I’d intended to start the New Year, more or less, by watching the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower, from about 3 a.m. to sunrise on Jan. 4. Several days before, I began trying to figure out which rural friend with access to dark skies, the best venue, I’d invite to invite me over.
But the night was overcast as far away as Virginia and South Carolina, as if our region had decided to host a sleepover for the country’s clouds. So I got a good night’s sleep instead.
With better, clearer prospects on Sunday morning, I decided to get up early and see what remnants might be visible from the Hernon/Wills Supercollider Observatory, i.e. my back porch. I settled in with my coffee, not expecting much beyond artificial satellites, but I was rewarded with three shooting stars, all of which left bright trails behind them. It was a good morning.
Corvus is the minor constellation that’s now most prominent in my morning view, a lopsided box, with the bright star Spica just to its left. Virgo reclines dimly above, then the Big Dipper hangs overhead.
Last year was a poor one for meteor showers; they all either peaked with a bright moon, washing their streaks from the sky, or were joined by storms.
This year promises to be better, with the Lyrids in April during a new (dark) moon; the Orionids in October, peaking after the moon sets; and the Geminids in December, during a new moon, among others.
I can’t believe, as I write this on Thursday, that we’re fewer than 10 days into the new year. I’ve already done some hiking, alone and with friends, through muddy woods, accompanied by crows. The two books next on my reading list are Japanese Ghost Stories by Lafcadio Hearn and Faith in American Public Life by Melissa Rogers, a visiting professor at Wake Forest University.
I got ’em at Bookmarks.
I think “Self-Care,” which we used to just call “hobbies,” “goofing off” and “treating ourselves,” will be big this year. The jargony term suggests an air of sobriety, perhaps to justify taking time for one’s self — we’re so Puritan here — and I hope it doesn’t negate any of the fun, or make fun feel like an obligation.
But I don’t mean to turn my snoot up at the concept. As a stargazer, a comic-book reader, a disc golf player, a dog petter, a picker and a grinner, I’m the last one to criticize anyone for taking some indulgences from life. Plus, I’m a journalist, exposed every day to new reasons to stop and smell the roses, or consider that Finnish immigration form. There’s too much outrage in the air these days and it causes stress, which in turn exacerbates illness.
Calm, happy people make calmer, happier decisions.
Last week was tense, as many wondered if they’d have to say goodbye to their sons and daughters, off to the Middle East. Some did. I missed some sleep over it and I know others did, too. We’re not out of the woods yet.
I join my colleague Byron Williams (below) in being disappointed in former UN representative Nikki Haley, a previously admirable figure who has in the past spoken in favor of political restraint and civility. But there she was on Monday, claiming that Democrats were “mourning” the death of Gen. Soleimani because they expressed reservations about the whole enterprise. Others, like Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, expanded on her exaggerated take, though Collins later apologized. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might think that forces were coordinating now to quell any conscientious objection to the latest war plans.
Say what you will about Democrats, they’re more likely to have their Bibles open to the passage that reads, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
But back to the stars.
There they were again this morning.
From our perspective, they appear to be fixed, permanent, stable. They’re actually zipping along through space at hundreds of thousands of miles per hour. Like so many of us. Betelgeuse, a red supergiant that hovers about 600 light years from us on one of Orion’s shoulders, has been fading and is thought perhaps to have blown up millions of years ago.
I’d like to have seen the rise of the Wolf Moon, the first full moon of 2020, on Friday night. But as I write this, according to weather reports unassisted by presidential Sharpie, it looks like clouds will obscure the view.
Whether or not we saw it, the moon rose to illuminate the dark.