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