As I write this, the sun hasn’t yet come up, and I’ve been awake for two hours. Willingly. Well, mostly willingly, at any rate. This is wrong on so many levels.
And right on some others.
My social media (and traditional media, too) has been filled with the Perseid Meteor shower for the past few weeks, and if you listened to the hype, you’d think that there would have been stargazing parties everywhere in the wee hours this morning, the so-called “peak” of the shower.
You’d be wrong. At least in my corner of Boston. No one was out watching the meteors. They were sleeping like sensible people.
But I’d committed. I’d set an alarm, hauled my bleary-eyed self out of bed, and determined that the cloud cover wasn’t too bad, so I was determined to see it through.
I’m aware that living in Boston, there’s lots of nasty night pollution, so Sadie and I hopped in the car and drove a few miles out of town to one of our favorite parks, built atop a landfill, actually, but with a big open field and parking close enough to the field that I felt I could escape with my life if I was threatened by marauding meanies just looking to attack random people in an isolated city park at 3:30 am. For the record, I was completely alone and safe – more on that later.
Anyway, as insects hummed and a little breeze stirred the incredibly soupy air, I spread out a blanket and looked up.
Everything I’d read said it would take a while for my eyes to adjust to the dark, and I have to admit that it really wasn’t that dark to begin with. There was low cloud cover ringing my field of view, and so the sky was actually pretty light. But I could see stars, some of my favorite constellations, and I did see meteors. Maybe 10-12 of them over the space of an hour or so.
Not the shower of magical streaks I’d hoped for (clouds, ambient light, and I should have been out around 1am instead of 3:30), but enough to prompt all of the existential thoughts that you’d expect of an introspective girl alone in a field, stargazing.
Thoughts about how long 20 minutes is when you’re doing nothing but staring at the sky.
Thoughts of how hard it is to just stare at the sky and not think.
Hamilton lyrics. Always, always, Hamilton lyrics these days.
Thoughts about how my field of vision, even when directed upward with total focus and clarity, can’t come close to seeing the whole sky. At least 75% of my meteor sightings were outside of my direct field of vision; just a streak of light that vanished before I could look directly at it. Teasing me as if to say “You sure about that? You sure?” (that’s a metaphor for life and business, in case I didn’t make that clear).
Thoughts about fear, and how fear kept me from completely relaxing, because even though I knew I was totally alone, and I knew I had a dog next to me, and a pocket knife at hand, and a phone that could dial 911 in moment, I have been taught that I should be afraid because I’m a woman alone in a park in the dark. That’s kind of crappy, but it didn’t stop me, which I think is kind of cool.
Yummy thoughts about the last time I stargazed for real, more than 20 YEARS ago, lying next to my first college boyfriend, on a hill on a chilly early winter Maine night. We had our first kiss that night. I remember it was awkward, but the memory is also sweet and romantic and delicious.
Thoughts about why didn’t I choose to be an astronomer? (that would have required math and science courses, obviously) and how the hell did early explorers make sense of the stars enough to make sure they didn’t fall off the edges of the earth? Answer: math and science.
Thoughts about what the sky is going to look like next weekend when I’m as far from city lights as I can get, high up in the mountains of Utah and Wyoming. Eeeeek. I can’t wait. I feel like my 8-year-old self counting the days until Disney World, when 7 days feels like, literally, FOREVER.
Thoughts about where I belong in the world, where I’m going in life, how much I wished I had a bagel and some tea. You know, the important stuff.
Anyway, it’s now light outside my window, and I’m pondering heading back to sleep for an hour since I have to, you know, be an adult and a boss for one more day before the glorious weekend arrives.
It occurs to me that very little of this morning was about actually seeing meteors. I guess that’s the wonder of stargazing; it’s really not about the stars at all. It’s about us, and if we have the guts look up, feel small, and think all the thoughts.