Bonafide Farm


August 12th, 2013 § 0

I haven’t been meteor watching since college, when my then-boyfriend, an ecologist, would wake me up in the ideal hours of the night to drive into the middle of the dark desert for what seemed like every notable astronomical event. The first few times it was the most romantic thing in the world, cuddled together in a sleeping bag staring the sky, whispering about the dangers of scorpions. But the years wore on, and the last time we went meteor watching I remember freezing, retreating to the front seat of the car to fall back asleep while he stayed outside, devoted to the sky. At some point I woke up, and the heat was on in the car, and he was driving us home.

Last night the Perseid meteors, one of our old favorites, flew. There was still a chance to catch them tonight, so around 10:30 I dragged a porch chair out to the darkest spot of the pasture and sat watching the sky.

The air was warm and close, the humidity at 92 percent. It caused such a haze in the air that it took ten minutes before my eyes adjusted enough to pick out the brightest planets.

“Stars twinkle. Planets burn steady.”

Gradually, as my eyes adjusted, I could make out the tree line in front of me. By day all I see when I look at the wood line is everything I want to change about it, but by night the silhouette of the giant oak, oldest spirit of this place, tapered perfectly into every other tree. Around me cicadas and other insects called, a constant backdrop to smaller sounds. The shifting of the chickens on their roost, the lippy exhalation of the neighbor’s horse, a low call from a cow acres away, the Crozet train.

As I adapted to the dark, the lights of neighbors’ houses, which usually are irrelevant, grew bold. The town of Charlottesville lit Buck Mountain like a stage production, and an inexplicable brightness shone from the northwest. Harrisonburg, I wondered? Would its light be strong enough to traverse the Blue Ridge?

I settled deeper in my chair, tipping my face skyward as the ever-present breeze swirled across my legs. I could see clouds streaking the sky, and a few stars above them, muddy and unclear. Like looking at the sky through smudged glasses. Maybe it’s just me, I thought, my older eyes not as fast to adjust to darkness as once they were.

But when I glanced at a car coming up the road and saw the thick soup swirl in front of its headlights, I realized my search was futile. There would be no Perseids for me tonight, no awe-inducing fireworks streaking from one horizon to another. I hiked my porch chair over my shoulder and headed for the house. It will be years until optimal viewing conditions realign.

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