Shooting star lily
Photo by David Krohne


Winter/Spring 2002

A crossing

by Pattiann Rogers

Even as I set the alarm for 2:30 a.m. I was thinking, I don’t really want to do this. I’ll have to get out of bed in the middle of the night. It will be really cold and eerie. Nobody else will be out, maybe a few truckers on the road, a police cruiser. I can always watch it on television tomorrow.

But something inside kept insisting, “You should see this for yourself.”

So at 2:30 a.m. I woke and roused my husband, who was less reluctant than I. We headed toward Daniels Park located above an immense valley beyond which stretches the Front Range of the Rockies. Here we would have a clear, open view of the moonless night sky.

When we reached the park, I was stunned at the number of people gathered. We were in a crowd. The parking lot was filled. Cars and pickup trucks lined both sides of the road. People were out of their vehicles, women with coats thrown on over their nightclothes, men in jackets and sweat pants, children in pajamas. Everyone was looking up, pointing, gasping, occasionally shouting. And when I looked, I too saw them—the fiery streaks of the Leonid meteors, in the west, in the east, directly overhead.

It was a magnificent sight, these whizzing streaks of light in the night sky. I was tremendously moved. But why? I’d seen fireworks displays that were brighter, more colorful and elaborate than these silent meteors coming singly, in two’s and three’s, spaced erratically. What had compelled all of us to come out in the middle of the night and to stay, watching the skies? Not one of us was afraid of these “falling stars.”

It was a glorious, almost hallowed, event. And one reason it was inspiring is that its occurrence had been predicted and its cause explained by astronomers. I knew the earth was moving through the remains left from the passage of the comet Tempel-Tuttle. I was moving with the earth through the dust and gravel particles left behind by this comet as it traveled through our solar system. The fiery streaks I saw in the sky were those particles burning as they entered the earth’s atmosphere. By understanding this, I could envision my place in a system of moving cosmic bodies. I was standing in the midst of dark space, traveling at this moment on my earth crossing the path of a comet. I was witnessing this crossing.

In the early morning hours of November 18, 2001, I and many others were privileged to watch a celestial display of great and powerful beauty without fear, without panic, without conjecturing that the end of the world or the wrath of God was upon us, as peoples of the past had conjectured during similar displays. I was free to delight in one aspect of the intricate workings of the universe, to be filled again with reverence for the size and complexity of this physical world of which we are a part. I was able to see and define myself anew within a vast history of cosmic events. This was an inestimable gift to me, and I am grateful.

Pattiann Rogers has published numerous books of poetry, including Song of theWorld Becoming: New and Collected Poems 1981-2001 and Firekeeper, a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. She lives with her husband, John, a retired geophysicist, in Colorado.

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