Monday, August 12, 2013

Meteors and Memories

We're just past the peak period for my favorite meteor shower, the Perseid.  In addition to being a dependable and sometimes spectacular mid-August show, it is the first one I ever saw.

In early summer 1951 we moved out of Queens where I and my three siblings were born, to Otsego County in the beautiful Catskills.  While my parents were searching for a house to rent or buy we lived with my grandmother and grandfather on their five acre eden on Dutch Hill, the highest point in the county.  With no electricity or indoor plumbing I'm sure it was a hardship for both parents and grandparents, but we kids loved it.  Aside from having every imaginable berry growing wild on the land, there was a small abandoned orchard across the road that yielded plums, pears and apples.  That property belonged to the person who sold the house and five acres to my grandparents.  He didn't live on the land and did nothing with it so it was like it belonged to us.

I mention the orchard because it fronted a meadow that occupied the actual peak of Dutch Hill.  It was a temperate savannah of timothy and oat grasses, alfalfa, and wildflowers; a place we three older kids explored as if it were a foreign land; a place where our small mongrel, Tippy, chased rabbits, leaping in the air every few feet so she could see above the grasses.

One evening in mid-August, my father gathered us three kids up and led us to the top of the meadow where we stretched out on the cool ground - hands behind our heads, as instructed - and stared at the moonless, star-filled sky.  He pointed out various constellations then told us to try not to focus on one part of the sky but to let our eyes kind of wander.

"I saw a shooting star!" called my younger sister.
"Where?" her twin brother asked.
"It's gone," my father said.  "Keep looking and you'll see one of your own."  While we looked, he told us about meteor showers, about the Perseid and others, about how the shooting stars were small pieces that were thrown from the tail of a passing comet, and what we called a 'shooting star' was that piece burning up as it hit the atmosphere.  Despite being frequently interrupted by cries of "I saw one!" or "There's one!" I remember so much of his explanation, and so much of the night Perseid and I met.

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