I turned over from my back to my side. My husband was soundly asleep beside me, and yet I couldn’t drop off. Suddenly, a thought awakened me even farther. This was August 11, and I had read earlier today that the Perseid meteor shower peaked tonight. I slipped from bed and gathered a sheet, blanket, and pillow.
Sliding open the patio door, I stepped out into the hot, humid night. Not at all a quiet night—it was alive with symphonic sounds of summer nights. So often I didn’t hear them anymore, because now I slept in the comfort of air conditioning. With all the windows shut tightly against the heat, the soothing night time music was also blocked out. The katydid and the cricket each tried to outdo each other in loud competition. The wind whispered in the meadow grasses. The breeze gently sighed through the fir tree at the edge of the lawn.
The grass was already dripping wet with dew, so I chose the picnic table for my observation deck. I laid the blanket on the table under the starry canopy. I lay on my back and covered up almost completely with the sheet, because, as soon as I exited the house, I heard the tiny whine of a mosquito. I didn’t want to become an easy meal for all those hungry, pesky insects that lurk in my backyard. With the pillow wedged comfortably under my head, I had a wide view of the panorama above me.
When was the last time I looked up at the stars like this? Ashamedly, I admit it has been too long. Way too long. Probably not since I was a teenager, when I attended a star event with the rest of the students in my class. That night we peered through huge telescopes that brought the planets right up close. We saw stars and constellations that couldn’t be seen without the aid of these huge lenses. But here I was in my own backyard with only my eyes to see the beauty that the Lord created for us. The sky hadn’t changed in my years of keeping my eyes on lower objects. It was still inky black, and studded with tiny pinpricks of light that really did seem to twinkle.
During the years of science study at school, we learned about the stars, memorizing the names of the constellations, and identifying the galaxies. Back then I spent many evenings lying out under a heavy blue blanket on the frosty ground, all cozy in my cocoon, gazing up high into the deep dark heavens. But that was years ago. Now, where were those constellations? Could I still identify the summer ones?
I settled down to watch. The time on my watch glowed 10:22 p.m. Idly I wondered, How long do I have to wait to see the first meteor?
And suddenly, there it was! It streaked earthward, leaving a long glowing tail. It was no doubt a piece of dust left behind when a comet passed by on its way around the sun.
It didn’t disappear in the blink of an eye, but the tail glowed for a few seconds longer before fading away. That was amazing! I didn’t remember meteor showers being so thrilling. About every three minutes or so, I saw another trail of hot, glowing gases streak horizontally. From my vantage point here in the backyard, most of the tiny falling stars seemed only to travel about three or four inches before fizzling out.
In between seeing these glowing chunks of matter zip into the atmosphere, I scanned the sky to find the constellations I used to know by memory. Almost immediately I spotted the North Star, and the Big Dipper that ladles across the sky. Sure enough, Gemini, the twins, still stood guard together, and there was Queen Cassiopeia, quite distinguished in her royal command of the northern sky. The faint, dusty band of the Milky Way Galaxy cut diagonally across the sky.
I lay there thinking deep thoughts about how small and insignificant I am compared to the vast sky stretched over me. I thought of the verse King David penned thousands of years ago when he was out in the meadows with his sheep, and looked up at the high heavens arching over him. He was mulling over the same thoughts and wrote, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” Man’s accomplishments that look so great by daylight, seem pretty insignificant by starlight against the high heavens!
How amazing that I can see the same stars that others have gazed at for thousands of years! I wonder how much greater a number they could see, long before light pollution was even a term in their vocabulary. The constellations that seem so sketchy to us, to them may have been much more vivid. I remember reading of others long ago, who wrote, “The stars seemed so near and bright, that I could reach out and pick one.” Here, the light pollution reaches three-fourths of the way up the dome of blue-black sky. Someday, I’d love to visit a spot known as the Darkest Spot in Pennsylvania and see the stars from that vantage point. Will I feel like I can reach out and pluck one?
For thirty minutes, I lay out in the calmness of the night, and I counted ten meteors. And none proved to be as stunning as the first one I saw. No others left such a long trail behind them. No others seemed to fall toward the horizon, highlighting the arch of heaven. How pleased I was to have seen that one.
I picked up the blankets, scratched a lump on my ear (a mosquito had found me) and slid off the picnic table to walk toward the house. My eyelids now felt heavy, and yet I felt rewarded for coming out here, and refreshed by the thoughts of the greatness of the God we serve—One who created these points of light thousands of light years away. He created these stars by speaking; He calls all of them by name.