Monday, August 13, 2007

Pursuing the Perseids

We started pursuing the Perseids about 15 years ago when we lived among the cornfields in the flat part of the state. The first year we put up a tent in our big front yard and invited some friends to come and watch the shooting stars. About a dozen of us lay on blankets on the ground, the smaller kids squirming and tossing popcorn while the conversation gradually subsided into a steady chorus of "There's one! Didja see it?"

"Look," I said, "that one looks close enough to tough," and I reached out and touched--a firefly.

After we relocated to the hills, we woke up in the wee hours on the appointed morning to find our entire valley socked in with fog, so we bundled the pajama-clad kids into the van and hauled 'em up to the second-highest point in the county, where our little country church sits on top of a hill surrounded by farm fields. We spread out the blankets in the cemetery and watched the meteors, hundreds of 'em, crying out "There's one!" so frequently that we woke up the dogs in the farmhouse across the road. I half expected a visit from the county sheriff.

Two years ago the best night for viewing the Perseids fell while we were taking our daughter to move into her college dorm for the first time. Our German exchange student had just arrived and was struggling mightily with the language and with jet lag, but none of us knew the German for "meteor shower" so we tried to explain it with helpful gestures. We set an alarm clock for 1 a.m. and then lay on our backs on the grounds of historic Shakertown and watched shooting stars while thousands of cicadas kept up their chainsaw buzz in the trees. "What's that noise?" asked the German, but none of us knew the word for "cicadas."

This morning at 1:00 we found ourselves in the cemetery again on a clear, dark night, with bats flitting and frogs croaking nearby. At first there was the usual discussion of the best part of the sky to watch for shooting stars, but soon all we could say was "There's one! Didja see it?" They came in bursts, sometimes three at a time, with long sleepy lulls in between. The ground was cool and the air damp but we had blankets and pillows and nowhere to go.

"Where do you think we'll be next year at this time?" I asked, but nobody knew. The kids leave for college next week and who knows what they'll be doing next summer? They're shooting across the firmament, shining for a moment, leaving a vapor trail behind them.

There's one. Didja see it?

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