The 2013 Perseid meteor shower in Malaysia.
I don’t know why they call meteor showers ‘showers.’ It’s really more of a trickle, and often just an arrhythmic drip. A dash of light in the sky here, a dash there, almost always occurring in whatever direction you aren’t looking. At some point in the night the person you’re with will shoot a finger towards the sky and exclaim, “There! Did you see that?” You’ll reply with a hearty, “Yeah, I saw it”, and spend the next five minutes silently cursing yourself for choosing that moment to be looking in the complete opposite direction.
An astronomer would probably correct me, saying that it is, in fact, exactly like a shower, but that we’re just not close enough to view it that way. That’s fine, but if U2 is performing at the top of Mount Everest, I wouldn’t advertise it to the people of Nepal as a free concert. I wouldn’t suggest they set their alarms to go off at three o’clock in the morning, drive to an open field, and cup their hands around their ears. And the next morning, when they say they couldn’t hear squat, I wouldn’t reply, “Well, you weren’t close enough to hear it.”
Incorrectly titled and falsely advertised as they may be, I actually really enjoy meteor showers, if for no other reason than the opportunity they provide for adventuring out in the middle of the night, laying in the bed of my truck, and staring at the sky. Meteors or no meteors, being outdoors while the rest of the noisy world sleeps is as peaceful a scene as one can hope to inhabit without going on a vacation.
Meteor showers, like the Perseid shower of this past week, allow me to do this free of judgment. If I wanted to do this, say, on a random Tuesday, I don’t think I’d have an easy time explaining what I’m doing to others. When it comes to astronomical events, the term ‘light pollution’ goes a long way, but I don’t see it getting me very far when I use it on my wife as the reason I’m driving out to the country in the middle of the night with a makeshift bed under my arms.
“It’s 3:00 a.m., and you’re doing what?”
“Just grabbing a few pillows and blankets, driving out to the country, laying in the bed of the truck, staring at the sky.”
“Why can’t you do this in the driveway?”
I’m not exactly sure what she would say next, but I don’t think it would be anything close to, “Oh. Good point, honey. Drive safe.”
The inevitable conversation with the policemen who happens upon my parked truck would probably go in a similar fashion. Even after I use the flashlight he’s using to blind me with as an example of what I’m talking about, he’ll probably still tell me to hit the road. Of course, I could always just explain that I’m there to watch a meteor shower. I’d point quickly at the sky and say, “There! Did you see that?” He, looking up at the sky, would respond, “Yeah, I saw it”, and then continue on his way, silently cursing himself.