Catch A Falling Star

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to see a falling star. They were supposed to bring good luck. I grew up in Chicago which had so many bright lights, you were lucky to see the moon, much less a star. Every once in a while, on a camping trip, a friend would yell, “Did you see that? A falling star.” But by the time I looked up, it had vanished.

Then I heard about meteor showers. These are caused by the earth passing through the debris field left behind by passing comets and asteroids. As these space rocks enter earth’s atmosphere, they burn up, creating “falling stars.” The ancient astrologers and shamans believed meteor showers were harbingers of misfortune—earthquakes, hurricanes, and such. Today’s spiritual leaders are more enlightened. They tell us these disasters are caused by gay marriage.

I figured my best chance of seeing a falling star would be during a meteor shower. There are several major ones that occur on the same dates every year. The biggest one is called the Perseid meteor shower. It is named after the constellation Perseus, because that is where the meteors appear to originate. I have no idea who Perseus was, much less what his constellation looks like. But that doesn’t really matter, because it occurs on August 12th. That’s the middle of the rainy season here in Ajijic. So that one was a wash.

The next biggest one occurs November 17th, well after the rainy season. It is called the Leonid meteor shower because it emanates from the constellation Leo. At least I’d heard of that one. I had a college roommate who was a classic Leo. He was smart, highly motivated, and a natural leader. He was a mechanical engineer. Whenever he visited our house, he would tune up my mother’s car. And he was always willing to take on any home-improvement projects she dreamt up. My brother described him as the son our mother always wanted but never had. But then, I digress. Despite all the desirable traits of the sign Leo, its meteor shower didn’t make the grade. It peaks during the wee hours of the morning, well before dawn. I don’t “do” early.

Then, I read that the Geminid meteor shower would occur December 14th. It appears to emanate from the constellation Gemini—the twins. Gemini’s twin stars are named Castor and Pollux. I can never remember which one is which—a common problem with twins. The good thing is that this meteor shower would peak between 10:00 p.m. and midnight. I could finish watching “Columbo,” and be back in time for “Game of Thrones.”

Watching a meteor shower requires planning. I’m a planner by nature. No task is so small that it doesn’t benefit from planning. Take, for instance, hanging a picture. My wife is an artist, so this comes up from time to time. I start by preparing a checklist and acquiring the necessary items. This will involve at least three trips to the hardware store and one order from Amazon. In this case, I was patiently awaiting the delivery of a genuine Hang-O-Matic All-In-One picture hanging and leveling tool (accept no substitutes). Meanwhile, the gardener came and my wife had him hang the damn picture. Using nothing but a pair of pliers, he pulled an unused nail from another wall and tapped it into the desired location. Voilà! 

Over the years, I’ve learned one of the benefits of being an obsessive planner is that, often, somebody who is less meticulous (probably a Leo) will come along and do the job. Voilà!

But a meteor shower requires a whole new level of planning. We’re talking interstellar space travel. The difference between a meteor shower and hanging a picture was—astronomical. And so, I started preparing my checklist. I eventually got it down to three type-written, single-spaced pages. But then, my wife pointed out that I wasn’t building the Hubble Space Telescope. All I really needed was a folding aluminum beach chair. That way I could lie back and watch the sky for a couple of hours without getting a stiff neck.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one. This was December, after all. Walmart’s aisles were full of Christmas lights and boughs of holly, no beach chairs. So I had to settle for a reclining chaise lounge I found at a patio furniture shop. Although the seat was canvas, the steel frame did not fold. It was clearly not intended for a day at the beach. It was delivered to my house by two piano movers.

And so along came the big day. I balanced that chaise lounge on my shoulder as best I could, and clambered up the narrow iron stairway that leads to our roof. It was like wrestling a hang glider up a fire escape.

Once I got settled in, I spent the first ten minutes allowing my eyes to adjust to the darkness. As starting time approached, I was anticipating something akin to the London blitz. But the meteor shower turned out to be more of a dripping faucet. During my two-hour vigil, I saw four falling stars . . . five if you count the red flashing one that came from the direction of the airport. Amidst all this excitement, I fell fast asleep.

I awoke to the sound of an explosion that was quickly followed by another one. At first, I thought I was at ground zero of falling meteorites. It turned out to be the neighbor’s kids setting off skyrockets. By then, I figured the meteor drip was pretty much over. Besides, I’d already accrued four stars’ worth of good luck. So I decided to call it a night.

By the way, that cumbersome chaise lounge is still up on the roof. Don’t worry. I’ve already developed a plan to safely get it down. But Amazon tells me that my rock—climbing harness is on back order. Oh well, maybe if I wait long enough, a Leo will come to visit.

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Larry Kolczak
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