Editor’s Note: On the nights of August 12 and 13, 2013 the Perseid Meteor Shower will reach its peak. Last year Cheryl Talbert witnessed this phenomena from the High Sierra and has shared her experience with SBM. Sounds like a good couple of days to be away from the glow of the city and high in the mountains above the treeline. Mark your calendars. We’re requesting the days off now!
Flashes of Brilliance in the High Sierra
There are a few times in one’s life when the planets align and something spectacular happens that you know you may never experience again. In our case, the brightest of the planets literally aligned across the midnight sky during the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, and our little backpack quartet, my husband John and I and our friends Dick and Steve, found ourselves fortuitously under a clear sky next to Purple Lake in the central Sierra on that exact night. The Perseid is a phenomenon that occurs when the Earth passes annually through a stream of debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle. NASA’s Meteroid Environment Office had predicted meteor rates ‘as high as a hundred per hour. Steve was on the ball and knew that this would be a good one. So what remained was for us to Seize the Day (or in this case, the night), get up and brave the chill to see the show.
The extravaganza did not disappoint. John and Dick chose the continued warmth of their sleeping bags over the starshow, so it was up to Steve and me to represent. We situated ourselves head-to-head on our backs down by the lake shore on our Therma-Rests© (squeeeeeak, creeeeeak) with a clear view of the sky at a few minutes after midnight. The smoky backdrop of the Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon, one of the first times in my life I had seen its entirety.
Against the inky blackness behind, Billions and Billions of stars (thank you Carl Sagan!) and the bright reflections of the crescent moon between Jupiter and Venus. Then, sometimes faster than we could turn our heads, ZIP. “Wow, did you see that?!” ZZIIPP – ZZZIIIPPP- ZZZZZIIIIIPPPPP! Emanating from every quadrant, they sped across the void in multiple directions. Within a few minutes we easily saw a dozen, and then a dozen more over the next few. NASA’s forecast of a profligate night’s display was definitely delivered.
After an hour or so the flashes spread out, leaving us to notice the chill in our extremities. It was time to go back to our respective tents and down cocoons. Still, the experience was an extraordinary reminder of the gifts that the universe can provide if only one stops to watch and be amazed.