Watching a meteor shower, I felt, required some decently dark skies; so on Saturday afternoon I went to New Glarus on my bicycle. As evening came on the sky started to fill with clouds, despite constant predictions of clear weather. Hoping for it to blow over, I set an alarm for midnight, and then made my way to a nice dark hillside; and sure enough, there was still some significant clouding in the north and west, but most of the sky was clear. I lay down, surrounded by the sound of crickets and frogs in the nearby Little Sugar River, and let my eyes adjust; until I could see the Milky Way, arcing from an Aquila half-covered by clouds, through Cygnus and Cassiopeia, into another cloudbank.
And then I started to see the meteors – some short flashes out of the corner of my eye, but others vivid streaks of light, crossing several degrees and leaving a vivid afterimage. I watched for about an hour. When not staring at meteors, I took advantage of the dark skies to get a good look at M31 – the Andromeda Galaxy. It’s odd to think that it was only in 1925 – within my grandparents’ lifetime, and almost within my parents’ – that Edwin Hubble established that there even were other galaxies, by calculating the distance to M31; using Cepheid variables, Miss Leavitt’s stars.
When I got too chilled, I went back downhill and went to sleep, head full of meteors and galaxies as I drifted off.
Here is Nourishment — of the swamp-rooted cattail.
Here is Nourishment — of the water-reed, and the redwing, singing enrapturedly.
Here is Nourishment — of the Meteorite lining the sky.
Here is Nourishment — of the falling star, and the damp-darkened, crumbly soil.
Here is Splendor — of the airplant Spanish moss asway in sun.
Here is Splendor — of the airplant, and the cobra arching his head.
Here is Splendor — of the galaxy in Andromeda.
Here is Splendor — of the galaxy, and the turquoise cloudless heaven.
-Lou Harrison, from Four Strict Songs, commissioned by the Louisville Symphony Orchestra