Last night we all piled into the Honda in search of the stars.
The Lyrid meteor shower was set to start in the Eastern sky around 10pm, and though it was a Tuesday…I think (it’s hard to tell in these pandemic days, right?), we let our towheaded stardust-wonder boys stay up way past their bedtime to go on this adventure.
They wrapped in their sleeping bags at 7:30pm, just after dinner, making no effort to contain their excitement. To manage expectation we put on a movie and turned down the lights, hoping they might sleep a bit before we hit the road.
Every half hour, on the hour, we were bombarded with requests for our ETD (estimated time of departure).
Unable to hold off the savage pajama-clad explorers any longer, we clamored into the car and headed out.
The light pollution in Raleigh is actually pretty low, at least compared to our previous Chicago haunt, so we knew the sky would be clear. The challenge was finding a clearing at all. The woods of North Raleigh are as thick as tar, especially now that all the buds have bloomed and the leaves have been loosed.
We drove north toward Creedmoor, getting dangerously close to Oxford, but no dice. We thought perhaps we’d find a bridge overlooking the lake which would ensure a better view, but when we drove over the overpasses that crisscrossed the lake we saw flashlights dancing on every bridge: night fisherman taking advantage of the warm weather and the fish jotting near the pylons.
I asked my partner to put on some “space music” for the adventure: the theme from Space Odyssey, Rocket Man, or Bowie’s Starman.
Instead she chose Brandi Carlisle which, for her, is celestial music…and it is. It’s interesting how some musicians with that down-home feel, like Carlisle, can throw you toward the stars with lyrics that are so beautiful they’re otherworldly, right?
As our trek turned into a journey, the boys in the backseat fell victim to sleep, wrapped in their Spiderman and Star Wars cocoons.
We explored our digital maps, trying to find a good spot. With the parks closed, clearings were hard to come by, and the ones we did find had too many lights.
Finding one promising spot, we woke up the boys. I got out and craned my neck toward the sky, putting my hand over the street lights in my line of view. The sky was darker and clearer…but not enough.
I got back in the car to give the disappointing news.
We tried one more, a school parking lot hidden in the trees. The boys had played ball there last year, so we knew there was a clearing. As we approached, though, we knew it wouldn’t work…the trees were too tall to see much of the sky. That, and there were “Video Monitored” signs all through the parking lot, which meant we couldn’t stick around for long anyway. One of the boys asked if they were recording us as we drove through and I said, “Yes, make sure to smile!”
Seeing our adventure was going to be a bit of a bust, I saw a light in the sky that offered some promise. As I pulled in the parking lot, the mood in the car lifted, especially in the backseat.
“Welcome to McDonalds,” the voice crackled over the monitor, as if from the International Space Station.
“Two large fries,” I said. “That’s all.”
“Second window,” the disembodied voice responded. In my adventurous mind she had said, “Roger. Copy that.”
We flew our wheeled rocket to the window, docking next to the sliding glass doors. The woman behind the glass smiled and handed us our wares. They might as well have been from another planet, honestly: the boys have only eaten at McDonalds one other time in their life that we know of.
The steam filled the car with the smell of fat and fried starch.
As we drove into the driveway I set up some lawn chairs facing East, toward the end of the concrete. The youngest opted for the comfort of the couch inside, but the eldest held out, sitting down on that lawn chair, gazing over the roof, chomping his hot fries.
“A pretty good night,” he said after a while, still looking up. “I’m cold, though.” It was almost midnight.
We didn’t end up seeing any meteors that night, at least not all together. My scientist of a wife got up at 4am to catch a glimpse, saw one, and headed back to bed.
But even though we didn’t see the meteor shower, I have to think that we honored Earth Day just a bit, spending some quality time on an adventure with our stardust children, paying attention to the unfathomable fact that we are floating in space, and if we want to live well in this absolutely awesome, unthinkable existence we’ve been afforded, we should take a risky adventure of gratitude every-so-often and take good care of the place that allows us to do so at all.
Because this floating blue marble needs to stick around for a while so my kids can take their stardust families on such an odyssey one night, right?
We didn’t see the meteors, but I got to hang out with the stars of my little universe for a bit.