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A Meteoric Rise

December 16, 2009

About a dozen years ago, give or take a year or two, a friend called me and asked if I’d like to go camping.  Now camping isn’t one of my favorite things to do, I’m prone to what I’ve come to call the “Wet Bag Syndrome”.  I might be camping someplace where it hasn’t rained for weeks yet, for some reason, my sleeping bag is always wet.  And wet, when camping, means miserable.  But upon hearing this invitation I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I immediately said yes.

The reason being that the invitation came from my friend, Chaz, who was, at the time living in Moab, Utah and working as the botanist for all the National Parks in the area including Arches and Canyonlands.  I knew this would be an extraordinary experience.

We ended up in Canyonlands–in a part of the where no tourist is allowed and Park personal rarely goes.  We had it to ourselves.

We climbed down into the canyon and hiked for miles, getting deeper and deeper into it, finally stopping to set up camp by a large, low, flat rock.  This would be our base for the next few days.  Days we filled by exploring side canyons, finding the skulls of long dead wild animals and searching out the pictographs of ancient tribes that had long since disappeared.  These were exactly the extraordinary experiences I was expecting but the thing I’ll never forget, the thing that will go with me to my grave, is how we spent our nights.

Each night, after dinner, we’d all get up on that flat rock–still warm from the sun’s heat that it had absorbed–and lie on our backs, heads together, and look up into the night sky.  Being so far out from Moab there was no light pollution, yet I remember never needing to turn on my flashlight, the light from above being so bright.  The night sky became our canvas.  Chaz told us where and how to identify the constellations and I’d dig into the ancient past and tell the myths associated with each of them.

…then it would start.  First one…then another.  Shooting star after shooting star.  And these weren’t the tiny golden smudges we see in the skies over our cities like here in New York.  These were huge with long flowing tails trailing behind.  A golden shower of sparkles.  It reminded me of when I was a kid and would light one of those sparklers and a moment after it would catch–flaring up with a whoosh–I’d toss it up into the night sky and watch as it came back to earth.

Watching shooting stars in the night skies above Canyonlands is something I’ll never forget.

A wonderful memory, but I never feared it would become more than that.  Not an obsession. Never that.  Not like what happened to Harvey Nininger that night in November 1923 when he stood on the corner of Euclid and Maxwell Streets in McPherson, Kansas and saw a piece of the sky falling to the earth and became obsessed with meteors and meteorites.  The story of Harvey Nininger and so many other collectors and dreamers and so much more is in Chris Cokinos’s book The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars.

Chris Cokinos

Tonight (Thursday, 12/17 at 7 pm on 91.5 fm or streaming on I interviewed Christopher Cokinos, author of The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars. Click here to reach The International Meteorite Collectors Association (IMCA Inc.).  If you heard the interview this is the organization Chris referred to tonight.

Click here for a link to that interview so you can listen to it in full.

In the meantime why not visit my Holiday Decorations blog.  It’s loads of fun.


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