The world has been treated to quite a few astronomical phenomenon recently, from the super moon to the cross-country eclipse, it's been a good year. And this weekend, the skies will provide us with another wonder — per mother nature's usual schedule, it will be in the wee hours of the morning.
The Orionid meteor shower is predicted to be at it's peak this weekend. Don't be scared by the fancy term. It just means it will be near the constellation of Orion. You know, the one from the first Men in Black movie (of course, in that case the alien was referring to his pet cat and Will Smith mistook his meaning, but hey). Anyway, while it's difficult for many of us to get up so early on a weekend to watch a silent spectacle in the sky, I highly recommend it.
When first I made viewing a meteor shower a priority, I was still in high school. I heard the news about the meteors as a quick feature on our local broadcast station and decided to set my alarm for several hours its usual time. If I recall, it might have even been a school night. I was careful to swat the alarm as quickly as possible to avoid waking anyone else in the house, grabbed an old, hand-me-down denim jacket from my closet and channelled my grade-school self as I avoided the squeaky spots in the floor as if it were Christmas morning.
The corner by the banister was safe, but not the riser on the top step. Hold onto the railing as you skip two steps and place your next step on the riser of the landing. Skip a step, but be sure to keep your foot on the left side of the next step. Skip the third from the top entirely and you're home free until the third step from the bottom. I've still got it.
The path from our living room to the back porch was so well travelled there was a path worn in the carpet and I could walk it with all the lights off. I grabbed by shoes from the rug in the kitchen, unlocked the deadbolt to the back porch and passed through the screen door.
It was then that I realized I didn't really know what to do. I wasn't sure where to look in the sky, so I literally plopped down on my back in the slightly dewey grass and just waited.
It was so still.
In the day time, dogs were barking. Mowers were going. The neighbor was revving his truck's engine for some reason no one could understand. But in the predawn, my backyard was none of those things. It wasn't even green. It was purple and black with a highlight of white here and there. It felt like my world had been dipped into a well of deep India ink and hung on a clothesline to drip dry. It was so still a rabbit actually began to approach me as it foraged through the lawn. Just turning my head to get a better look was enough to startle it and it barely made a sound as it ran through the fence.
It was then that I heard the screen door open.
"Seth?" my mother called in a whisper.
Apparently, I hadn't been quite as quiet as I thought. It seemed like I was being a stereotypical teenager and was sneaking out in the middle of the night. After a quick explanation, she went back inside and I rolled over in the grass to watch for the streaks of starlight I was promised. I took awhile, but eventually I was rewarded for my patience.
At first, a single trail of white light skittered across my peripheral. Then, another not long after, another came. Eventually the poured out in clusters of threes and twos. They were like herd animals in the clouds. I called to mind images of horses galloping across the prairie as a group of them seemed to leap from one dark cloud and disappear another on the far side of the sky.
Eventually, the brilliant, bright tails no longer came and I headed back inside.
There have been other meteor showers since that day, but none that were quite as still and quite as amazing as my first. This weekend's show is supposed to produce about 20 meteors per hour. Maybe it can give my purple-tinted memory a run for its money.