Headed off to bed, I was in my pajamas when I saw the news: the Perseid meteor showers were happening at that very moment! I had known for days, partly from habit of looking for these particular meteors every year, and partly from the EarthSky News. I don’t always read the news carefully, I admit, largely because of the frustration that comes from living in an area with overwhelming light pollution. I can catch a few things, see the big constellations like the Big Dipper, enjoy a beautiful moon when it happens, but it is nothing like the nights in the Northeast Kingdom, where I could see the Milky Way fairly often.
When I saw the news, I hesitated only for a minute before getting dressed again and heading outside to catch a glimpse of the shooting stars. I gathered whatever offspring would come (just my oldest), and we stood in the driveway for several minutes,
“That’s one!” I shouted, until I saw it blink and head predictably across the sky.. an airplane.
We took a look at Saturn in the South, bright in the sky this summer. We walked down the street, tried to evade our neighbor’s floodlight. Nope. Nothing. I decided to drive.
My ungrateful child chose to go back to his room, so I took off down in pursuit of darkness. It is not so easy to find across from a hospital, or along the main streets that lead to our house downtown. I kept driving, and put the top down. Still no stray stars. So I went to the wildest close place I could think of, Pelham Island Road.
This road, located partly in Sudbury and partly in Wayland, Massachusetts, is not quite on an island most of the time. I imagine that the name might have come from one of the many times the road floods over, leaving the residents trapped and able to access the nearby necessities of life (e.g., Karma Coffee) only by boat. But most of the time, the road is a lovely meander through beautiful houses and by a pond and wildlife reserve. It was the best part of my pre-quarantine work day–it is a convenient route on the back roads I took to work. It is not so unusual to see a blue heron, but no matter the bird sightings, the view is tranquil, perhaps even therapeutic.
At night, though, the drive feels downright spooky in the areas near the woods and pond, so I thought I’d be sure to see stars. I did, but I also noticed that the dark I had always felt there was only in the immediate area. Far off, I could see the glimmer of gas station and parking lot lights on the main road. No meteors. Clouds floated in, and stars dimmed.
It was quiet, though. At 11:30pm, few people were out on this road. A teenage boy drove quickly into the parking at the wildlife reserve and turned off his car. Otherwise, no one. The wind blew through the trees, and waves washed up on the small shore. I put the windows down, then decided to go all the way, and put the whole top down. The bugs that normally dissuade me at night around here were quiet, so I sat watching the water for a short time before driving slowly around.
There were no meteor sightings, and a few clouds rolled in as I made my way back home. Perhaps I could plan for another night, later. Another year, then, maybe. I remembered the trip to pick up my son from a summer camp near Belfast, Maine. The girls and I stayed overnight at a motel that I could barely afford at the time. It was right on the rocky beach, and we had a room overlooking the swimming pool that the manager let us use long after hours, as long as we promised to be quiet. Floating on our backs, we counted the Perseid meteors that night. I thought then that I would never forget that feeling of warmth, the girls and I laughing quietly and gazing up for a long time late at night. It seems so long ago now, remembering the wishes we made as we counted stars, the wonder at what the future might bring.