—the name has always conjured images of shimmering gods and goddesses, grotesque beasts and folklore so finely textured it could be a tapestry woven by the queen of spiders herself, Arachnid.
Whenever I have witnessed the flashes of meteors incinerating in the darkness, I’m reminded of a time long gone. Humans have beheld the glowing embers cast off the comet’s tail for at least 2000 years—long enough to weave fantastical tales and personify celestial objects into an all-star cast of glorious beings—the many sons of Perseus.
As a child, I always imagined a giant tomb of ash somewhere, an urn collecting the countless dying descendants of a hero of (literally) mythic proportions, with Cassiopeia, Andromeda and other immortalized mortals observing from their heavenly posts.
Growing up in the desert allowed me to the opportunity to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower on numerous occasions, and although tonight’s display is expected to be a particularly brilliant display—this year we have a good moon for viewing—I must admit my interest in all things celestial has waned in recent years.
It all started when Mars was closer to Earth than it has been in nearly 60,000 years and I made the trek to the Griffith Observatory, only to find a parking nightmare that seemed to last 60,000 hours, a viewing platform crowded with miscreants clutching beer cans and boom boxes (yes, they still had those a decade ago) and when I finally braved the soniferous throngs to reach a telescope, I was greeted with a tiny bright dot.
That’s it? I couldn’t help thinking that at the time.
On the drive home, I pondered the many magical moments spent with my science-loving father who’d describe in detail the various constellations and the fictitious characters of ancient folklore that were still illuminated for me to see after all this time.
It blew my little mind as I attempted to wrap it around the fact that I was looking at the same arrangement of glowing orbs that Homer did—and that even as a 9-year-old girl I knew infinitely more about what made them shimmer, though I doubt that my extra knowledge made them more enjoyable for me than for pre-industrial people.
Although I never lost an affinity for all things cosmic, the Mars experience was like the death of magic for me. I wondered; was I doomed to an ordinary existence deprived of wonder?
But, as I made some calls for an informative, fact-based article that never happened, the magic of the dark wonder of the sky took over, of wanting to see evidence that things still exist beyond the scientific realm, things we will never understand, that we can only imagine.
The life of , son of Zeus and mortal Danae, doesn’t seem so far-fetched when one spends time in the place where myths are born—the universe of the mind.
Gods and goddesses are glorious not in their superhuman powers but in their proclivity to be super human, to represent the best and worst of humankind and stand as a symbol of that we aspire to be, and all that we are ashamed to admit we are.
And so the ancients ascribed mortal names to seemingly infinite celestial bodies in an effort to immortalize mankind. Gliding on the coattails of a comet is one way to go down in history while preserved in our most beautiful forms. We aspire to be our own creation and like Icarus with wings crafted from wax, our pursuit often leads us too close to the sun.
That’s why it’s nice to kick back and enjoy the view when it comes to us, fleeting though it may be. And while the Perseid Meteor Shower will come around next year, there’s no time like now.
And as my family and I sip cups of cocoa while we wrap ourselves in blankets in the mountains, or share telescopes with the hundreds of astronomy enthusiasts at Mt. Pinos, or stretch out on a blanket together in the Mohave desert, wherever we end up watching, we’ll be together, seeing the same sights as Homer and Plato and Hypatia.
That’s what I hope to convey to my 4-year-old—in his electro-saturated world of techno-gimmickry and glowing LEDs—the same sense of wonder I experienced as a child, just like ancients as they sat by candlelight and were awed by the spectacle unfolding above them—that’s it.