In the tent: Morning shower
October 21, 2009
SOMEWHERE IN UTAH – One of the benefits of warm days, or even downright hot days, is the mild evenings that follow.
Last weekend, while camped out near a dirt road, far from other campers or disturbances, I enjoyed two nights of perfect star-gazing with my youngsters on dark, moonless desert evenings. We’re not star-gazers by habit, but it just seemed to happen – we ate dinner a bit late, I had promised to make s’mores, and there we were, still in our shorts and flip-flops as the skies darkened and the show began.
First, there were the shooting stars. The kids saw them first, and they continued into the evening, growing more brilliant as the sky blackened. (I learned only later of the ongoing Orionid Meteor Shower, which is expected to peak early this morning – so take a look if you’re up early.) Kids will wait all night for a shooting star, maybe because they half-expect the things to hit the earth and explode. Fear and fascination both kept them going through the long stretches trying to find constellations.
Dad: “See the sideways, lazy W? Imagine a line running from the tent straight up into the sky and in the middle of the Milky Way.”
Kid: “Daddy, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
On a warm night with lots of shooting stars, however, there’s no boredom and no hurry to go to sleep. We started with the Big Dipper and the North Star, then the teapot in the opposite direction, tipping its contents onto the rocky horizon. One sharp kid observed that the Milky Way appeared like steam issuing from the spout.
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Nearby there was Altair, a bright and sparkling star that forms one point on the Summer Triangle. Related to the Summer Triangle are the constellations Aquila, the eagle, and Cygnus, the swan.
Identifying these features to kids required both verbal and physical acrobatics. I was ready to quit when my neck got sore. But their patience was impressive, and they wanted to find more stuff. So I persisted, laughing when I remembered one of my favorite Tom Waits lyrics: “The moon’s teethmarks are on the sky, like a tarp thrown all over this.”
What an evening. If the sky is clear, you can bet we’ll be out in our driveway this morning, looking for more meteors.