Monday, August 17, 2015

Time and meteors

If the night sky could have looked down a few days ago, it would have seen the Real Doctor and me looking back up at it.  We were lying on our backs in the driveway, taking advantage of the dark skies of a moonless midnight in August, hoping to see the remains of a long-ago comet as they shot through the atmosphere above us.  As had been predicted, the Perseid meteor shower was pretty good.  Before my eyes had properly adjusted to the dark, a bright meteor skimmed the hills of the northern horizon; within a minute of lying down, another shot most of the way from the zenith to the western horizon, leaving a trail that quickly disappeared.

We stayed out for a few more minutes, contemplating the skies and what passed through them.  There were a handful of the less impressive "there went one" sort, and a two of the "OOOH!" variety.  Sure enough, their trails could all be tracked back to Perseus.  After a few more minutes, we bundled ourselves back indoors and to bed--it was a weeknight, and the Real Doctor had to be on the job early the next day.

The stargazing made a nice break from the routine.  Going out and looking hard at the night sky always gives me a helpful reminder of my place in the world.   Watching the fixed stars as the make their way across the sky, watching the moon and planets as they wander among the fixed stars, watching interlopers such as this last winter's Comet Lovejoy as they sprint across the field--these snap my attention to the fact of my being a dot on a spinning rock orbiting a star in a galaxy.  It can make me feel small, but, at the same time it makes me feel as though I am of this whole clockwork.  It is oddly comforting.

I don't think there's anybody other than the Real Doctor that I'd rather be with as the Earth makes its way around its orbit, as it rolls between the sun and the constellation Perseus; to be with, lying in a driveway out in the country, as Perseus reaches the zenith; to be with, as we watch bits of comet burn up so spectacularly in the high air, while our livestock guardian dog makes confused noises at our out-of-the-ordinary behavior.

The setting encouraged reminiscence.   A long time ago, I had just moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to start graduate school.  I didn't know many people there--I had a few acquaintances, mostly from bicycling.  However, being pretty new in town, I didn't have a whole lot of good friends.  I sought to fix this situation.  It's not really my wont to go to parties, or even go out to movies.  Rather, going for bike rides or hikes and camping is more my style.  It was August, and predictions were being made that that year's Perseid meteor shower would be a winner.  So, I thought I'd invite some acquaintances, such as I'd wanted to become friends, to ride our bikes up to Devil's Lake, camp out under the dark rural  skies, and watch meteors.

Well, it was a bust.  Everyone I invited declined, either right away or at the last minute; my cup of tea is not everyone else's.  Among those who declined was the Real Doctor.  Much later, she noted that she was kind of weirded out by the invite--from this guy whom she'd basically only seen riding a bike, had only known for a very short time, and who wanted to go camping in the middle of nowhere.  It didn't seem like that good of an idea.  Although my intentions were completely naive, I have to say that she showed good judgement.

Of course, things worked out eventually:  by April, the Real Doctor and I were an item.  Earth has shown her midnight side to Perseus twenty-some times since then, blundering through the mortal remains of Comet Swift-Tuttle to dazzle us, her tenants, who lie on their backs in the driveway to watch the show.  The watchers ooh and ah, and think of time and trips around the sun and anniversaries.  This year's celestial show brought up another chunk of time to note:  that stretch of time, between this week's meteor shower and my failed attempt at socializing--that chunk of time, for all of which the Real Doctor has been someone I wanted to know better--that portion of my life is now longer than that which preceded it.  She has been on my mind, one way or another, for more than half of my life.

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