Thursday, August 11, 2005

Night has no darkness

The west of Ireland in summer is no place for someone who loves the night sky. It doesn't get dark until almost midnight, by which time I am generally sound asleep. Uncloudy nights are rare. Still, when it is clear, it is very clear and dark. Last night, for example, when I rose in the wee hours for a glass of water, I stepped into the garden to a canopy of ten thousand stars. The Milky Way poured from the zenith into the sea, the Great Rift a doorway to darkness. The Double Cluster in Perseus hung like fruit from the bough of Cassiopeia, and from a nearby radiant an occasional meteor lashed across the sky.

Tomorrow is the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, and with luck we'll have another clear night. In many rural parts of Europe the Perseids are called The Tears of Saint Lawrence, martyr, and yesterday was his feast day. When the Emperor Decius demanded worship of the ancient gods, Lawrence answered: "Whom should I adore, the Creator or the creation?" In reply, Decius had Lawrence whipped with scorpions and roasted on a grill.

I'll settle for the creation, palpably present, awash with stars. What streams from the heavens are not a saint's tears, but bits and pieces of a comet falling like luminous rain onto the Earth.