Traveling Through Space — and Back in Time

It was billed as possibly being the meteor shower of a lifetime.

As many as 1000 particles of dust per hour hitting our atmosphere and bursting into flame, creating Nature’s own spectacular fireworks show on the eve of Memorial Day weekend.

And it was a bust.

A no-show.

And it happened — or didn’t happen — at two o’clock in the morning.

After six days in Washington, DC for our son’s college graduation, Leigh Ann and I were down at Lake Lure (aka, the site for the Dirty Dancing movie), just chilling out at our little lake house I built back in 1996. On the way down I had heard on N.P.R. about the possible meteor shower from Camelopardalids, or as its known around the planetarium lunchroom, 209P/Linear, a comet that takes five years to circle the sun. It was scheduled to pass through our atmosphere early Saturday morning, setting the stage for the fiery destruction of its 200-year old tail.

Just too good to pass up.

And so after a long, late dinner I set our alarm for two o’clock and we went to bed. Two o’clock came quickly it seemed, but since we weren’t dashing to the airport, the thought of stumbling out onto the deck and watching a thousand meteors raining down from the heavens didn’t seem too stressful.

The sky was nearly cloudless and filled with stars, so it appeared we were in luck. The night air was chilly, so I pulled two deck chairs together, grabbed a couple of blankets and pillows, and soon we were snugly settled in, with one dog sharing Leigh Ann’s bed and another under mine.

At precisely 2:15 the first meteor flashed across the sky, a brilliant shooting star.

Nine-hundred and ninety-nine more, I thought, smiling in the near-darkness, thinking back to my childhood days in Illinois when my brother and I would drag out a couple of moldy army cots, unroll our Boy Scout sleeping bags, and lay there watching for “shooting stars,” fighting back sleep after a long August day of mowing yards, playing baseball, and racing our bicycles around town. It was a scene right off a Norman Rockwell painting.

But nearly ten minutes went by before we saw a second meteor, then ten more after that before Leigh Ann spotted a third. By then I was dozing off, feeling the effects of my dinner of Cajun barbeque ribs and Oyster Bay wine.

A little later I could tell by her regular breathing that she, too, had fallen asleep, so I kept watch for a while. At a little after three I spotted the familiar site of a satellite crossing the sky beneath a layer of stars, recognizable by its steady light and straight course. It, too, sent me spinning back in time, to August of 1960, when my father and mother would join my brother and me on our lawn, watching for the arrival of Echo 1, the first communication satellite placed in orbit by the United States. There we stood, like our neighbors, faces peering skyward, eyes squinting, anxious to be the first to spot the steady speck of light crossing the sky, signaling the beginning of the exciting Space Age under the leadership of President John F. Kennedy.

It wasn’t until four o’clock that Leigh Ann and I were willing to admit that the meteor shower of a lifetime hadn’t materialized, at least not in our tiny speck of the universe. But as I crawled back into bed, I knew I had taken just as memorable a journey back in time.

And so today I called my father.

Until next Monday,

Thanks for stopping by.


Top photo courtesy of www.4hdwallpapers.