My wife Callie, son Phoenix, daughter Halcyon, and I made a pilgrimage to the mountains of eastern Washington on the second weekend of August last summer.
We were shooting star seekers.
Important and official sounding websites trumpeted possibilities of meteor shower glory: BEST PERSEID SHOW IN TWENTY YEARS!
We staked our tent in campsite #1 at Red Mountain campground in a perch above the Cle Elum river, and twenty yards from Salmon La Sac Road. The wash of cars blowing by us was not as peaceful as Allen Springs campground on the Metolius river in central Oregon, or Willaby campground on the shores of so-still Lake Quinault in western Washington, but the point of this trip was not about laid back time around the campsite.
This trip’s mission lie in the stars.
As we waited for darkness to envelop us, and for the stars to come out, we busied ourselves with doing very little. Callie and I lost ourselves in novels. Phoenix sat stone-still in his moss green camping chair, his head bowed to a book filled with evil-doing dragons. Halcyon colored in a Peppa the Pig coloring book, which had been selected for its ironic value.
We wandered down to the river. Dog-obsessed Halcyon identified three different breeds of dogs in five minutes.
We gathered together for a meal of teriyaki tofu sandwiches at the picnic table covered with our worn out watermelon table cloth.
Halcyon led the family in three rounds of Mad Libs. The phrase “gargantuan, galloping, toe jam iguanas” sending Callie into one of her famous laughing fits.
We cleaned up camp and pulled out our flashlights and headlamps. The mid-80 degree day cooling just enough for Phoenix to build a small fire. I have long ago lost my job as campfire constructor to Phoenix, and felt a twinge of jealousy hit me as he began to build, but the delight in Phoenix’s eyes was enough to send my jealousy up with the sublime smelling, curling campfire smoke.
Callie and Halcyon laid their heads on pillows and snuggled under a blanket. Halcyon quickly drifted off. Callie spotted the first few shooting stars before she was pulled into slumber.
Phoenix and I read by flashlight.
Experts reported that 1 a.m. would be prime Perseid time. I fell into a rhythm of reading a few pages, turning off the flashlight, and counting to thirty. I saw a few that way.
The fire died down. My bare legs chilly. Callie woke up asking “Is it time to go down to the river now?”
We woke up Halcyon, steadied her, and crept down the gravelly road through the hushed campground to a flat, smooth spot near the river. Views opened to the north, south and west.
The near 1 a.m. night was cool but not cold, though Halcyon claimed she was freezing. I invited her to lay on my chest, and I wrapped my right arm around her. Phoenix snuggled close to Callie.
We laid in the dark. In the stillness of deep nighttime. River sounds in our ears. We spoke softly, though no one would have heard us if we had spoken loudly.
Being down at the river was such a brilliant idea, yet we were alone.
The stars began to fall. Not a storm of them. More like a sprinkle. But still. But still.
We were together under the Milky Way.
Phoenix would be starting high school in less than a month. Halcyon almost at the start of her last year of elementary school.
We were together.
And the stars did fall.
Phoenix had the eye. Spotting twenty-five in all.
A few times long bright streaks crossed the night.
Impossible things that all four of us witnessed together.