Monday, January 28, 2008


She keeps her promise to wake us before first light. Drowsy children drag their blankets and pillows downstairs; the dog, curled up and warm in his bed, moves like a sloth’s disciple, groaning as he rises.

Outside in the crisp November air she snaps a sleeping bag open on the driveway. How clear it is and how many stars!

Not until a lone white streak leaps out of black space do they realize they’ve been awakened for a meteor shower. Heads swivel north then south in anticipation of the next display—talk ceases altogether with a sudden blossoming of streaming flares. Delight grows as each tries to guess from which part of the sky the next silent explosion will come.

The dust of comet Tempel-Tuttle burning as it hits the atmosphere comes not from any recent appearance but from a pass it made in 1766, returning every 33 years. Each November the Earth spins through the comet’s slowly scattering trail in a spectacle known as the Leonids, named for the constellation of Leo the Lion, the apparent source of its wanderings.

Imagine as it sailed by the earth in that year, the guillotine’s confidante, Robespierre, was only a boy of eight and even Beethoven would not be born for yet another four years. What enormous distances this comet has traveled since it fell into our solar system from its infinite balcony!

After an hour, with the cold of the driveway having seeped into their sleepy bodies, the children return to their beds, their mother following.
Unwilling to let the Leonids go, I take to the neighborhood streets with our dog. Staring upwards, I stumble all over my feet until sunrise. As we walk along I wonder as it passed in 1766, how many American colonists would have dreamed they’d be declaring their freedom from England in just ten years.

the Leonids
here, there ...
pluming breaths

by Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia
Autumn 2003

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