My parents live in Minnesota. They spend as much time as possible at their cabin on a remote lake. It's a staggeringly beautiful place. The water is like a mirror. Loons call out to warn each other about the bald eagles circling overhead. And the nights are warm in the summer, which is magic to a Californian. Of which I am now one.
We were all there at that cabin on August 12, the second night of the Perseid meteor shower. We gathered on the dock, in the dark, and watched the sky.
We saw meteors. Little streaks, and big ones. And it was wonderful. The lake was so still that you could see them just as easily looking down, off the edge of the dock. It was vertigo-inducing.
There's nothing about looking at a clear night sky that I don't love, but perhaps my favorite thing is seeing manmade satellites. They're dim, and tiny, and hard to spot. But when you see one, you're simultaneously looking at both the inspiration and the aspiration. We looked up, we got curious, and then we went. And now we're responsible for one of those points of light.
That night, at the exact same moment, my mother and I both spotted a tiny, dim dot, racing across the sky directly overhead. It pulsed in brightness on a long sine wave—presumably, we mused, because it was spinning, alternately reflecting less and more of the sun's rays as it rotated.
It pulsed dark. And then it brightened up.
And it kept getting brighter.
It got so bright that it felt like a pure white laser. Brighter than the brightest star by a hundred times. We couldn't believe our eyes.
And then it dimmed again, and raced on its way, resuming its pulse from near-invisible to faintly glowing.
It was a bizarre accident of light—a stroke of dumb luck, of angles of incidence and being in the right place at the right time.
It was awesome, and fleeting. And the only reason we saw it at all, is that we were looking.