August 13th, 2012


The Two Nights of Shooting Stars

The scheduled Perseid meteor shower was supposed to have a peak-of-viewing window on Saturday and Sunday nights.

Seriously, folks. We live out here in the great Pacific Northwet. This means that our skies and great celestial and astronomic events are in cahoots - every time something interesting happens up there that we are in the field of vision for the skies obligingly cloud over and bang, that's that, sorry, show's over, nothing to see here, go away now (or at the very least if you want to stay outside bring an umbrella).

In other words, I was cynically expecting the same for this weekend.

But Ho.Ly.Cow. PNW.

Did you come through for me or what.

They said online, best after midnight but you can expect to see stuff after 10PM. So come roung about the stroke of ten, I issued forth out of our front door and lifted my face to the sky.

And the sky was full of stars.

I could even see the blurred and reddish misty edge of the Milky Way up there, that's how clear it was. And within a couple of minutes of going out there I saw the first Perseid streak across the firmament leaving a fiery tail in its wake.

Entranced. Raptured. Bespelled.

I stared up into the sky until my pesky security-conscious cross-the-road neighbours came back from wherever tehy'd been - somewhere out - and immediately turned on all their outside lights - which destroyed my night vision completely. Grumbling darkly, I overheard voices a little further up the street and they seemed to be discussing stars so it was a good bet they were out here on the same errang - so I crossed the dark and empty street in search of the voices and "met" three other neighbours who were blissfully sitting in the dark discussing quantum physics, the Higgs Boson, "What the Bleep Do We Know" (the movie), satellites, Curiosity, the Moon landing, the non-cooperation of the PNW skies (and that night's amazing exception), dinosaurs and fossils, properties of light, the Andromeda Galazy and its eventual collision with our own, all like that. And all the while we were sitting there with our necks craned up, staring at the backbone of the Milky Way, and occasionally one or the other of us would squeal, "There! There!" and we'd watch another meteor blaze its trail through the sea of stars and the occasional purposefully moving satellite makings its way across the heavens.

And in the meantime, the stars were caught up in the cedars, twinkling through its fronds like Christmas baubles hung ona summer Christmas tree, and we even saw the Space Station trundle past at one point.

I stayed out there for some time (all the while hearing the passionate howling of my girl-cat who was sitting in the window and who had seen me go out into this deep dark dangerous OUTSIDE and now couldn't see me any more and was convinced that I had come to a sad and sticky end and finally, apparently, took it out by walloping her poor bewildered brother silly because she had to do SOMETHING - you should have seen her when I came back in - OMIGOD OMIGOD YOU ARE BACK WHERE WERE YOU I WAS WORRIED OMIGOD LET ME RUB UP AGAINST YOUR SHINS ARE YOU SURE YOU ARE IN ONE PIECE ARE YOU SURE???) And the stars were falling, falling, falling. And really, it takes no more than this to make me happy. Watching a starry sky with my whole heart up there, playing hide and seek with Aldebaran and Vega, with Cygnus and Perseus and Orion, with all the myths and the longing and the power that my ancestors had once flung up at those stars, claiming the magic, because all know that names hold power and by naming them they owned them... or thought they did... or simply succumbed to their glory and sat there in the dawn of civilization staring up at the sky just as I was doing that night, seeing the same galaxy spill across the heavens.

Sunday night I went out again and saw a handful more of the fiery Perseid trails - but the geeky star loving neighbours weren't there to chat to and the security-conscious twerps across the street had gone full-illuminatus again, so I didn't stay out long.

But I saw them, this year, at last, I lifted my eyes to the sky and they were filled the glitter and the glory of starstuff.

Some days. Some days it's good to be alive.