Every year, I mark my calendar for the Perseid Meteor Showers. They arrive on August 12th, like clockwork, and of all the meteor showers we are treated to, this one is usually the most spectacular. And it takes place in the warmest part of the year, which is a handy little side benefit. I think of it as a free show put on by the universe.
What I like to do is go somewhere with very little ambient light. I pack a lawn chair, mosquito repellent, snacks, and sometimes cardboard to block out what light I can’t seem to avoid, and then I sit, preferably with friends, and gaze.
It’s always quite amusing when one of us sees a meteor and the others don’t. This year one of us saw one that was so spectacular it caused him to drop his beer bottle. But there were many gorgeous ones to make up for everyone else’s massive, albeit bemused, disappointment at that moment. In fact, this year I saw some of the largest ones I’ve seen in my life.
Unfortunately the smaller ones were all but impossible to see because the moon was nearly full. Nothing like a giant spotlight in the sky to block out everything else. (Next year the moon will be much more cooperative.)
But I did see something I’ve never seen before. On three separate occasions, the meteors were angled directly toward us. Because of that, instead of seeing them streak across the sky, what I saw was a large bright dot that appeared out of nowhere and was gone just as quickly. That was cool. And it made me wonder what this event looked like from the International Space Station. (Of course, there’s a video for that. You can see it here.)
I love stargazing with friends. Looking at the night sky makes my problems seem so tiny and insignificant. And it also reminds me of the glory of the natural world.
So, if you take (in) only one shower a year, make it the Perseids. It’s the best shower of all. And you don’t even have to add water.
So I decided to go camping in British Columbia during the Perseids meteor showers. I love astronomical events of all kinds, but the Persaids is one of my favorites. And it was supposed to be particularly spectacular this time around.
I had been planning this trip for nearly a year. I had no idea that half the province would be on fire. Fortunately, the worst of it was far from our campsites, but the smoke… that was everywhere. I could tell we were driving through some spectacular views… but it was like I was looking at them through a shower curtain covered with lime deposits. Oh well. My imagination is nothing if not fertile.
Needless to say, though, this was cause for concern in terms of meteor viewing. Would we even be able to see the stars? I was having a hard time hiding my dismay from my camping buddy. He seemed unconcerned. When I asked him about it, he said, “You don’t have to experience everything, you know.”
Wow. I love it when a new perspective leaves me speechless. I sat there for a long time, thinking about that. I wish someone had said this to me years ago. Because it occurs to me that I spend quite a bit of energy trying to soak up experiences like a sponge. When I travel, especially, I try to do everything there is to do, because I might not pass this way again. Maybe if I push through this bit of exhaustion I can squeeze in one more thing. Maybe if I keep looking up, I’ll see those meteors. Must. Look. Up. This hypervigilance means that I have very few regrets, but it also means I experience more than my fair share of stress.
Martin has a point. What happens if I miss the meteor showers? Will I die? No. Still, I did spend quite a lot of time staring skyward that night and the two nights to follow. Turns out I could see the stars after all. And I think, but am not sure, that I saw some shooting stars out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t sure enough to wake Martin up, though. So he slept on, peacefully, while I monitored the heavens for some spectacular sign.
Have you ever had one of those days when everything seems to be wonderful? I had one about a week ago. (Thank you. More please.) So I decided to sort of dissect the day to see what I could do to increase its frequency.
I got up at 5 am, and was well rested for a change. I went to work and it was a pleasant day with no surprises or unexpected catastrophes. I even crossed paths with a coworker that I haven’t seen in about a year (different schedules, different bridges), and had a really pleasant conversation with him.
I got off work at 3 pm, and, having finally discovered a farmer’s market that’s actually open during my off hours, I went there. I reveled in the fresh fruit and vegetables, walking through the market several times before deciding which of the embarrassment of nutritional riches I would settle upon. I got a few huge heirloom tomatoes, still warm from the vine, and some red leaf lettuce. I looked at the artisan pizza with longing, but decided to save that for another day. Instead I treated myself to a locally made chunky peach popsicle.
I drove through a beautiful neighborhood I’d never explored, and fantasized about living there. Then I came home, fed the dogs, and made a salad with my newfound treasures, adding some carrots, mozzarella cheese, walnuts, nutritional yeast and ranch dressing that I already had on hand. It was the best salad I’d ever eaten, probably because of its freshness, local origins, and the fact that I was sitting in the sun in my back yard, watching my dogs play and hearing the birds sing. I also knew I was being kind to my body by eating something healthy that was also delicious.
After that I read a book while taking a long bath in lavender Epsom salts. My dogs kept stopping in and saying hello. I asked if they’d care to join me, but they politely declined.
Then I settled in to bed at a frightfully early hour: 5:30pm. Normally I wouldn’t think of turning in that early, but I had plans. As I drifted off, I was enjoying the concept that I can go to bed pretty much whenever I want to. I answer to no one. What unbelievable freedom!
I set the alarm for 11:45 pm, and got up and made myself a bowl of popcorn. I then repaired to the back yard once again, to enjoy nature’s light show in the form of the Perseids meteor shower. I ate my popcorn and thought about our vast universe, and how it makes me realize that any problems I may have seem to pale to insignificance in that context.
The night was pleasant and I love the fact that there seems to be not a single bug in Seattle that disturbs me in the slightest. I went back to bed around 1:30 am, and spooned with my dogs until it was time to get up for work.
So what made this day so great? So many things. I indulged myself. I pampered myself. There was no stress. I got exercise for my body as well as my mind. I felt the sunshine on my face, and I ate and rested well. I had pleasant encounters. I hugged my dogs. I appreciated nature. I relaxed. I broke my routine. And most of all, I maintained an attitude of gratitude every step of the way.
I think staying in the moment and acknowledging life’s gifts as they present themselves to you, as well as treating yourself with kindness, is the recipe for a happy life.
That’s usually not good. We had planned on meeting in a park on the shores of Lake Sammamish after midnight so we could sit and gaze at the sky over the water, without the nuisance of city lights, and enjoy the Perseids meteor shower. Turns out that Redmond’s finest don’t appreciate random people hanging about in public parks after dark. Even harmless folks like us.
Well, this was awkward. We’d all driven about an hour to reach this destination. Now what?
The officer was kind enough to direct them to a soccer field about 5 miles away, so she texted me the address. And of course I promptly got lost. I wound up in some highly secure facility where the guards wore paramilitary outfits. I was asked to leave.
Good grief, but this is a secure town. Yes, it’s the home of Microsoft, but come on. I’m a fat old 50 year old white chick who just happens to be wandering about after midnight. What kind of shenanigans could I be getting into?
I called her and said I didn’t know where the heck I was, and she handed the phone to her boyfriend, who got me headed in the right direction. You’d think with an address and a GPS, I wouldn’t have so much difficulty, but I’m of Viking descent, and we managed to lose America, so at least I come by it honestly.
Finally I arrived, and we unloaded the lawn chairs and they loaned me a long sleeved shirt, because, silly Floridian that I am, it didn’t occur to me that the temperature actually drops at night in Washington State. I provided the lifesavers. It’s always good to have some hard candy sweetness when you’re having to be patient. We went to the center of the field, sat down, and gazed expectantly at the sky.
Well, the shower turned out to be a bit more of a sprinkle. Every once in a while two of us would see a really spectacular one, and the third one, who had been looking elsewhere, would go, “Awww, man! Seriously?”
In between meteors, we bantered. And they are as good at that as I am. I laughed so hard I became breathless. And I got to watch a truly loving couple and imagine that maybe somehow, some day, it won’t be too late for me to have that. It gave me hope.
So overall, despite nearly being arrested and getting lost, the evening was a huge success, and I will forever cherish the memory. You can’t beat spending time with friends.
The next night when I got off work I turned off all my lights, went into my back yard, completely flattened my lawn chair and lay down and gazed upward. My dogs kept coming out to check on me, especially when they’d hear me gasp, which I did frequently. Because that night, in spite of being in the city, I was treated to an amazing display of shooting stars. That was a good night, too.
The other night the Perseid meteor shower was going to be at its peak around 2 am. I love a good meteor shower. I tried to get a couple of friends to join me, and they all sort of looked at me askance.
It made me sad, because I really wasn’t just asking for star-gazing company. I’m about to move across the country, so what I was really saying was, “Come make one last memory with me.” But they all preferred to sleep. Now I know how Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Well, not really, but you see what I mean.)
So I decided to pursue the Perseid alone. I set my alarm for 1:30 am, and for reasons known only to the clock, it didn’t go off. I woke up at 3 am with a start, and headed out. But that close to dawn, there was no point in driving all the way out beyond the city lights. Oh, who am I kidding? I kind of got the creeps, thinking of sitting there alone in an open field. So I opted for the nearest park that had a northeasterly view.
I’ve actually seen more than one astrological event in this particular park, so I figured it would be a decent enough choice. But I hadn’t been there in years, and I didn’t realize that it had gone through quite a metamorphosis. It used to be a shady idyll with unpaved paths down to a rough shoreline. Now it was a gorgeous park with wide paved sidewalks, a gazebo, statuary, and lights. Lots and lots of lights. I bet you can see this park from the surface of the moon. So I couldn’t even see stars, let alone meteors. I gave up and went home to bed.
When the Perseid meteor showers roll around next year, I’ll be in a completely different place in the world, physically, emotionally, and financially. I’ve marked my calendar to make them an event. Maybe by then I’ll have a man by my side and it will be a romantic evening. Or maybe I’ll have some more flexible friends. Or I’ll be alone. But that will be okay, too, because I will have moved ahead in my life, I’ll have achieved something, and that is something to celebrate.
Of course, I will be in the Pacific Northwest, so there’s a good possibility that the clouds will obscure the sky. But a girl can dream, can’t she? So check back with me this time next year.