On Saturday night, after two nights of rainy disappointment, I was finally able to see part of this year’s Perseid meteor shower, dear readers. Bundled up in a hoodie and my flannel PJs, I slouched in my camp chair on the deck and trained my gaze on my patch of sky. Suburban sky looks unwell. It reminded me of the coral reefs at Hanauma Bay State Park. Those reefs had a damaged, grey sort of beauty, at least when I saw them, devoid of the vibrant colors I had come to associate with coral reefs thanks to an abundance of nature programs in my childhood TV diet. Don’t get me wrong, they were pretty and I am privileged to have had the chance to see them, but, you could tell an excess of people had left their mark. The same goes for my patch of sky. We have a lot of light pollution. Even if there hadn’t been a half-moon lighting up the night, there is still a perpetual grey sheen to the sky courtesy of the blend of street and porch lights from the neighborhood. At least the moon leant a silver tinge to the tree leaves for that touch of fey light in the gloom.
Sitting there, feeling the slight damp left behind by two days of rain only partially dried by the day’s sun juxtaposed with the chill of night and looking at the motley assortment of weakly flickering stars in the sky, I remembered that heavenly bodies are only part of the reason I star gaze. The real attraction to me is the liveliness of the night’s sound scape. Even here in the burbs, filled with cars, motorcycles, lights, pets, pesticides, and people, there is a rich cacophony of night creatures vocalizing their hearts out (or trying to sneak by unnoticed) that you can only hear when you stop what you’re doing and sit in one spot unmoving for a long time.
While waiting to see the fiery end of Comet Swift-Tuttle’s debris, I was treated to tree frogs, chorus frogs, crickets out the wazoo, insects I am unacquainted with, mysterious mammalian chitterings, soft paw-falls on leaves, and gentle flaps of unseen wings. The only missing element were fireflies and I suspect that I was up too late for their light show. I love the tenacity of wild life in the burbs, the way it is undeterred by all our human ways and thrives in spite of everything we throw in its path. Is the mix of creatures the same as what is in the real country? No. Are we missing out on some brilliant nighttime denizens? Yes. I have enjoyed country nights rife with wild sound before; I know it is remarkable, especially when paired with a visible Milky Way arching across the sky as far as you can crane your neck to see. Such places and skies are worth conserving, they are an inheritance our children deserve to enjoy.
Nonetheless, I love my patch of flawed, human tinged sky. The stars that flickered there were brilliant to shine through all our light. If I stayed very still, I fancied I could detect slight changes in color. I probably can’t with human eyes but it was fun to imagine. Hearing my wild neighbors was absolutely relaxing, their raucous calls for mates and territory a comfort to the soul. And I saw them: the meteors streaked across the sky between the stars, both weak and bright, and made me smile with delight as I made my wishes. Yes, I still wish on falling stars. Don’t you? It is a supreme luxury to sit in the night and enjoy its beauties. I feel so blessed, my cup runneth over.
I will leave you with the poem my mother taught me when I was a little kid and frightened of the dark. Even though I am now a fan of the night, this piece by Robert Frost is a great comfort and inspiration that I cannot help but think on when I revel in stillness beneath the starry sky.
O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud–
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.
Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says, “I burn.”
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.
It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may take something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.
What about you, dear pond readers? Did you get to enjoy the Perseids this year? Do you have a favorite poem that keeps your thoughts company? Please, leave a comment below with your ruminations on your patch of the sky and thanks for stopping by the pond today.