Monday, August 4, 2008

Can't hardly wait

Summer is my favorite season, even when it's brutally hot and dry like this year. Heat doesn't bother me too much, although my meds have greatly amplified the effects heat has on my body.

Everything I loved about my childhood revolved around summer. The warm weather, days at the pool, three weeks down the shore (that's the beach for those not familiar with Philly lingo), playing outside, reading outside, splashing through the local creek (pronounced 'crick'), catching lightning bugs, camping in the back yard, riding my bike, cookouts, and, the highlight of everything, looking for shooting stars.

August is greatly maligned. Many people say it's too hot, there are no holidays, and it's too damn close to back-to-school. They overlook the most precious event of summer: The Perseid meteor shower.

Around the first week of August, the anticipation builds. I start getting antsy and impatient, scanning the night sky every night, hoping for a glimpse of just one shooting star that portends the arrival of a sparkling sky.

It's easy to overlook this celestial event. You have to get up in the middle of the night to see the best of it. You have to be patient. If you're hardcore like me, you have to plan where you will go for optimal viewing. It's worth it.

Several years ago, my husband and I took our vacation in the Rocky Mountains, in a town called Estes Park. Estes Park is just outside the gates of Rocky Mountain National Park. We had a full eight-day agenda of hiking, bird watching, relaxing, ranger education programs, shopping in town, and drinking in the velvety darkness of the cool evenings. Actually, the nights were downright cold, and we had to go into town to buy flannel pajamas so we could sleep at night.

We rented a tiny cabin that had an enormous deck across the front. We hung up hummingbird feeders and kept track of the drama of the tiny birds jostling for this precious territory. As soon as we arrived, I took note that there were lounge chairs on the deck. Perfect. Just what I needed.

As it turned out, our trip to the Colorado mountains coincided with the Perseid. I had binoculars, a blanket, and an alarm clock. That year, the best viewing was set for 2:00 a.m. in the northeastern sky. I set the alarm and went to bed with the same anticipation as a child on Christmas Eve.

The alarm woke me at 2:00. My husband was neither interested nor amused. I put on a sweathshirt and pressed my face against the tiny bedroom window. Within seconds the stars started falling. It was a stunning display, and unlike anything I had ever seen. The stars were shooting across the sky in clusters, coming every 30 seconds or so. I had no idea that this is what the Perseid really looked like.

I put on my shoes, grabbed the blanket, and headed outside. It was chilly, like see-your-breath-in-the-air-chilly. I bundled up on the lounge chair and settled in for a beautiful show. It looked as though some unseen force was throwing handfuls of stars across the silent, inky sky. I shivered, but not from the cold. The immense beauty of a sky so crowded with stars was almost too much to take in.

Eventually, my husband came outside. He felt uncomfortable in such absolute darkness and he insisted that I come in. It was probably time since my eyes hurt from looking. Before I got back into bed, I looked out the window for one last glimpse of the shooting stars. They were coming less frequently, and I took this as a sign that I should get some sleep. As I dozed off, I tried hard to see every image of the meteor shower in my mind's eye so I could call up the memory later in perfect detail.

I often do.


Laurel said...

I love the Perseids also. I have a beautiful memory of going to Lido Beach to watch them with Michael and other canoodling strangers on the beach. Last year we went to a nearby north shore beach but the light from Connecticut made it hard to see the stars. There was an interesting but depressing New Yorker article sometime in the past year about light pollution and how no one really knows what the night sky looks like anymore except in some very remote regions. Sounds like you've got a much better view than from where I stand....

May Voirrey said...

Except we won't be vacationing in the Rocky Mountain West this time around. I'll be deep in the very, very hot Southwest. My husband will be home hangin' with the dog.