Tuesday, August 10, 2010
"...Like Swift Horses Through the Heavens..."
that like swift horses through the heavens raced
and suddenly leaped across the hurdles
of our wishes--do you recall? And we
did make so many! For there were countless numbers
of stars: each time we looked above we were
astounded by the swiftness of their daring play,
while in our hearts we felt safe and secure
watching these brilliant bodies disintegrate,
knowing somehow we had survived their fall. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Summer nights can be enchanting, some more than others. When night sets, the Earth cools, and the air is laden with the sounds of crickets and katy-dids, there comes a peaceful sensation as if life should always be this content. So, on the hopefully clear night of August 12th around 10 o'clock, I am heading out to my backyard armed with blankets, bug spray, flashlight for "just in case" and a comfortable lawn chair. Just as I have in years past, I will find the darkest corner of the lawn and the best view to see the uninterrupted sky, a feat that is not easily obtainable given all the trees, street lights and security lights in our neighborhood, as well as all the lights from Peachtree City and Newnan. However obscured is my view, I wouldn't miss this night for all its inconveniences. It is the time of year for one of nature's gifts - probably the best single night of the whole year to catch a falling star.
Every year for the past 2000 years, the earth passes through the debris of a tail of a comet. These particles of comet, known as the Perseids meteor shower, enter our atmosphere and light up the August night. As many as 60 an hour can be seen. I will settle for half that or even a third. What is so amazing is that these spectacular streaks of light, which are so briefly beautiful and make you catch your breath in surprise, are just minute pieces of debris, some as small as a grain of sand but most the size of a pebble, reaching speeds of 44 miles a second. Their short and fiery journey into our world is intriguing and the stuff that myths are made of.
People of ancient times, without the knowledge of science, read both good and bad omens into shooting stars. I found these examples: If you see a shooting star in Chile, you will have good luck but only if you immediately find a rock to pick up. In Catholic cultures, a falling star is a soul in Purgatory begging for prayers from those that see it. By saying "rest in peace" three time before the light of the meteor fades away, the soul is released. Shooting stars in the Philipines are the souls of drunkards reminding people not to drink. Each day these poor souls attempt to reach the Heavens, but fall again each night. In Japan, open up your shirt and reveal your chest to collect the good luck the shooting star emits. There were times in Germanic cultures that the meteors were actually believed to be from fire-breathing dragons.
I think the funniest myth is from Poland where it is the belief that a falling star can deliver three things: a gloop of gelatin yuck, a treasure or a cow patty. The gloop is found in other countries' legends and is known as star-jelly which occurs after a falling star has been seen. Eeeewww..... But maybe that is better than cow manure. I will certainly be on the look-out and guard against getting hit with that next week.
Think of me on the night of August 12th, the best night of the Perseids to see multiple falling stars. The moon sets around 10 that evening, making it easier to view this phenomena of our universe, revealing how small we are in this vast world of wonder. Come join me in spirit and marvel at the bountiful and exquisite mysteries that only a summer night can offer. Give yourself a gift that money cannot buy; better yet, if you have kids or grandkids, give them the enchantment and magic that can only be found in the vast darkness of a summer sky, laced with wishes made on streaks of light. And I hope ALL your wishes come true!