I crunched along a path on the packed snow, following the white glow of my headlamp. A weeknight in December.
I hadn’t wanted to go. The night was cold. It was dark, as most nights are. It would have been much easier to stay home, where I was warm and content. Maybe make a cup of tea, do some reading.
But I needed to go, to march around in the woods with my ski poles, cranking off a few miles, raising my heart rate, sucking in lungfuls of clean December air.
So I layered up, grabbed the pup and went.
Now, I had committed to the cold, and I was already warm. Well, except for a few fingertips, but I knew they’d come around eventually. Jackpine boughs hung over the trail. The snow underfoot had been packed by previous walkers and by the fat-tired winter bikes. My mukluked feet conformed to every irregularity in the trail. The ski poles, went scritch, scritch, scritch like some primitive metronome keeping time with my strides.
I had walked for a good half-hour before I climbed to the high point of the park, a bald rock now frosted with the latest snow. The sky was clear, and I wanted to get up high to check out the stars.
I was breathing hard by the time I reached the top, but my fingers were warm now. I shut off my headlamp and threw my gaze to the heavens. The dog rammed around, probing the snow for imagined morsels, following the scent of voles or mice or who knows what.
The handle of the Big Dipper was just above the eastern horizon. I hadn’t picked out any other constellations when, against the black beyond, a bright yellow laserbeam went streaking from northeast to southeast before extinguishing itself.
Well, cool, I thought.
This is why I had come, I guessed. Or, more likely, this is why we always go out. Because we never know what small wonder we might encounter, what two-second phenomenon might reframe our whole day.
A shooting star, I thought. Nice.
The night, the snow, the cold, the dog, the sky —and now this hiccup of a happening.
The next day, at work, I talked to my friend Astro Bob, whom we at the newspaper know as Bob King. Sky guy. Heavenly dude.
I had encountered a slice of the Geminid meteor shower, he said. A speck of meteor, the size of a piece of gravel, streaking through Earth’s atmosphere at something like 78,000 miles per hour.
King had been out, too, he said. Out in the country where the skies are darker and the meteors brighter. He had lain in the road —a seldom-used back road —a couple of times just to watch the shower. I asked him how many meteors he had seen.
But one was enough to change my day. I whistled up the dog, and we went slip-sliding down the big hill so I could go home and tell my sweetie what I had seen.