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Chasing meteors of the Perseid variety

Outer space fascinates and frustrates.

It’s well ordered on the one hand, but never fails to mystify. Sometimes just stepping out at night and looking into the distant galaxy of which I’m a tiny fragment is enough to silence my worry, temporarily.

Lately I’ve had plenty to whine about. So when I saw it was time for the annual Perseid Meteor Shower, so named because they seem to radiate from the constellation Perseus, I decided to be more intentional in my pursuit. I always miss the meteors. I miss them because I make some lame, last-minute dash to the backyard and break my neck looking upward in an attempt to see a shooting star. This does not work. For one thing, I’m in a neighborhood, not in a sagebrush-dotted desert somewhere. There are lights. Also, the yard is replete with large trees, allowing for about one square foot’s worth of clear space through which to peer. This year, though still a last-ditch effort, would be different.

I needed a last-ditch partner in adventure and figured I could count on Lane. He’s usually up for a diversion of some good type, and I was right. I’d heard the party wouldn’t be visible until at least 10 p.m., normally bedtime. But space mystery keeps its own schedule.

Lane came, and we escaped Monday night normal by heading north on Highway 62 with two or three locations in mind. We had a flashlight, jackets and a blanket, but no popcorn.

Pulling into Elk Creek Park, we saw that trees would be the issue there, so we drove on to the Cole M. Rivers fish hatchery and River’s Edge Park. Aside from one deer family, we were the only visitors.

We spread a blanket in a clearing, only noticing the raccoon scat next to us later in the dimness. Aside from one street light in the parking lot, we would have had a darkened theater for the light show, but for the waxing full sturgeon moon. I love a full moon evening as much as anybody, but its light washing over the heavens definitely challenged the stars, but not the crickets. They were in full leg-rub harmony.

Not accustomed to making targets of ourselves out in the open for cougar and bear with superior night vision, we kept flashing the light around our perimeter. At every snap and crackle, we checked the source. The deer family grew weary of having a flashlight in their eyes and moved off.

There’s something about staring at a night sky (or a cloudy one in the daytime) that elicits deep conversation. I guess it’s because infinity makes plenty of room for big thoughts. We talked and watched, the only music coming from crickets and the only screen, an indigo sky. We saw satellites, airplanes very high up, and a couple of meteors. We saw but never heard more bats than shooting stars. I think it was because we were early birds by meteoric standards. Had we remained awake and uneaten until say, 1 or 2, maybe our chances at stardom would have improved.

The air grew chilly as the dew point approached, and one stubborn moon refused to give up at least part of the limelight. After about an hour we packed it in, never for a second feeling as if we’d lost. In fact, that Monday night will stand among the most special times of my life. We returned listening to oldies with the moon casting a spotlight before us. Our foray took relatively small effort — the kind of effort to which a small sense of desperation will drive you. It was a departure from TV glitz, traffic noise and trouble — an escape to nature’s solace with a close friend.

As years mimic bats, fast and silent, the more I feel an urge to spend time in the company of creation.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.