Mid-August was the height of the Perseid meteor showers. The showers happen when the planet Earth is crossing the orbital path of Comet Swift-Tuttle. Or, if you are mythologically inclined, these meteors commemorate the visit of Zeus in a shower of gold to Danae, the mother of Perseus.
Each year my husband and I check the computer for the best date to watch the Perseid meteors plummet across the skies. It’s a 30-year tradition in our family, and we approach the day with anticipation, almost as if we had tickets to Tasmania.
The evening before the showers, we pack the car: lawn chairs, blankets, heavy coats, and money (for the donuts after). When the alarm, sounds somewhere between 3 and 4 a.m., we wrestle into winter clothes and drive along the empty streets to a wide-open spot up Green Canyon.
We started this tradition when our kids were little. In those early days, they must have wondered why first we told them to go to bed early and then, just a few hours later, dragged them from their deepest sleep and hauled them into the mountains, only to put them back into sleeping bags.
Still, it didn’t take long for the adventure of it to catch on with our sons: the eccentricity of getting up in the middle of the night, the naughtiness of being outside in pajamas, and the sugary pleasure of eating donuts before dawn were a distinct draw.
Sometimes when the alarm rings, I wonder why, now that our kids are grown, my husband and I still get excited about the meteor showers. The loss of sleep catches up with us later in the day; donuts give us a sugar high and then the concomitant low. And what are meteor showers, anyway? Space debris, bits and pieces of a parent comet’s rubble slamming into Earth’s upper atmosphere at 130,000 mph – then disappearing so fast you get whiplash trying to catch the sight of those fleeting, radiant lights before they are extinguished.
What is it that continues to attract us?
I know the answer: it’s our children. They are far afield, across countries and the universe, but on the nights of the Perseid showers we are all joined anew. Wherever we are, each of us sets an alarm, dresses, and heads into the dark.
One son walks into a desert in the Middle East, one son carries his daughter to the car and drives up Temple Fork, and one son, lost to this earth, watches from his ring-side seat in the other world.
If the other months of the year our children are away from home, out, as they should be, “fulfilling life’s longing for itself,” the night of the Perseid meteors, we make a place together at the edge of the world and gaze upward, all of us together, taking our infinitesimal part in this August mystery.