I missed the bulk of the Leonid meteor storms this year due to a misinterpretation
of dates, inclement weather, and extreme drunkenness. Had I better realized
that a good portion of November 17 actually takes place on the night of the
16th, and had I been awake at 3 am at that time, I would have been out there.
I had been waiting for the leonids for months, having never experienced a
full-on meteor shower, let alone one as impressive as the leonids at thier
33-year peak. As it was, I was told that there were too many clouds to see
much of anything, so I didn’t feel *that* bad. Not about missing the meteors.
I’d rather not discuss the tequila.
I wasn’t about to make the same mistake on the night of the 17th, so despite
a nasty hangover I set my alarm for 3am, set out a lot of warm clothing, and
went to bed early. At the appointed time I donned leegings, jeans, sweats,
long-sleeved shirt, sweater, polartec, jacket, and overcoat, and headed out
onto the lawn with a blanket to look up at the stars.
I’m not usually up at three in the morning, so the night sky looks considerably
different from what I am used to. I had done my research earlier with my handy
well-thumbed H.A. Rey “The Stars” (yes, that’s the same HA Rey that did Curious
George), so I knew roughly where to look to find the constellation Leo. Fortunately,
living in the mountains, there are no real city lights to drown out the stars,
so the night sky is quite spectacular. There is little chance of being unable
to pick out the important parts. Lying out with my blanket over and under
me, I looked up and waited for the show to begin.
And waited. And waited. It was cold out there. My breath appeared in the
air above me and fogged my glasses. I began to get bored. I was sleepy, but
with the cold I probably wasn’t going to fall asleep any time soon. This meteor
storm had been billed as the best in 33 years — or at least the storm, the
one I had missed the night before — was. The shower may be good or not so
good, we’ll see. I hoped I wasn’t going to spend a couple of hours lying out
on the lawn seeing nothing whatsoever. I hoped I hadn’t waited for this storm
for months only to FORGET when the date was and then get DRUNK and SCREW UP
and MISS IT.
After a while I lost track of time and began tracing constellations, following
the very faint edges of the milky way from one edge of the woods to the other.
I began vaguely to hallucinate. Was that a meteor? Was *that* one?
And then there *was* one, right on the edge of my vision, further to the
south than I thought the meteors were supposed to be. I stopped, and waited.
And there was another one. A bigger one.
Sometimes they came in clumps, one after another, and sometimes I would
have to wait twenty minutes before I would see another one. Most of them were
tiny, little flourescent sparks out of the corner of my eye that were never
around long enough for me to get a fix on them. One of them was big and greenish
and burned past with a sharp thin tail. Never more frequent than one a minute,
and no more than twenty or thirty, but still more meteors than I’ve been a
party to on any dark night of 31 years looking.
An hour passed, and the fog came up and began blocking quite a lot of the
view. The pace of the meteors had slowed, and I was waiting and waiting and
getting colder and colder. I’d think one more, just one more and I’ll go inside.
But then the one more would streak by, and I’d be so delighted to see it I’d
have to wait some more. One more, just one more.
Suddenly sometime past four I heard a kind of loud whooshing noise that
broke into the quiet and nearly made me leap to my feet in terror. In the
end, it wasn’t the cold, or the fog, or the boredom that surprised the heck
out of me, interrupted my reverie and forced me inside at a dead bolt. Note
to myself for when I go out to see the next leonid meteor shower on November
17, 1999: turn the lawn sprinklers OFF.