Friday, August 14, 2015

Perseid Reflections

Friday, August 14, 2015
We all have times in our lives when stress seems omnipresent or perhaps when a series of events or some turmoil sends us into a period of sadness or even depression. Some of us just wait for these feelings to pass. Others take to exercise, yoga, meditation, reading, music, travel, therapy, or even drugs or alcohol. Not all of these solutions will work for everyone—some might not even be classified as "solutions."

Portrait of the blogger as a young man in New York City. ©Dimitry Schidlovsky.

I've suffered as a restless sleeper most of my life. It's a rare night when I don't wake up from some dream or nightmare. Some nights I can go right back to sleep after waking. And other times there's no use even trying. I'm up and waiting for the dawn. About 20 years ago I went through a sleep clinic at a university hospital and was diagnosed as someone who suffered from night terrors. I was, at the very least, taking my daily stress and anxiety to bed with me, and that was causing my restless sleep patterns. I was given two options for treatment: sleeping pills or psychotherapy. I took the pills for a while, then quit. They knocked me out, sure enough, but I felt groggy, not rested, when I awoke. I changed a lot of other things in my lifestyle: gave up afternoon coffee and all carbonated sodas. No more watching "Rambo"-style action movies late at night. No late-night exercise. No late-night snacks. No chocolate. Basically I was removing all of the stimuli that might be contributing to my restless sleep. That helped for a long time.

Lately I've been back in that "Sleep, Interrupted" mode, which is dismaying and frustrating. I go to sleep just fine then have a jolt awake every hour or three all night long. Then, along about 4 a.m. or so my brain decides it wants to start the day, and it drags my body along with it. I start thinking about the day ahead, what I've left undone from yesterday, bills I have to pay, worries about this and that—perhaps this sounds familiar to some of you. For me, there's no fighting it. May as well engage.

But last night was different. Oh, I still awoke at 4 a.m. shaking off some kind of anxiety dream (I can never remember them clearly). But this time my brain gave me a gift. It said "Perseids!"
Persied meteor shower. ©NASA
The Perseid meteor shower is a favorite aspect of the late summer natural history calendar. Caused by the the Earth's atmosphere passing through the cosmic dust particles left in the trail of Comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseids are a concentrated shower of meteoric activity usually occurring in late July through mid-August. The dust particles from Swift-Tuttle's trail enter the Earth's atmosphere and burn up, appearing as bright streaks of light zooming across the night sky. The 2015 Perseids got the astronomy community all fired up because they coincide with a new moon (meaning a naturally dark sky) and clear, cool weather. In other words, perfect conditions for watching the Perseids.

I shuffled out of the sliding door from my bedroom to the back patio and settled in for some meteor spotting. Instantly there was one, then two more, then another, but bigger, brighter. I thought about all the other people who might be watching this same sky right now. We are connected in this night watch.

I thought about the Native Americans who may have watched the Perseids from this very piece of land a few hundred years ago, before this was Ohio. I thought of the ancient peoples watching the meteor showers and wondered what they made of them. Good omens from the gods? My mind kept up its random traversing of time and topic. Did the migrating birds flying overhead at night see the Perseids? Surely they must...

I was lost in thought when the screech-owl started its soft tremolo. It made me feel better. Somehow more centered. And the stresses and worries of the day ahead receded. The vast inky black sky bejeweled with stars, planets, and meteors lent me a more rational perspective. I felt my breathing getting slower, deeper. I was drifting in the peaceful middle of a beautiful moment. I stayed in it as long as I could.

Nature has always been my go-to remedy for tough times. It's always available. It's free. It leads by example. It asks for nothing in return. I can't imagine, nor do I wish to, where I'd be without it.

Sleep well, my friends.