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The Cracker Barrel: The meteors of August

A multicolored Perseid meteor striking the sky just to the right from Milky Way. By Brocken Inaglory - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

You've heard all about it by now: the Perseids are coming. Summer's meteoric light show, visible especially to northerners, the Perseids begin appearing near the end of July and grace the night sky through much of August.

To see them, you have to be willing to forego a bit of sleep. Best viewing is after midnight and on through the wee small hours. Obviously you also have to leave the luxury of your house and get outside, but that's all part of the fun.

I remember the time, some years ago, when we made an all-night party out of meteor watching. Some teenage relatives were visiting, and they procured the sweet corn and built the fire for the corn roast. My wife assembled the potatoes and the steaks, wrapped the potatoes in tin foil and made a big, fresh salad out of stuff from the garden.

I saw to it that plenty of pop was put on ice and that sheets of plastic were on hand to put beneath the sleeping gear and together we turned the yard into a giant lounging place, complete with plenty of pillows and a can or two of bug repellent. Then the party began.

By dusk the smell of roasting corn had filled the air and made us all start drooling. The potatoes were nestled down in the coals of the fire and when it was time, we grilled the steaks. We ate by the light of the fire and when we were done one of our visitors broke out his guitar and we sat around singing songs and falling under the spell of the embers and the beauty of the night.

Later a melonlike moon rose up from the marsh and ascended through the pine trees into the star-specked sky. We told stories and spun dreams and gradually sank down onto the blankets, full of good food and good feeling. I think I might have dozed off for a while, for the next thing I recall about that night was opening my eyes and seeing a streak of light in the sky and hearing someone say, "Good Lord, that's beautiful."

And beautiful it was, over and over again. Slender white threads of falling light, arcing from the top of the sky nearly down to the horizon, glowing trails that gracefully ebbed back into darkness.

According to the scientists, these filaments of light are really funerals, marking the demise of bits of rock and ice that burn to nonexistence as they encounter the resistance of Earth's atmosphere.

But there is something intensely life-affirming about watching nature's late late show. Knowing that the show recurs each year, knowing that this particular swarm of cosmic debris has been observed for at least 2,000 years, is part of it.

Seeing the meteor showers connects you with the past and clearly links you with the future. Fortunes come and go, power is used and abused, individual dreams rise up and then are humbled, but the meteors of August return.

When they come, you have the chance to snuggle down against the earth and let your eyes drink in the cosmic dance of light, and grow yourself a whole new crop of dreams.