August 12th is always one of my favorite days of the year. It’s my daughter’s birthday. And, it is night for the annual Perseid meteor shower. Every year, I prepare her meal of choice: (fresh-made pesto on pasta, caprese salad with fresh mozzarella, and sweet corn from a farm stand.) And, after the birthday cake (this year, a Triple Mousse Majesty – all chocolate -- from the Black Dog Bakery in Martha’s Vineyard), we stay awake until the shower starts to pick up steam at about 1 a.m. Since it was her 18th this year, she invited some of her girlfriends to join her on the Vineyard, and we had a real party on a screened-in porch decorated with balloons and lanterns and a full spread on the tables. It was one of the last hurrahs before they all disappeared into their post-high school lives in college or gap years doing interesting things.
The girls headed to a nearby beach to view the celestial show, and my wife and I set up on the second floor veranda of our rental house, which has a huge sky panorama looking north and west. By the time all the festivities were over, and the kitchen cleaned up, it was 11 o’clock.
Let me just say in the all the years that I’ve been sky-watching, this August 12th was about the most perfect night I have ever experienced. The sky was dark except for the stars because of a new moon, and a cold front had moved through overnight Saturday which completely cleared the air. Even with the Northeast megalopolis sitting just to our West, the Milky Way was brilliant and the smallest orbiting satellite was visible sliding across the sky.
I haven’t always had a cigar on shooting star night, but this year, I yearned for a great smoke. I rummaged through my travel humidor, knowing what I was looking for—A Don Carlos Lancero. I lit it up, and poured myself another glass of a 2005 red Burgundy, and laid my head back on the lounger to gaze at the stars. My wife sipped on her own glass of wine, laying back on the deck on a single Aerobed. Given the cool but blessedly light ocean breezes off of the Vineyard Sound, we were bundled up against the midnight chill. The wind was light enough that the aroma of my cigar lingered on the deck.
Within minutes, I knew it was going to be a special night. I began to see on average about three or four meteors every five minutes. They were not just tiny little streaks of light, but ones that you could even see out of the corner of your eye, and still have time to turn your head and see them finish in a blaze of yellow or orange sparks. In other words, for you sky watchers, real meteors, I stayed awake until 1 a.m.; my wife’s steady breathing told me she had fallen asleep about half way through the show. I stopped counting, but I saw at least 50 to 60 good sized meteors, and I came within five seconds of seeing my all-time wish—two simultaneously.
As with most Don Carlos, I smoked the cigar down to knuckle-burning levels. The sweet, earthiness of that blend kept the cigar smoking beautifully right down to the last puff. It lasted well-past midnight, long after the wine in my glass on run out,.
It was a wonderful night. When my daughter got back from the beach, we had just gotten into bed, but she raced into our room and excitedly talked about what a great shooting star she’d seen, “the best one of my life.” Her friends had fallen asleep. But not her.
Another birthday. Another cascade of shooting stars. Another memory. Another cigar.
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