Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Perseids

Have you ever watched the Perseids? Sometimes called the "tears of St. Lawrence" because they occur near his feast day, these meteors provide a splendid sky show every August, marking the end of summer vacation days with an exciting spectacle.

Watching the Perseids in South Bend frustrates me, because I don't live in a spot with a clear view of the entire evening sky. At present, I don't have friends who live out in the countryside whom I could pester to let me set up my viewing station in their farm fields. Last night was pretty hazy/cloudy, too, so no luck for me. I have, nonetheless, spent two magical evenings in my life watching this meteor show.

When my youngest child was around 4 years old, he and my daughter and I were spending our annual vacation with my parents in Virginia. We had been enjoying our usual pursuits and didn't expect anything different from our typical summer fun. One day, my father surprised us with the suggestion that we go to a campground at Oregon Inlet on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and watch the Perseids. I gave that idea a thumbs up at once. We packed up all the necessary things and set out. Most remarkably, my parents were in their late 60's and hadn't been camping in decades. I was quite impressed. Things proceeded fairly smoothly and we reached out destination uneventfully. We set up camp, ate supper, and tried to protect ourselves from the diabolical Dare County mosquitoes. Night fell and we found comfortable positions to watch for the meteors. The flat, sandy ground blended unbroken into the vast ocean, and we could see the entire dome of the sky without interruption. The Perseids began to appear very soon. Oh my goodness, what a sight. My children sat in fascinated silence. Meteor after meteor after meteor flashed overhead. We saw so, so many. What a magical time for all of us, adults and children alike.

My second treasured sight of the Perseids occurred a couple of years before my father died, on our last summer trip to Kill Devil Hills. Once again my youngest son (now in college) was with us, although the other two children had adult careers by then and couldn't be with us that week. My father had trouble climbing up and down the stairs to our cottage, so we didn't make too many forays each day. This particular night he insisted that we try to watch the Perseids. After supper, my son and I helped Daddy down the stairs and established him in a comfortable chair behind the cottage. We placed our chairs on either side of him and waited patiently for the neighbors' lights to go out and the Dairy Queen across the street to close for the night. The night temperature remained gently warm, stirred by lovely sea breezes, and we could hear the rolling surf from the ocean, only two blocks away across the beach road. Sitting there in the dark, talking with him and with his namesake grandson, made me exquisitely happy. For me, the Perseids would be the icing on the cake. And they were. After a time, my son spotted the first meteor. Soon they were appearing at a steady pace, and we watched shooting star after shooting star arc across the sky. Daddy's face lit up like a star itself as he relished this spectacle. We three sat there for an hour, I think, and only reluctantly turned away when Daddy tired. That final visit together on the Outer Banks couldn't have been any more wonderful.

That is why I love the Perseids and try to see them every year. I hope you can find a good, clear place to watch them this week. I hope you can watch them with folks who will appreciate the blazing wonder of these shooting stars. Now I am looking forward to sharing the Perseids someday with my own grandchildren, and I expect to feel my father's presence with me when I do.

A New Box of Crayons

It's that time of year. Time to buy new school supplies. Time to get ready for that first day of classes. A time that has passed me by, after so many years of being both a student and a teacher. Watching my husband prepare for teaching his graduate students just isn't the same. Supporting our local Pack-A-Backpack campaign helps children with much-needed school supplies and is fun, but that just isn't the same, either.

I would like to buy some brand-new crayons.

Is there anything comparable to an untouched box of 24 Crayola crayons? Those sharp points. That excellent variety of colors. The smell of those waxy little wands of creation. The box of 64 crayons always seemed excessive, even though it had that very cool crayon sharpener in the front. (Just to place me in the Crayola timeline, I remember when the box of 64 first came on the market. We were stunned by the available colors.)

I was always excited when my mother took us shopping for school supplies. There were no lists of required supplies in those days, so we just bought what everyone knew they needed for school. Packages of new pencils. New crayons. A new ruler (no centimeter markings then). A compass and a protractor, perhaps. A fat stack of looseleaf paper. A three-ring binder. Spiral notebooks if you were in a grade that needed them. A thick rubber book strap in later years (backpacks were for soldiers then, not students). Perhaps some fancy bookcovers, but generally we used brown paper bags to cover our books. A Shaeffer cartridge pen with ink cartridges of washable blue. That covered everything, I think.

When I was teaching, I still had the pleasure of buying supplies: new pens, packages of pencils which I could lend (!) my students, new grade books, new lesson plan books, markers, cellophane tape, paper clips, staples, thumb tacks, and folders. I loved office supply stores.

Unfortunately, I still have stocks of these 'teacher' supplies in my basement office. I seldom use up all the ink in my Zebra pens. No possible way to justify a rampage through Office Depot or Staples this year. But I have a plan.

Recently, I have read that artists are publishing coloring books for adults. These books look fairly elaborate and complicated and deserve being labeled as art. But they are coloring books. And I could color in them. Granted, they seem to require extensive palettes of markers or colored pencils, which I don't yearn for in the same way as crayons. I don't see why I couldn't use some good old Crayolas if I wanted to.

My secret is out now. I am going to order one of these high-end coloring books and buy a new box of crayons. This means I can consider myself a patron of the arts for supporting the business ventures of actual artists, and I can satisfy my inner second grader with those new Crayolas. Sounds good to me.

[Oh, yes: I am also going to begin stockpiling crayons for my grandchildren. And coloring books. The fun is going to begin again.]