Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Perseid Adventure

<>On August 11 Naomi Machado, who teaches English to foreign students at Borough of Manhattan Community College, and I, your diligent website reporter, arrived at Cedar Hill at just about the same time -- a little after four in the morning. But why call it morning? It was dark as night as we entered the park, as dark as it ever gets in New York City. That was the perfect level of light for achieving the goal that had gotten us up at that ungodly hour: to see the spectacular array of shooting stars known as the Perseids.

Two amiable amateur astronomers,[sorry about the alliteration but that's the perfect word for them] Tom Clabough and Charlie Ridgeway, had preceeded us at the little slope just south of the Metropolitan Museum of Art by more than an hour. They had both seen some meteors shortly after they arrived, including one flaming orange streak--a fireball. But by the time we made our way to our meeting place halfway up the hill, right in front of the five tall cedars for which the hill is named, the weather had changed. Remember those cedars --they'll be important later.

At 4 am there was a light cloud cover over most of the sky. According to the star guys the clouds had been increasing for almost an hour. Yet this unfortunate circumstance had not kept me or Naomi from coming. In fact, neither of us had even noticed the clouds. Like sleepwalkers [which we practically were] we woke to our various alarm clocks and headed for our various subways without paying attention to what was above us.

More knowledgeable types like Brad Klein, a Central Parknature enthusiast, were more aware of the implications of a cloud cover. He understood the simple equation: Clouds in sky equals cancellation of star show. Brad, who is an Executive Producer for Acoustiguide had been planning to join us at 4:00 with his wife Danielle. Instead he sent me an e-mail a few hours later explaining his absence at Cedar Hill that morning. It was in the form of a little playlet that was acted out just as Naomi and I were making our way to the park:

The Brad & Danielle mini-drama

"It looks kind of overcast from here", said Danielle, barely lifting her head from the fine 100% Egyptian cotton pillow case.

"Umm", answered her loutish husband, and rolled over. Danielle, while contemplating the weave of the extraordinarily fine sheets, deftly flipped her husband to the floor with a deft jujitsu motion of her leg. "Be a dear," she said, "and run out and check the cloud cover".

A moment later, after a few short keystrokes on the cell phone, he was back under the really remarkably comfortable linens, and fast asleep

In fact, the cloud cover was not complete. Dark areas among the clouds revealed patches of sky. It was just moving too slowly. The clouds [mackeral clouds, Charlie called them since they took on the look of multiple fish scales] were moving across the sky from south to north, leaving perfectly clear sky behind them.The constellation Perseus, however, where the meteor shower was to be seen, was well in the north part of the sky by the time we arrived. When the clouds finally moved along to uncover what would have been Perseus and the fiery meteors therein, it was 6 a.m, three minutes before sunrise. By then there was too much light to see any heavenly objects at all.

So we didn't see any meteors at allthat day, not the hundreds that had been predicted. Not a single one. Meteors, it turned out, were not to be the major thrill of that morning's experience. But thrills there were nevertheless.

[To be continued]