Quite a few years ago I had the pleasure of observing a fantastic display of meteors. As I came in late one night in August I saw one, then two shooting stars. I waited and looked for more and was totally shocked when I saw them.
Cranking my head up to see the night sky for more than a minute or three was not too comfortable, so I climbed up on my vehicle and reclined back on the windshield. A perfect viewing position! Ever since that meteor show I have looked forward to the 10-11-12 of August to see the Perseids again.
I couldn’t say how many times the viewing conditions were less than ideal. Either clouds obstructed the view, or moonlight filled the nighttime sky with too much light, or I couldn’t get to a dark enough area away from the light pollution of the city to see much of anything.
This week promised to change my meteoric luck. Three days ago we saw two shooting stars as a prelude to last night’s performance. Two days prior we lucked out and had rain, so the chance of more clouds in this season of drought was hopefully slim. And on top of that the 12th of August was slated for a New Moon!
Our house in the country is surrounded by mature oak trees but they don’t ruin the view of the starlit sky overhead. After midnight we assembled ourselves on the back deck with blankets and sat down facing Cassiopeia – the lazy W constellation – in the northeastern sky.
After our eyes adjusted to the darkness the light display began. First, we saw the Milky Way stretch across the sky and many, many brighter stars everywhere. Then we saw a streak of light zip across the sky. Wow! We kept watching and more of the Perseid meteors showered the deep night sky with trails of white, yellow and amber streaks.
The brightest meteors sped across a long path overhead. Others were short, faint streaks that left you questioning whether you had seen a meteor or not. We convinced each other that we did!
The oohs and aahs we let out paid tribute to Mother Nature’s wonderfully natural fireworks display. Laying back on the picnic table we got the whole sky in view and every few minutes exclaimed “yeah!” or “beauty!” upon seeing another one.
It’s not so much the little flashes of light across the night sky that draws me to meteor watching, it’s the whole experience that I enjoy. The sights and the sounds and the peace.
If you are still and listen to the night, you can learn a lot about your surroundings. Last night we were serenaded by hundreds of cicadas high in the trees. Their monotonous “zzeeep-zzzeep” only quieted when the dog barked back. Their sound was not as loud of a droning sound as the 17-year locusts we had a couple years ago, but they were still quite loud.
The dog barked to his neighbors in the north and southwest. I wondered what they had to say to each other. After the dogs quieted down we wondered if we heard some coyotes a little further to the north. Their calls seemed like they were yapping or yowling to each other, not like the barking and coon hound howling we heard earlier.
The most impressive sounds came from the foxes all around us. We counted five different voices at one time, but I suspect there were more foxes near to us than that. In the middle of the night their haunting calls sound like a wailing child. Once the dog started barking the eerie fox cries fell silent. Since I’ve only seen wild foxes in a field here and there, or running along a road or crossing one, I never contemplated that they might actually live in the forests.
In between seeing the shooting stars we listened to the sounds of the night and had a fabulously wilde time enjoying nature. Maybe next year you’ll join us!