I wanted to see that lunar eclipse a few weeks ago, but it was really cloudy and you couldn’t see the sky. I wanted to check out that meteor shower last night, I read about it during the day, but I’m only thinking of it now, and so I forgot about it, I never set an alarm, I didn’t make a note to look outside. Not that you can really see any space stuff here in the city. Still, it’s nice to go outside and try, like I did with that lunar eclipse, before the clouds rolled in, you could see the start of the beginnings of a shadow start to creep across the lunar surface. When I first looked up, I swear, it looked like there was a huge chunk missing. But my awe turned to disappointment when I realized that it was already a little cloudy, and that’s what I was looking at, a celestial fake-out, a tiny circular cloud floating for just a few seconds in the moon’s way.
I’m always looking for shooting stars, when I go upstate on vacation, I’m always instantly mesmerized by that view of the heavens that you’d never even imagine is there, hiding just behind the glare of the city night sky. I wonder if you live up there, do you take it for granted? Do you even bother looking up at all? Because after a minute or so my eyes adjust and my brain starts to look for stuff that isn’t there. I see all of these phantom spots and movements out of the corners of my eye, my neck starts to hurt from craning all the way up. One time I tried to lay out on the grass so I could just take in the majestic view of the cosmos, but all of these little gnats and bugs started landing on my face, buzzing just around my ears, I was inside after like a minute or two.
I think I saw a shooting star, once. I had just turned my attention upwards and, there it was, no question about it, directly in my line of sight, if that wasn’t a shooting star, then I don’t know if anything could really be a shooting star. And what got me the most was how fast it happened. It was the most fleeting of moments I’d ever experienced in my life. Like, when I was a little kid and I went camping with my cousins and we’d all stare at the stars, I used to think they were just teasing me, “Look! I saw one!” trying to make me feel left out. But yeah, it’s totally something that, if you’re not looking right at it, it’s gone, like if you happen to be blinking, that’s more than enough time for you to miss out on the action.
One time I saw a satellite, I think. It was definitely slow moving, and streaking across the sky in a straight enough line that, if it wasn’t a satellite, well, I’m pretty sure it had to have been a satellite. But this was kind of the flip-side of the night-sky coin, like it was almost too slow. I’m always looking for that perfect moment, my eyes landing on something happening out there, wherever, outer space, and this satellite is kind of just like, way too easy. There’s a brief moment of wonder, like I found something worth looking at. But after thirty seconds, after a minute, my brain started to make sense of everything, it’s a satellite, a piece of equipment that we shot up into the sky, and it’s catching the sun’s reflection. It doesn’t really pack that same sense of wonder.
I really wanted to see the stars from the city when the entire Northeast suffered a blackout during the summer of 2003. But I was somewhere in between Georgia and South Carolina at the time, behind the wheel, making the trip back to New York from Florida. I heard all about it on the radio, how everyone was gathered outside to catch this once in a lifetime crystal clear picture of the Milky Way, right from the middle of the city. As we sped north on I-95, I just kept thinking to myself, come on, just a little longer, just don’t fix the blackout for one more night, please.
But as we crossed into Delaware, pushing north to New Jersey, I noticed that all of the toll machines were working fine, that there weren’t any signs of traffic jams. And as the streetlights flickered on as the sun set, I stared up at the muted orange twilight and knew that I’d missed it, that maybe if I were lucky I’d be able to see the North Star tonight, maybe the moon, even on the clearest of nights, all you ever get up here is one star, maybe just like two or three stars in the entire night sky.