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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Shooting stars

Quite by accident, I saw shooting stars early Monday morning (can't blame the dog this time for waking me at 4:00 a.m. - she conked out under the covers as soon as I went to bed and didn't stir all night). I discovered later that it was the night of the annual December Geminids meteor shower, and the windows happen to face the right direction, east, and I happened to wake up before dawn, and I happened to try the sky for a soporific.

The bedroom windows allow a view of sky and bay and pointed firs of only a few degrees. I should have gone outside for the full 360, but it was 4:00 a.m. and cold. Even so limited, the view was thrilling: the stars are so brilliant and numerous and inspiring anyway in the undeveloped night skies of Maine, and then there would be a silent little pop! of light, then a brilliant little trail, then a little white flame-out. You really did get the sense of stars falling down, and also the slight and thrilling fear that a real star directly overhead (or at least a substantial meteor) would take it upon itself to target the house.

"Thrilling" is a slight over-statement. It's not a spectacle like, say, what the Chinese do for international honor. A shooting star lasts about a second. Its trail is tiny. I saw maybe 10 in an hour of gazing.

"Humbling" is a better word. In order to get all those cliches out of my head (life-is-so-short, blaze-of-glory, what-is-the-meaning-of-life), I tried to calculate how many shooting stars there would be in my life if they arrived once a second for 70 years. The answer, after a certain amount of stops and starts and confusion about decimal places, was about 2 billion (later confirmed by a real calculator to be 2.2 billion). Now that's thrilling. Don't you love the idea of a second of glory?

The calculating, and the humbling, put the world to right, and getting back to sleep until 6:30 (5,400 seconds later, with dreams) was a piece of heaven.

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