A spark of light fizzed across the night sky.
“Oooh,” we chorused. I lay on the grass by the sidewalk outside my friends’ house at 11:30pm, staring upward, a large black dog’s head on my stomach.
This was both quite ordinary – I have been known to lie flat on the ground to get a better view of the sky – and way out of the ordinary. I am NOT a dog person. However, at supper club several months ago, my friend Cheryl had waited till I was well into my third glass of wine to ask me, “Could you dog-sit for us?”
So there I was, watching the sky with Jenny, who took an instant liking to me (who doesn’t love the person who shows up for the sole purpose of feeding and walking them?), sprawled by my side, her breath warming my face. Her affection was hard to resist, and I became a sucker for her appealing brown eyes. Plus, I’ve found that during periods of unemployment, the dependence of another creature, be it a cat, a sister, or a dog, can give you the will to keep going. Especially if that creature leaps in the air with excitement every time you unlock the front door.
When some friends and I trooped out to look for meteors, Jenny pushed through the door and followed, no doubt expecting a walk or a splash in the nearby ditch. Nope, we spread out on the lawn not fifteen feet from the house and stared up. With a sigh, Jenny collapsed beside me, plopped her head on my belly, and resigned herself to yet another strange human activity.
There is a certain knack to watching meteor showers. It requires a drifting alertness, eyes slightly unfocused, and a patient lack of expectation. Eyes constantly scanning the vast reaches of the visible night sky. You must be patient, knowing that you may not see any meteors. You may be idly tracing the irregular ‘w’ outline of Casseiopia with your eyes, when a meteor flits across Orion’s trapezoidal chest. Your friends will “oooh” and you will kick yourself, then return to star gazing with heightened vigilance, determined to see the next one.
Meteors are not “falling stars.” They are the dust and small particles that have rattled loose from comets and strung out in a cloud along the comet’s orbit. As they hit the earth’s mesosphere at high speeds, fifty miles above us, they burn up as a result of air friction. Flaming space rubble. An estimated thousand to ten thousand tons of meteoric dust and debris falls on earth every day. You may be covered with a fine invisible layer of micrometeors as you read this.
Another meteor blazed across the sky, leaving a faint trail of smoke behind. This was the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, which is created by the Swift-Tuttle comet. People have been watching the Perseids for over two thousand years. People pausing, over the centuries, staring up, and oohing as the night was streaked with fire.
Grass prickled my bare arms and legs. I shivered with cold. It felt like a distinctly human activity: this gazing upward with expectation and wonder. Jenny licked my face, and I was brought back to earth.