Monday, September 24, 2018

Lauren French

Meteor shower beauty makes the cold worth it

You know you’ve found a good friend when they agree to go star watching with you at midnight on a Wednesday.

I was ecstatic when Facebook alerted me earlier this month of the upcoming Geminid meteor shower, an annual celestial occurrence that presents itself in December. I asked my friend and fellow reporter here at the Leader-Telegram, Andee Erickson, to accompany me someplace away from city lights the night of Dec. 13 and she easily agreed.

Star watching is a favorite activity of mine. When the air is warm and thick with summertime, I like to spend most nights outside with my neck craned toward the sky. There, my eyes search out fabled constellations and I conjure in my mind the folklore that cast shapes and stories onto those clusters of stars. 

Until recently, however, winter star watching wasn’t on my list of regular activities.

As I wrote in a previous blog, winter is a season I’m trying to force myself to love. It’s not an easy task for someone who’s cold at 60 degrees. Resurrecting a favorite summertime activity seemed like a sure-fire way to help me along on my journey to genuine winter appreciation.

Despite the cold, it worked.

Around 11:30 that night, we bundled ourselves up in so many layers of warm clothing that it was uncomfortably hot to stay indoors. Equipped with a blanket, a four-pack of beer, home-made french fries wrapped in aluminum foil and some dark chocolate, we burst out the door.

Our drive took us to a Lake Altoona backyard belonging to a family friend, who had given us permission to use her yard for our late-night sky watching. We placed a set of beach chairs along the ice-covered water’s edge, spread the blanket over our legs and settled in.

The massive sky and its accompaniment of bright constellations expanded over the lake and a line of trees. We joked that our situation was similar to — but much better than — showing up to an IMAX movie and discovering we had the theater to ourselves.

It didn’t take long for the first meteor to appear. A thin paintbrush stroke of light dashed across the sky, appearing and disappearing in a downward arc over the trees ahead. I lost count of the others that followed.

It soon struck me that I hadn’t taken the time to look up and really enjoy the sky since the summer months faded and Eau Claire began to grow cold. And as I was learning, cold weather shouldn’t be enough to keep me from the outdoor activities I love so much.

We had dressed so warmly that winter’s cold, persistent presence was not a bother even to my ill-circulated toes. Or perhaps I was cold, but all the splendor of that night’s meteor shower was captivating enough to make up for it.

— Lauren French, reporter

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