–the arc of heaven. I was among friends–Cassiopeia, the Hyades, the Pleiades. And there–Andromeda Galaxy I can still find it and it still awes me.

So by today’s razzle-dazzle standards, the Pleiades are bested by X-box and Pixar and CGI magic. Far too many young people would simply yawn, if one in a million actually got out of bed in the wee hours to bother.

I remain thankful that things free, simple and real bring a thrill sufficient to get me up early, out in the cool dark, sitting in a folding chair on a state road alone, with coffee and my own thoughts. That is sufficient; more than enough to make my life full, good, heavenly really.

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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 was out there too, Fred, at about the same time, in Danville. Too much ambient light and too many trees, but I did see one bright streaking one. And was happy.

  2. i hope future generations will get back in love with the real world, but I am glad there are oldsters still around to sing its praises. We are yearning for the Colorado Rockies, where we will spend October.No cities, very small towns, lots of clear skies, for enjoying the day and the night.,

  3. We were backpacking and camped out at 10,000 feet and probably saw close to 200 meteors in the two hours we layed out under the stars in Democrat Basin below Oh-Be-Joyful pass. It was magical!!