Look! Look!

kids in car on vacation looking out window“Look, kids! Wake up and look over there, because I can’t; I’m driving.” Children drowsy during a four-day, 2000-mile cross country car trip are usually a godsend. Less squabbling. Less toy throwing. Less name calling. But as we neared Pikes Peak on our journey from Texas to Oregon that summer, Mother couldn’t contain herself.

We blearily looked off the side of the road into the hazy green bowl that had her so stirred up. Tree-covered mountains in the distance. What was the big deal? The winding climb over the Rocky Mountains seemed to never end. And she kept saying, “Look!”

Only as an adult who has driven many a mountain road and backroad could I begin to appreciate my mother’s fear of heights and of narrow roads one knows mathematically must be wide enough for two cars but don’t look it — a fear I fully inherited (along with her freakish talent for backing up at high speed!).

I relived part of that vacation this morning. It held my first taste of fresh apricots, cherries and dates; my disappointment that the petrified forest had fallen down before we got there; the smell of the redwoods; the absurdity of driving our car through a giant Sequoia; and my grandmother’s persistence in pronouncing Yosemite in two syllables, like it’s spelled she said: YOZ-myt.

All of that came back to me as I stood shivering in the driveway today at 5:30 a.m., head back and eyes straining skyward to catch a pre-dawn meteor shower. My partner told me last night there would be shooting stars between moonfall and sunrise. I didn’t try to remember. As I grabbed my morning coffee and headed toward my office, she said, “Go outside and watch for meteors.” After all, she was busy reading the paper and getting the crossword and Sudoku finished before her 6:15 commute; she couldn’t.

Without thinking, I zipped my fleece top and went outside. It was so dark, it took me 30 seconds to get down the two steps and stand in the driveway. I needed to put my hands in my pockets, but it was too dark to see where I might set my coffee. By the time my eyes adjusted enough to catch the reflection of a flat white rock marking the edge of the driveway, I wondered why I’d marched outside instead of to my desk!

Dutifully, I stared. I wonder if the radio said which direction to look? I need a knit cap. I bet my coffee’s already cold. Movement. A meteor? The light was slow and steady…a satellite. I watched it cross overhead, then turned around and watched it from the other direction for several moments. I scanned the horizon and overhead again. That’s it. I’m going in. Was that a glint or my bifocals?

I scurried inside to microwave my coffee, recalling a favorite family saying: Let’s not and say we did. I reported, “Yes, there was a meteor shower.” I didn’t stay out there long enough to see it, but I’m sure it happened.

As I stoked the wood stove to warm myself, I thought about how amazing what I’d just witnessed was. Any given night, one can go outside for a few minutes and probably see one of nearly 3000 satellites orbiting the earth.  By the time we crossed the Rockie Mountains and drove to YOZ-myt in my childhood, there had been only about 20 successful launches. None of those would still be orbiting.

Why I look when people tell me to, I don’t know. But today I traveled across the country, amidst family memories, through history and into space by doing so. I’ll probably keep on looking.


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