Greenpoint: Look up and witness magic of the night sky

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Categories: Life & Arts

When my now 20-year-old was the mayor of Gorillatown, the border of town — a clearing under a great white pine — was marked by a wooden sign crafted from wood planks and written in the mayor’s crooked letters:

Go Up

Go Down

Gorillatown

Back then, the mayor told us it was a reminder to look around, down at the brick path into Gorillatown and up at the mayor, sitting high in the pine tree.

I’ve been thinking about that sign lately as I walk in the woods. Looking down I’ve seen snakes, big toads, dime-sized frogs, deer tracks, coyote scat, a large family of grouse, blueberries and some sort of ground-growing rubus with a tasty berry and thorns that slice your ankles. Looking up, past the nests and canopy of leaves, I glimpse the sky, clouds, hawks, an eagle, a pileated woodpecker.

The sky was the real show this past week. Sitting in the yard in the evenings, after goat milking time, we’ve watched bats and dragonflies and fronts moving through, pushing dense gray clouds. We’ve had clear skies, thunderstorms and a meteor shower midweek.

The Perseid shower is an annual favorite for us. Over the years we’ve watched from blankets in the yard and the tops of mountains. On what was supposed to be the peak night for viewing this year — Tuesday — my husband and I pulled our lawn chairs into the center of the yard and looked up.

A bank of clouds moved through, and the sky turned black. Thunder rumbled, lightning flashed and huge raindrops started splashing down. We moved into the shed and watched the storm from under a roof.

Down in Brooklyn, where it wasn’t raining, our eldest watched the sky from a rooftop and reported seeing at least a dozen shooting stars, despite streetlights and a bright moon.

Wednesday night was clear and we tried again, starting around 9:30, when it was good and dark. At that time Perseus, in the northeast sky under Cassiopeia, was still a bit below the tree line. But we saw a handful of meteors — some faint, some clearer. The longer we sat the more stars we saw.

We went back out at 11 — before the moon rose and when the sky was even darker. Cassiopeia had risen higher and the Milky Way was clearly visible, a milky band of light cutting across the sky, east of center. We were reminded once again how fortunate we are to live in a place with a dark sky.

The night was loud with crickets, but so still we could hear sounds from far away — a coyote, distant dogs, even voices from a campground a few miles away on the lake. A bright light streaked across the sky and we “oohed” like we were at a fireworks show.

We talked about that time when the Brooklyn child was about 8 and we were expecting a magnificent meteor shower on a frigid winter night. She made me promise to wake her up and take her out to see it, and in preparation we left her snowpants and a thick blanket by her bed.

Some time after midnight I got her out of bed, into her snowpants and bundled in the blanket, then carried her outside to sit in my lap as we watched the sky. I remember a magical sky and a little girl, awestruck at the light show.

The next day she wrote in her school journal that Mom woke her up for no reason to sit in the cold in the middle of the night.

But she tells me now that she remembers how beautiful it was. And it must have meant something, because she’s still out there watching the sky.

Look up.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Aug. 30. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

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