December 18, 2017 10:20:48 AM
"Star light star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight."
Last week's meteor shower was all the talk at Robert's Apothecary. I'd stopped by to pick up my vitamins when Robert said, "You are going to watch the meteor shower tonight, aren't you?"
Another patron chimed in, "It's supposed to be really spectacular."
Robert continued, "The best viewing will be around 2 a.m."
"It'd be spectacular to see a meteor shower. But 2 a.m.? I don't know."
The week before, Sam and I met friends Bill and Debbie at the Rainwater Observatory and Planetarium at French Camp, just off of the Natchez Trace. The drive down was quiet; no traffic and plenty of deer. The deer seemed quite used to the occasional car passing. They fed along the roadside, sometime raising a head to watch passersby, and sometimes not. Fortunately, they never stepped near the road.
The directions to the observatory said you couldn't miss it -- turn left at French Camp and continue 'til you saw the sign on the right. We did just that, and as we continued down the road the night grew darker and darker. Finally, we saw the sign on the right, visible only by our headlights. We turned and meandered along an unpaved road until we reached two long buildings. Sam said, "I see the planetarium over there."
I couldn't see anything. "Why don't they have more lights?" I asked. We should have brought a flashlight."
Then I saw a door open briefly and someone slipped inside. "That must be it," I said.
Before the night was over I would learn why there were no lights. The area is known as one of the few completely dark areas in the southeast and thus an optimal location for viewing the skies. In fact, the director, Edwin Faughn, commented a Dollar General store opened eight miles away and the lighting from the store obliterated the northwest quarter of the sky.
Director Faughn approached store management, eventually going to their corporate offices in Tennessee where he pleaded with management to shield the store lighting from reflecting upward. Miraculously, they did.
The observatory program was informative, the planetarium a visual treat, and standing outside on a hill in complete darkness while experiencing a guided tour of the constellations was remarkable.
It's easy to allow our world to become so ordinary and so small that we forget how large and awesome and unfathomable the universe really is. Standing on that hill in the darkness I was reminded of the vast expanses above and beyond us.
With that in mind on the night of the meteor shower, I slipped out of bed at 1:46 a.m., down the stairs, out the door and into the field. The night sky was black, the moon was nonexistent, and the stars were brilliant. I looked to the southwest sky. There I spotted the three stars in the "hunter's belt" of the constellation of Orion and waited. Then, lasting not much more than the blink of an eye ... a bright shooting star crossed the night sky.
Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.
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