leonids schmeonids

cold, sleep-deprived, and congested, i awoke to the alarm this morning, briefly confused by my surroundings.

yes, i was at home, in my own bed, with two warm lumps at my feet indicating my cats had survived the night and had not tunneled out to freedom. i was confused because, as far as i can remember, i fell asleep on a bed of pea-gravel next to a lake.

ah. that’s right. the brief consort with morpheus by the lakeshore lasted only a moment, and was disrupted by a sharp gasp. “another one!” one of my companions cried. everyone else, disappointed they had not seen it, asked where in the sky, and grumbled that she was making them up.

yes, we went out to see the leonids last night, the much hyped – if you went to the right website anyhow – “meteor storm”. supposedly this year’s installment of the annual pelting from space was to be ‘the big one’, a repeat of 1966 where many people believed the world was coming to an end, or that someone had declared war one someone else – bright lights and high-atmosphere fireballs tend to instill these fantasies on people.

but we were out of luck. the few dozen meteors we did see were too few and to far between to make any discernible “storm”, and were obscured by a very bright quarter moon and low clouds. what did make up for stiff necks and lateness of the hour was the brilliant setting of that same bright moon behind a stand of trees, only slightly obscured by a mist rising off the water.

i took a moment to recall the first meteor shower i ever observed, when i was 8. my parents took me to a state park, whose reason for being was to preserve the burial and temple mounds of a neolithic indian tribe. lying on my back, staring into the night sky atop a mound of earth, my father explained to me that the metors weren’t actually coming at the earth, but rather that the earth was revolving around the sun, and running into them.

the shift in my perspective was vertigo-inducing, and i have never been able to pass up a good stargazing opportunity since – whether in a frost-covered field while camping where i was first able to see the bright smudge of the mulky way, or from the deck of a boat under a sky so clear one could easily make out satellites passing overhead.

so, despite the cold, the lack of spectacular fireballs, and a creeping feeling of dread, miles from anywhere, at the bottom of a boat ramp alongside a small lake in rural north carolina, a lyric from “learning to fly” came to mind.

i can’t keep my mind from the circling sky
tongue-tied and twisted,
i’m just an earth-bound misfit eye

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