This morning I awoke at 5 a.m. and looked up to find a waning moon just a hair's breath from last quarter, with Jupiter, Aldebaran and even the faint tracings of the Pleiades high above. Eager to see Venus, I got outside to get a better view of the eastern horizon, and there she was, shining next to a bright, ruddy star. Double-checking it wasn't Aldebaran, I realized it was Betelgeuse, the shoulder star of Orion. Sure enough, there he was, the 'Ghost of the Summer Dawn,' pulling back his arrow (or hoisting his sword), rising majestically before the sun.
Thoughts of winter passed through my mind, the season when Orion and Sirius stride high across the night sky. With the zinnias, dahlias, and crape myrtle exploding like fireworks and more tomatoes and melons than I can eat, it's easy to focus on summer's bounty. Orion will wait patiently, knowing his time will come.
Another reason I'd rushed out before the dawn was the hope that, with the clear sky and despite the light pollution that thwarts my sky-gazing, I might see a meteor. The Perseids are coming! In fact, the Perseids are already here. As I craned my neck to scan, I wondered how many years ago I first learned about this meteor shower, how many mid-August nights I have stood, earth-bound, head tilted, waiting for a glimpse of this breath-taking celestial display. More than 30 years, I can say with certainty. A third of a lifetime, with many more years of meteor-watching ahead.
As a girl waiting for the shooting stars to streak across the Missouri sky, I could never have imagined all that's passed as, years later, I stand, feet planted on another beautiful spot on the Earth, still watching. But I suppose that's how we get through most things . . . by not thinking too much about the task at hand, by doing our best, and by appreciating what's in front of us -- or, high above: the beauty of the stars, of the natural world, of the small miracles of kindness we receive every day from friends and strangers. Sometimes too frantic about my place in the world, I'm not always able to articulate my appreciation for these gifts. But the Perseids come around each August, seen or unseen, to remind me that gratitude is always the best, the timeless, answer.
Watch this beautiful display over the next few evenings. The hours between midnight and sunrise might provide the best viewings, as this is when the constellation Perseus rises, but at any point between sunset and sunrise, you may catch a view of a stray meteor or two. The waning moon shouldn't interfere if the conditions are right -- a clear night with not much ambient light. Make some wishes and count your blessings!