Last Saturday, a handful of us gathered for the Kroes Observing Weekend, which is an organized event hosted each year by one of our club members. It gives us a great opportunity to observe a dark western sky close to home. I didn’t take advantage of that horizon though (my neglected to-do list included every direction but west) but I still had a mission in mind.
After we arrived and gathered our stuff from the car, we hiked around the barn to get to the viewing area. It didn’t take me long to find him. The eastern horizon there is relatively flat, so it was easy to pick out my old friend Orion, already scraping his knees along the horizon an hour before midnight. I plopped my lawn chair down facing due east and spent the last hour of the day looking for Orionid meteors.
Although you can record meteors at any time for the Astroleague’s Meteor program, it seems to me that it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if there wasn’t a full-blown meteor stream going on. After all, only one meteor out of six during that hour that was not an Orionid.
As I sat there looking in his general direction, it didn’t take long for that old anxiety to return. See, I have a big problem with Orion. Just like the Robins and the Daffodils announce the arrival of spring, in our neck of the woods, Orion’s appearance each fall heralds the beginning of a long, cold Wisconsin winter. I think the trees agree with me too, because once he gets his head and shoulders over the horizon, they immediately drop their leaves and go to sleep. I don’t blame them.
Come mid-winter, Orion hovers over my house like a frozen angel. In the last few weeks of the year, he fits quite nicely within the only open area in the dome of trees that covers our yard. I see him chuckling as I scurry from my frozen car to my frozen front door across my frozen ice-covered driveway. Real funny.
I suppose I could take solace in the knowledge that, in early spring, he’ll quietly disappear below the horizon and all the leaves will return and the ground will warm. But from here, that time looks a long way off. Brrrrr.