Sunday, August 13, 2006

Rocks in the Atmosphere

Many summers as teens, my sister and I would head outside in the pitch black of our yard, march through the dew to the floating dock stretching out in the water, lie back, and check out the Perseid meteors in August.
Often we would bring a strawberry shortcake Good Humor bar or two with us as a snack. Often the cat would join us, appearing silently out of nowhere--we learned to distinguish his arrival as an almost-imperceptible dip in the dock, so as not to jump out of our skins when his silk-soft head touched our hands. I think, though I may be remembering wrongly, that it was usually pretty warm out, and living in the country as we did, the stretch of stars available to us was intensely bright.
I relied on my sister's knowledge here...she knew a ton about astronomy and pointed me in the right direction for my scanning eyes. I'd stay out there as long as I could, and we'd count the number of meteors we saw. My sister had more staying power than I did, but it was a great time to experience sisterhood and awe of the universe.
Last night, after a busy day, at 2 am, I headed onto campus, found a dark spot on a knoll between two dark parking lots, bundled into my electric blanket (which is surprisingly warm even without electricity) and stared upward. It was cold, and my wet hair needed to be hidden under the hood of my sweatshirt, but the rest of me was pretty warm. As a matter of fact, it felt kind of good to be something other than hot for a change.
Not two minutes after I'd gotten out there, I saw a fairly big one, long and medium bright, though it was lower in the sky than I'd expected. I had to wait for a while for others, picking up one or two over about twenty minutes. Then a police officer came to check on my lone car. "Everything all right?" he asked the white bundle in the grass. "Watching meteors!" I called. "Good night for it," he said, and shut off the spotlight. I'm pretty sure he brought me luck, because I saw two pretty great ones right in a row after that, including one I could see burning up. I was just about done, wanting one more nice one, and I got it pretty quickly, shorter than the others but very bright, another "burn up." In half an hour, I'd seen about five really nice meteors, despite the brightness of the moon (last year the moon was new, but it was too overcast during the peak days). I felt pretty content and headed home to fall back into bed.
It felt good to get back in touch with a much-loved activity of my past; it was lonely this time, but it was special in its own way, being out there in the grass and the silence. I'm vowing to myself to pay more attention each year so I can restart the tradition.

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