Around midnight, I drove out on old Hwy PB past Paoli and parked in the gravel driveway of a Christmas tree farm. I lay on my back on the hood of the car and waited for shooting stars.
The best time to catch the Perseid is around 3am, but it’s a school night, so I decided to come out early, expecting to catch no more than a glimmering. For awhile, there was nothing to do but lie there, easing my eyes into the night sky, feeling the heat of the car engine under the hood beneath my back. The air was filled with the songs of multitudes of crickets and a sole bull frog (who threw in the towel after fifteen minutes). One lonely mosquito buzzed briefly around my right temple, probably lost. (It’s been a tough summer for mosquitoes, what with the drought and all; I don’t think the poor thing had the energy to bite me.)
It’s been over 35 years since I last gazed into the night sky like this. I can remember lying on a picnic table in the middle of a KOA campground in Panguitch, Utah, in 1970, beside a boy from Eugene, Oregon, trying to locate the Little Dipper from among the millions of constellations in that cloudless desert sky. After an hour, we returned to our respective families’ campsites, without having so much as touched hands. A month later, when my family drove through Eugene on our way to Portland, I asked my parents whether Eugene was a small enough town that one would be able to find someone just by driving around for awhile.
Tonight, the shooting stars began to brush across the sky around 12:30am, some of them little white apostrophes, others long, sweeping strokes of green. There weren’t many — it was early — but there were enough to make me forget that I was supposed to be making wishes on them. A truck or two barreled past, shaking my car and leaving me with temporary headlight blindness. I wondered if, from far away, their trails of diesel fumes might look as beautiful as the burning meteors I had come out to watch.
I began to doze a little, when footsteps on the gravel shoulder — probably a rabbit — gave me a start. I climbed back into the car, wrapped my seat belt around me, and headed home.