Up two hours before sunrise to see the Perseids, but the ambient light from outdoor vapor lamps dimmed the bowl of sky and made me think hooligan thoughts about taking a hammer to those bloody lamps and smashing every one, and then moving south to Eagle and Lionville and Exton and passing over like an avenging spirit until every unnatural light adjoining this spot had been banished and stars alone might dazzle. Hooligan thoughts and delusions of a Vandal’s glory.
time lapse photo of the Perseids taken August 13 in Denmark
A few meteors glanced overhead. Nothing remotely close to what I had once seen at 9000 feet on a Colorado ridgeline deep in the San Juan’s. That night’s star field was true glory. Those Perseids made long passages across an endless sky.
Then from the tree line along the field the call of a screech owl. My heart rose. Owls, blue jays and crows had taken a terrible hit from West Nile virus. The crow and blue jay population has rebounded but it has been so long since I heard this call — “a soft, mournful whinny … a tremulous whistle that rises then falls down the scale (670-671).”*
There is no wilderness roundabouts any more but land enough has come back to the wild to sustain owls and raptors, pileated woodpeckers and some say coyotes. Both a good township concerned about open space and the long history of wealthy families holding onto hundreds of acres has helped to sustain this recovery. Taking a straight line west from our home, and crossing just a few country roads, I could walk five or six miles and always be in woods or fields.
My father patrolled these same roads in 1938 and almost certainly passed by the schoolhouse we now call home; his old barracks had been located just up the road. I thought of that again while watching the sky and listening to the owl, and imagined my father’s ‘ghost car’ whispering along these dirt roads. I thought of how networks of kinship and comfort are rarely drawn in straight lines, of how exquisite and crooked are the figures time and circumstance make of our lives — stars to owl to father to heart.
*The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds by John Terres