A few mornings ago I slept late. I think we all sleep a little longer at this darkest time of year, here on the northern half of the planet. Let the Chileans and the Aussies get up early in December! It was not so late that it was anywhere even close to daylight outside, but it was well past seven, CST. I fumbled my way up out of the bed and over to the propane light fixture on the wall, to turn the knob and begin the day with the flick of a chartreuse plastic Bic lighter. Hyggelig, right?
“Done usual chores.” Classic line from the old homesteader’s daily log. Hauled on my layers and stoked the stove and carried in more wood from the entryway, put on water for coffee, set two places at the table for breakfast, let the aging wheezy dog out and very quickly back in again. She is a no-sled dog, a husky of ours who was born with a bronchial constriction that has only gotten worse with age, and in deep cold she is a disaster. Never thought we’d have a house-dog. When her saga is over, some year soon, we won’t.
Went to the weather station and VHF radio niche by the upstairs west window, and wrote down the morning news: Wind NE 5 knots, Vis 15+ miles, Sky CLR, Temp -25, Dewpoint -28, Altimeter 30.61 and rising. Remarkable high air pressure (it is 30.95 as I draft this on Wednesday), but otherwise a classic McLeod Bay early-winter morning.
A brief phrase scrolled across the little screen on the weather box: “Geminids Meteor Shower.” The device had been flashing that same pop-up for several mornings, but overcast skies had persisted lately so I had been shrugging it off. A change that day, though. It was clear and crisp after all that wearisome overcast. It had been a long week, when there were steadily a few flakes of snow in the air – never enough to say “it’s snowing,” but every morning a new half-inch on the chopping block or the handle-bar of a sled. Days when it never seemed to get completely light, until it was obviously getting dark again.
I finished making coffee for myself and for Kristen. She was up and moving through her own morning routine. Well into our fourth decade of marital bliss — with only fleeting brief episodes of marital blitz — we both know that in that first hour of dawn it is best to simply nod and smile if we meet on the stairs. Conversation can wait until breakfast. I poured a mug-full and climbed the ladder up into my lookout lantern, where the stovepipe juts out through the roof. A little perch with windows all around – readers of this blog are tired of hearing about it, I’m sure. Usually I stand up there looking north while I sip away. Out that way a big bluff we call Home Hill makes the skyline. Our little log outhouse is in the foreground, as if placed there to prevent my ruminations from ever getting too lofty or grandiose. Looking out that way, in all seasons, at Guy de Mauppasant’s ”…immense network of deserted little valleys with not a single trace of smoke…”
On the morning I’m describing, though, I twigged on the obvious. The meteor shower named The Geminids must be emanating from the constellation Gemini, the twin stars Castor and Pollux. And by this hour, at this season, those two old friends would be front and center out the west window-door of the lantern, the biggest window of all, where we can step right out onto the roof when we need to. So instead of standing and gazing north, I sat down facing west, and waited. Clear black sky, washed out slightly by a waning quarter moon. There were the twins, high and centered in my rectangular triple-pane view. Wow, what were the odds? If the Geminids were going to shower as advertised, I had a warm box seat for the event.
Sip. Nothing yet.
Then a long bright shooting star dropped fast and down. Maybe twenty seconds later a much brighter one screamed from north to south just below Gemini. Then some long minutes of nothing. Kind of like a slow sixth inning, I thought. And here is the catcher going out to the mound again, while the right fielder looks up into the bleachers and chews his plug. Sip. Sip. One more faint zeemer going obliquely down and away. Sip.
Whoa. Did that just happen? A burst of light, a big flash right up in the Gemini. Just a second or so, on and then off. Nothing before or after.
That must have been a meteorite, and I thought about the fact that when you are flying at night, looking for other air traffic in the dark sky, or you are out on the water with eyes peeled for the lights of other boats, it’s the lights that don’t seem to be moving that are most important. Because, if you can see them and they aren’t sliding sideways, and it’s red on the right and green on the left, then heads up: that one is headed straight at you.
I sipped a little more coffee. One more meteorite dropped vertically from the twins. I waited some more. Coffee mug empty. Five bits of hot space dust in maybe ten minutes, and probably hundreds more invisible, but hey — one of them headed was straight for the house. Well. Interesting perspective for the start of a day.
Solstice is here again. I have scheduled this post for the exact hour and minute of the “sun standing” this year: 21:48 Zulu, Wednesday. Early to late afternoon in North America, evening in Scandinavia and the rest of Europe. So if you’re reading this, well then yippee, we’ve rounded the turn and the lights are already coming up again, second by second and day by day. (North of the equator, that is. Those Chileans and Aussies now start down the back stretch.) We spin forward into another enormous lap. Hang onto your hats, boys and girls. And hang on to each other. There’s stuff falling out of the sky, and depending where you live some of it is a lot more than just hot flecks of gravel from outer space.