Monday, August 13, 2007

A Perseid Party

Last night was the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower, with debris from the tail of a comet hitting the earth's atmosphere and burning out in spectacular style. Having caught some of the pre-show festivities Friday night, as I mentioned in the previous post, Nance and I were excited to gather the kids again to watch the big show, the main event. The best part of the show wouldn't be seen until eleven o'clock at night and would continue into the wee hours of the morning, but it would be worth it. We would witness a piece of history. This particular showing of the Perseids was to be better than it has been in nearly thirty years, since the night featured a new moon--no moonlight to wash out the sky and detract from the "shooting stars."

We packed up our sleeping bags and pads, pillows and PJ's, along with some yummy snacks to share with our friends. This time we would be ready, and we would enjoy the show in style. We might even camp out in the yard all night, if we couldn't tear ourselves away. It would be so fun.

But, alas, the smoke from the local fires began to roll in more aggressively as the day went on. By dinner time, the sky was so dark that cars on the highway had to use their headlights, even though the summer sunset wasn't scheduled to occur yet for several more hours. By seven o'clock in the evening, the sky in the valley was a murky brown color, the color of a drying mud puddle or a cup of coffee with cream. The yellow light at a traffic stop appeared to glow white instead of yellow, its true color cancelled out by the yellow-brown haze. Cars' headlights and the lights of parking lots and gas stations glowed an eerie blue. It was surreal.

The kids and I were sad. There was no hope of seeing the spectacular sky show, but we drove to Nance's house anyway. Perhaps we could play a game and enjoy a snack and some conversation before we turned around and went back home to sleep in our own beds.

When we arrived, it was decided that we should make our own party, meteor shower or no meteor shower. We played games, ate snacks, played football in the darkening yard and ran around waving sparklers left over from the Fourth of July.

Once it was totally dark, we set up camp in the yard under the thick canopy of smoke, feeling rather silly, but determined to not lose out on the fun we'd planned. The moms and daughters lay in sleeping bags on the lawn. The boys spread out their bags on the trampoline. We looked up into the completely blank sky and giggled at the foolishness of it all. We felt like we were at a play, waiting for the heavy velvet curtain to open. But it wasn't opening. While the kids played with flashlights, we imagined all the other people around the world oohing and aahing over the meteor shower that we wouldn't be able to see. But we stubbornly persisted, staring up into the brown-black nothingness and swapping stories until we all fell asleep.

Around one o'clock in the morning, I heard the wind pick up a little, and I opened my eyes. A single star peeked through the haze and I watched it twinkle. Then another appeared, and another. A glimmer of hope began to shine dimly in my heart. Within fifteen minutes or so, a window of clear black sky and a generous dusting of stars appeared directly overhead. Behind us and to the sides, the smoke still blotted out the glittering stars, but above us, it was clear.

I watched intently, my eyes straining to see any movement other than the occasional satellite or airplane. All alone, I scanned for anything of interest, wondering often if my eyes were playing tricks on me.

Then it happened. A single meteor streaked across the sky. Perhaps the show would go on after all.

I leaned over and whispered to my sleeping friend, but she was groggy and put me off. A few minutes later, I saw another, and then another. When I had counted five, I nudged her again and she opened sleepy eyes to look up at the window of stars above us. The meteors began to come in earnest. Now wide awake, we whispered and pointed and oohed and aahed quietly at the private showing in the sky above us. After half an hour or so, averaging one meteor per minute, we grew sleepy and decided to call it a night, contentedly drifting back off to sleep as the meteors continued to streak the sky above us.

When I awoke this morning, it felt like it had all been a dream. But it wasn't a dream, unless my friend had dreamed the same thing.

So cool.

Note: Tonight I am starting to move the kids back toward their regular school bedtimes. They are completely exhausted from the long, late night of fun and fitful sleep in the cold night air (temperatures in the high 40's just before dawn), but I did not insist on rest times, like they really needed. Instead, I put up with their bickering and general grouchiness with a secret smile, knowing that it would be an easy early bed time tonight, the first step back toward the school routine. I will get them up at a decent time in the morning and run them hard tomorrow--maybe some hiking in the early part of the day and school shopping in Missoula later. That should be good. I think I'll turn in early, too. I'm wiped. Goodnight.

1 comment:

Jeannie said...

Glad to hear you made it a fun evening, despite the smoky skies. How cool that it finally happened for you, in the middle of the night!