I got back late at night from visiting a friend Sunday evening. I stepped out of my car and glanced up at the sky and froze, head cocked back and eyes wide and wondering. I haven't seen a starry night like this in many years, especially not in summer when the atmosphere in these parts is often thick with haze. In this land of unshielded lights, the the Milky Way is seldom seen in its true glory, but last night what the Bushmen call "the wood ash stars" were so clear it was as if they had been pricked in black velvet and held to the light. I saw half a dozen of the Perseids streak across the sky, one of these so bright when I closed my eyes I could still see the track of its passage. Jupiter in the Southwest was the pearly color of oyster shell. I thought I could pluck each string of Lyra and feel the great wing beats of Cygnus bearing its cross along the edge of the Galaxy where the stars seem to cluster.
One of the great gifts of my years in Africa where season after season of dark skies, with nothing but a campfire below to mar my night vision. I saw planets in close conjunction and a comet spitting blue fire at the horizon. I learned the names of unfamiliar stars and constellations in those southern skies, and to recognized those from the north in their inverted form. Nights that clear and dark are as rare in this latitude as rural electricity was back then in Namibia, though sometimes in winter when the frost adheres to my whiskers with every breath I see something of that remembered glory. The Milky Way, though, is never better than when it bisected the heavens in summer, a celestial charm bracelet dangling crowns and the wings of eagles.
The fireflies of June are gone from the field beyond the garden fence, and already those migrants with the greatest journeys ahead feel the pull of the season and turn toward the south. If I get another of these nights in mid-month, and fine a clear horizon to the west beyond the Taconics that hide the sinking sun, there will be five naked eye planets sharing the same sky. I will remember a dog watch in the Gulf of Maine with meteors of every hue so dazzling that they called to mind the great Aurora, and tales told of Asgard and dragon ships far from land. If I am very lucky, I will have two more pairs of eyes and two small hands in mine for company as we watch the curtain rise and the wheeling dance of the night sky.