Thursday, August 12, 2010


August is the only month that doesn't have a popular holiday to call its own. Think about the other eleven: New Year's, Valentine's, St. Patrick’s, Easter/April Fool's, Mother's Day, Father's Day, the Fourth, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. And I left out a lot.

The point is, August doesn't need such man-made trappings. August got meteors. True, other months got meteors. But August got the best meteors: the Perseids.

Around the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, every year, we rendezvous with the tail of an old comet, intersecting its orbit in a shower of shooting stars. They emanate from the part of the sky where the constellation Perseus hangs. And some years they streak by at the rate of one every minute or more.

Because it’s warm, crickety, night-friendly August, you can go out to a meadow or a beach and lie down on a blanket and take a planetary ride with a planetary view. You cast your eye to all parts of the sky, waiting for the sudden, astonishing chalkline in the sky, drawn by the unseen hand, sometimes waiting a long time. But this is summer. There’s other things to look at. This is when most people get acquainted with the Milky Way and the Big Dipper and the North Star and Cassiopeia’s Chair and all those other denizens of the night sky. It’s still a realm of rhyme and romance—the cow jumping over the moon, the zodiac, and “when you wish upon a star” in Jiminy Cricket’s vaulting, celestial cornpone.

In Italy it’s called the Night of San Lorenzo, commemorating a saint who was apparently immolated by the Romans, and the meteors around August 10th, his day, are said to be the sparks of that fire. And the night is imbued with magic and granted wishes, as anyone who saw the Italian film “The Night of the Shooting Stars” (1982) would know.

So the Perseids are an event to plan for. One night I only just remembered while driving with a friend. He opened his moon roof and just in that window of time and space I saw my only meteor streak by. Other nights I’ve been shut out altogether. Last night I was all poised to go out to Rock Meadow in Belmont as I have in years past, the 12th/13th being the peak by all accounts. But wouldn’t you know, it was overcast. Ah, yes, the cloud factor. And knowing that just on the other side of those opaque party-poopers, meteors—tiny as grains of rice!!!—were whizzing, streaking, drawing chalklines thin as cat’s whiskers and thick as a first grade alphabet lesson, at the rate of one every second!

Well, sometimes the magic isn’t strong enough to part the curtains. Sometimes it’s the Perseids of the imagination. Which counts, as long your assist occurs during these meteoric days of August.

No comments:

Post a Comment