Dark Sky? Forget About It.

The heavens were fixing to put on a show, and I was ready for it.

It was only nine o’clock on December 13, but the sun had—no surprise–gone down hours earlier. I dug my full-length puffy coat, bought years ago on sale but seldom worn, out of the back of the closet. I checked to see if there were gloves in the pockets. Yes. Yay. In the “winter stuff” box under my bed, I found a warm scarf and a polar fleece cap big enough to pull way down over my ears.

I tromped down to the basement to fetch the folding canvas cot abandoned years ago by a friend when he moved away and didn’t have room in his car to take it. I lugged the cot up two flights of stairs and set it up on the second story open-to-the-sky porch that connects to my bedroom. I took the pillow and quilt off my real bed and arranged them on the cot.

Now all I had to do was wait.

Under a dark sky with no moon (the waxing crescent moon had set earlier in the evening), sky watchers were hoping to see about 120 Geminid meteors every hour from about ten o’clock until daybreak. I was hoping for that, too, though I had no intention of staying awake until dawn.

But from where my cot and I were stationed, there was a problem. A big one. In my part of the world, the sky wasn’t the least bit dark.

When it comes to decorating for Christmas, folks in my neighborhood go all out. Lights are everywhere. Lighted inflatable Santas. Lighted candy canes. Lighted manger scenes. Lighted reindeer. Lighted carolers.  Christmas trees twinkle in front of picture windows. Colored light strung along gutters and fence rails blink off and on and off and on. Some of the lights chase each other. I love every bit of it. It’s so, so festive. The icing on the cake is that most of my neighbors turn off their Christmas lights at bedtime, around 10:00. But not everyone does. A few leave their lights burning all night long.

Which is not a problem, except on meteor showers night.

I positioned my cot so that I was facing away from my nearest neighbors’ extraordinarily bright yard. Now, their lights didn’t smack me in the eyes, but they certainly lit up the night. It was so light I could have sewn a button back on a shirt. Dug a splinter out of my big toe. Read a phone book, if I had a phone book. The one thing that I feared I couldn’t do was see meteors streak across the sky.

But I lay down on the cot anyway. My coat was snapped AND zipped from my neck to my knees and, though I was warm, I couldn’t help but wonder if this is what it felt like to be a mummy. Even without my hearing aids, the traffic on Highway 70N, which is about a mile from my house as the crow flies, was roaring loud and clear. What in the world made me think this was a good idea?

But just when I was about to change my mind and head inside, I saw it. A meteor—definitely a meteor!–streaking across the sky. Seconds later, it happened again. Then came another. And another and another. It was astonishing. It was magical. And then it stopped.  It was only 10:30. I felt certain the show wasn’t over yet. But I also felt certain that the longer I lay on that cot, the stiffer and sorer and sleepier and colder I would get. I’d accomplished my goal. I’d witnessed a 2023 Geminid meteor shower. So I dragged myself and my stuff back into the warm house.

When I awoke the next morning, the meteor show was over. But my neighbors’ Christmas lights were still going strong.

(December 23, 2023)