“Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colours from our sight,
Red is grey and yellow white,”
(Moody Blues lyric)
Sitting alone in the back garden. In the dark that comes with midnight gone by and moon still below the stilled horizon.
“They’ll tell you black is really white;
The moon is just the sun at night.”
(Black Sabbath lyric: Heaven and Hell)
And the garden, without the distraction of colour looks different: neither better nor worse – simply different. The leaves of familiar trees are not green, the bright orange of crocosmia flowers, brick red of pelargoniums is not there: rather they are all in the range between black and white – and, somehow less three dimensional because of that..
There is no movement this night other than a little wind that catches at the tops of the silver birch nearby. Hedgehogs, frequent visitors to this space are absent tonight and I guess my presence keeps the neighbourhood fox away. Little sound: no birds, no yapping dogs, no children playing or lawn mowers pulling people up and down stripes of grass. Some rumble from roads in the middle distance: roads that have been here since Roman times.
Just cool star lit darkness. Which is not to be confused with lack of warmth. This is August, so this is the relative cool after a warm, dry summer day and reminds me of the need to close greenhouse window and doors at the end of each day from now on. Nor to be confused with the absence of light. There is plenty of light; the fire pit fire (the only source of colours here: dark-devil orange embers, blue flames mingling with brighter, lighter orange ones (chemicals in the timber from a salvaged, broken up palette (put on the fire complete with nails). The fire then and low level light pollution rising from streetlights and the junction of roads with the toll motorway not so far away. Light from the skies. Stars so clearly visible from the place on the lawn where I lay back in the seat so far that the nape of my neck rests on the table top. For this, I am told is the best way to observe what I am here, hopefully, to witness.
And this comfortable, friendly darkness makes it easy to think about space. Space as space, becoming harder to imagine on a world that often feels so crowded. The great out-there deserts of space. Lonely space, inspiring space with its unimaginable distances between tiny points of light that I am looking at right now, knowing that there are many more that I simply cannot see. Tiny? Only in appearance for most of these stars are far, far larger than my Earth, even than our local star which we call Sun. I think briefly that, given the speed of light and the distances between the sources of these lights, the suns the light came from, is coming from may no longer actually be there.
There is some safety in the distances I suppose and it irks our curiosity.
Looking up I can see the navigation lights of aircraft cruising the heavens at around eight miles high. And I look for the International Space Station – but, honestly I don’t know what to look for – apart from movement that is. How fast will it be moving, where will it appear?
I recognise some of the constellations up there: the Great Bear, Cassiopeia, and imagine I know some of the others (but actually don’t). Legendary origins, characters all.
And there are so many of them, these incomplete diagrams in the night sky, but they are so far away. From me. From each other. The stuff of science. The stuff of science fiction.
I am here on this marvellously cloudy night to try and see the meteor showers. The Perseids: as the outer, protective dodgem edge of our atmosphere – about 300 miles above me – brushes the debris left behind by the comet we know as Swift-Tuttle. And for the next few nights (as every year) it may be possible to spot the tracks these “shooting stars” etch on the skies – then are gone, forever. This all happens a hundred and thirty thousand miles beyond the surface on which I now stand, bending backwards on the garden seat.
“Comet Swift-Tuttle has a very eccentric – oblong – orbit that takes this comet outside the orbit of Pluto when farthest from the sun, and inside the Earth’s orbit when closest to the sun. It orbits the sun in a period of about 133 years. Every time this comet passes through the inner solar system, the sun warms and softens up the ices in the comet, causing it to release fresh comet material into its orbital stream. Comet Swift-Tuttle last reached perihelion – closest point to the sun – in December 1992 and will do so next in July 2126.” From www.earthsky.org
It is so peaceful, so easy to let the mind relax (maybe that’s becaaause the preceding day was a happy one: tasks accomplished, results achieved). Whatever; it feels unusual to be here at this hour – a privilege. Even more so when I begin to see the short-lived trails of the meteors. If ever you’ve scraped a match against the sandpaper in the dark you may have seen an instant trail of light that follows the head of the match on the box. This is the appearance of some of these lights. So fast come and gone I believe I may be imagining them. But several follow in swift succession – and it brings a big smile to my face. I can’t help it. Some draw long fading lines across the sky, a couple curve and one squirms frantically as I watch. It is a kind of magic: these silent night fireworks. No sound reaches my ears (why would it space is a vacuum) and I can think I may be the only human to be watching them.
I’m thinking I should consider doing this again: but – reality creeps in as I open the back door – I need to see how I feel when I get up in the morning.