Leonids: Time in the Dark

This is a timely selection from Slow Road Home. Tonight you can begin to look for the Leonids to zip past, a few or many, depending on which experts you listen to. But maybe it is more about just going outdoors. At night. With expectations. Happy hunting!

I left a warm bed, got dressed in every piece of clothing I could lift and carry, and stood outside in the dark for a half-hour this morning. With my neck craned, spinning slowly in circles, I waited in the cold to see the grand show of the Leonid Meteor Shower. My toes are still numb an hour later, and I need to find a good physical therapist to do some mobilization on my stiff sky-watcher’s neck. Was it worth it? Yes indeed.

The light of a setting full moon and the wet haze in the predawn air hid the weakest stars. But it was dark enough. In thirty minutes, I saw perhaps 200 meteors. Most were zips at the edge of vision. Some were spectacular, lighting up the valley in less than a blink, like a photographic flash. Others left persistent trails across the sky in the way an artist would lightly dash a perfectly straight line on black canvas with a luminescent pale blue pigment on a fine-tipped brush. One split into two, each fragment sizzling off to die dark death, extinguished in the protective shield of atmosphere.

“Give me a performance!” I demanded for my efforts. Dazzle me with special effects. Entertain me. The predictable shower of stars fell, and on with the show. But before it, and after it, one spectator huddled against the cold of the dark side of the planet and knew moonlight and starlight, creek sounds and the stark silhouette of limbs against the heavens. These features do not come to indoor venues.

Will I make a habit of bundling up each morning to stand silent under a quiet sky where stars keep their places or not? No, I can’t promise I will do this. But I have remembered again what night is like, and cold, and things moving out there beyond my vision and understanding. This, and another cup of hot coffee, is easily enough for me.

More about the Leonids this year can be read here.

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