15 December 2014

The Geminids let me down

Last night a strong easterly wind howled in the trees and banged on the broken verandah roof. Easterlies do the damage here, picking up speed as they race down from the Ruahine, and because they’re uncommon, the trees grow with less bracing against these winds from the east. When a tree goes down, chances are good that an easterly did it.

Still, by easterly standards this was tolerable. I stood in the dark, the big down jacket fully zipped, hands in pockets, watching the sky overhead. Despite the wind, no cloud obscured any part of the sky except the crest of the southern Ruahine, where a low cap rolled over from Hawkes Bay. No moonlight faded the stars nor cast shadows under the birches. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, more and more stars appeared. I watched the sky for a long time, hoping to see something of the Geminid meteor shower, but nothing appeared. I had a wish prepared, ready for a sighting of a shooting star. A satellite crossed the sky, a star travelling fast, and a little while later another sailed through Orion and onwards on its endless orbit, but satellites are not shooting stars and wishing on one seemed unlikely to work.

Eventually I returned inside and looked on the Internet for up-to-date information about the Geminid shower. Look 28 degrees past true north, it said, and about 11 degrees above the horizon. I went back outside later, still about two hours short of peak viewing time, but I wasn’t going to wait up until one in the morning. Surely something would show up early. I checked my wish, found it good, and kept looking. I looked, and looked, and looked more. Even though I hadn’t been gazing straight up, my neck hurt when I lowered my head to its normal position, and for a moment I felt a little unsteady on my feet. Overhead, the Milky Way scintillated with countless stars; low in the south-east, the Southern Cross hung upside down. I ran an imaginary line through its long axis, another perpendicular to the one joining the two pointers, and noted  where the two lines met. That’s south, down there. I like doing that.

The easterly continued to whip my hair around; the meteors continued to refuse to appear. I gave them another 60 seconds, counting down in the dark, then counted down another ten. I walked back to the door, watched a little longer, and braced myself for disappointment. The stars shone undisturbed by delinquent meteors.

I stepped inside and closed the door, my wish not only unfulfilled but not even wished for. It’s just ridiculous superstition, I thought. If you have a wish, do something that might bring it about.

Sometimes, though, nothing else is any more effective than wishing on stars.


Photograph: Another night a long time ago; a night not as good for meteor spotting; a night when wishing would have been just as effective as last night.

Photos and original text © 2014 Pete McGregor

12 comments:

Zhoen said...

Careful what you wish for, and beware the east wind, since we're being superstitious.

Relatively Retiring said...

H and I did this a couple of years ago, but we used garden recliners to avoid neck-ache. We saw an impressive display, and my wish came true, but not without a great deal of hard work. Meteor showers clarify the mind, and so does standing in the dark in a cold wind!

pohanginapete said...

Zhoen, that's so true. Can't trust them shooting stars, neither.

RR, a reclining garden chair would've been ideal, but I don't have one. Wasn't about to lie down on my back, either, given the sheep had been there just a few days ago (not to mention the brain-dead spaniel who'll cock his leg on anything).

gz said...

There is a beautiful image of the meteor shower taken from the Isle of Wight on the front of today (Monday 15th) 's Guardian newspaper. We just had clouds and hailshowers. The best meteor shower I saw I watches flat on my back in a field on a Pembrokeshire mountain in Wales. Breathtaking.

pohanginapete said...

gz, I should make more of an effort to watch them. I'm in an excellent location, with far less light pollution than most places, but I've only viewed the Perseid meteor shower, many years ago.

robin andrea said...

This reminds me of all the times we waited to see the Perseids when we were living in the Sierra foothills. We did have recliners, and we'd wait and wait. Seems they always showed up way later than we wanted to stay awake for. We'd fold up our chairs and go to bed. Somehow just knowing they were there, though, dashing across our skies was enough. You make me wonder what I would wish for.

pohanginapete said...

Robin, they're so recalcitrant, those shooting stars. I agree, though — knowing they were doing their thing even if I wasn't watching seemed comforting.

Deb said...

I also was trying for a shower of meteors and alas, a brief flash which I wanted to believe was a meteor, but likely was something else. Not helped by suburban light pollution and the new house imposing itself on our former view of hills....but a narrow gap where the Geminids were at 1030pm...and a bit of stargazing and dreaming :-)

Lydia said...

Ah! Your looking and waiting and wishing and then writing were not in vain. Because this post captured my heart, as all of your posts do, Pete.

It is Christmas Eve here, another year nearly gone. I find myself so very grateful for friends like you, far away, that is true, but adding such beauty to my life.

pohanginapete said...

Deb, apparently it wasn't supposed to matter too much where you were looking, but I reckon that must have been wrong — clearly, they appeared wherever I happened to be not looking. ;^)

Lydia, thank you for the encouragement! :^)

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

i remember some years ago going down to cornwall to see an eclipse - i didn't make it as far as the coast and it was cloudy so i didn't get too see much: but standing almost alone as day turned to night in a second was still pretty impressive and like you i guess that i thought the eclipse would still be going on somewhere even though i couldn't see it

pohanginapete said...

Hungry pixie, that knowledge — that something exists even when I can't observe it — seems so important in so many circumstances. I often think that of wild places that nearly everyone will never see (Antarctica, for example), and of near-mythical animals like snow leopards. Even though the chances of my ever visiting Antarctica or seeing a wild snow leopard are almost non-existent, I'm happy enough to know they're still there.