Summer is winding down to a close here in the Maritimes. The rowan berries are starting to show red and orange, there are some odd leaves on the ground, the horse chestnuts and walnuts are swelling on the trees. The hydrangeas are blooming. Hostas and daylilies are half over, the chrysanthemums and asters not yet out, but the yellow and orange late-summer flowers are blooming wildly: helianthus, perennial sunflowers, rudbeckia, helianthemum, and so on.
Last week I went up to Charlottetown to visit my parents. It was the weekend of the Perseid meteor showers, which are supposed to be some of the most spectacular in the year. Since my parents moved to PEI I’ve wanted to go to the long beach on the north shore of the island at night to watch the stars. Sadly, every time we’ve finally been organised enough to do it’s clouded over.
This weekend was no exception. There was one beautiful clear night we ought to have gone, but all it did was remind us of the possibility. Then we had several days of rain and high humidity and haze and clouds. Then we finally had one day where it was just clear enough to hope for views, the day before the height of the meteor shower, but we were hopeful. Plus my sister had a friend visiting and we thought it would be fun.
We drove to the north shore and discovered we were not the only ones with this idea. There were several people in cars in the beach parking lot; a few had even brought folding chairs. We made our way down to the beach, followed a while on by two other parties. The four of us (dad, sister, her friend, myself; my mum didn’t feel the need to come) lay down on the sand facing Cassiopeia and Cepheus and Perseus and Draco, the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper and the Swan. The Milky Way was clear, arching overhead through Cassiopeia. The Way of Saint James, people used to call it, because in Europe it points the way to Compostella (a word of many etymologies, one of them ‘campus stellarum,’ the field of stars). I lay there thinking how my sister and I had followed across Spain.
I’m not sure if I can say I have fulfilled my list item #14, which involved learning the names of stars as well as stargazing, but it’s fairly close. I will keep working on the star names.
It was strange not to see Orion, who with the Big Dipper is the most familiar constellation in the northern sky. I am so much more familiar with the winter stars than the summer ones. When I was little we lived in the country, but we also lived up north, where night doesn’t fall till late in the summer, so I rarely saw the summer stars. As I’ve gotten old enough to stay up late, I’ve lived in cities, and missed the stars through light pollution.
One big reason for me to want to live in the country is for the stars. I want to know them well, summer and winter stars both.
We lay on the beach as a haze slowly billowed up from the horizon and the waves rushed quietly about their business. The wind was out of the northeast, blowing sand grains at us; they hovered above the beach, moving sometimes by the process of saltation, when they jump tiny distances. Laying with my hands on the sand the grains speckled them.
Along with assorted planes and satellites, I saw four meteors and two sparklers. It was lovely.