UD’s prep, pre-hike…
… Shenandoah National Park.
UD photographs a hummingbird clearwing moth…

… on the balcony of Big Meadows Lodge, Shenandoah National Park.

UD’s posts for the last few days.

August 14, 2019


…was like a Hubble shot of Jupiter. Whirling skirling swirling squirreling grays and blues. The cloudy sky that ensued was all wrong for perseids, so we passed on the whole get up at two AM and drive down the hill to Big Meadows (we’re talking Shenandoah National Park here) thing. Talking to a guy who drives here every year from Michigan, UD learned that last night was unusually cloudy, so we’re hopeful at least one of the next three nights will be clear enough for fireballs.

Meanwhile, we hike among the deer and the bear (UD dreamt of bears last night, natch), and gawk at the long mountain/valley/mountain views. Gophers scurry the hallway outside our room.

Big Meadows Lodge is already the land that time forgot, but they’re celebrating their eightieth birthday (UD, tomorrow, in Luray, Virginia, will celebrate her 66th), so here in the main room (only place with internet) they’re piping in nonstop forties swing.


August 15, 2019


The irony was that we were there for the perseids; but sitting on our rickety beach chairs at the Big Meadows clearing last night, the real show turned out to be an absolutely full brilliantly lit moon that insinuated itself as a silver glint among horizonal clouds and then raised itself up to surreality right before our eyes. UD grabbed her binoculars and attempted to make credible the massive and intricately legible orb, its hollows and craters so blatant… When it climbed to higher clouds, they made a golden aura together, the moon now and then blindfolding itself with a black ribbon of atmosphere, and I sat there thinking about my mother who loved the night sky. And of course immediately came the thought that has so often for so long come to UD: We are here to experience the terrestrial wonder that our dead don’t get anymore. We’re doing it for them.

This morning I stood on the lodge’s balcony and watched three gold finches massacre the petals of some purple wildflowers. If butterflies are endangered, there’s no sign of it here. Fern oceans cover acres of woodland floor, and I’m not sure why but it’s very cool when your hike intersects with the Appalachian Trail. Zero-luxuries, zero-prestige Big Meadows Lodge draws an intriguing mix – Mennonites, naturalists, intellectuals, hikers. To my eye, plenty of Paul Fussell’s X’s (scroll down) populate the place, keening over their wildlife books and adjusting the length of their walking sticks. The stolidly downscale Great Room, all dusty wood floors and dusty jigsaw puzzles, buzzes with women in gingham dresses and sweaty kids playing checkers.


August 16, 2019


She’s had a ton of great ones. At a restaurant on the edge of a Santorini cliff; in a cafe by a fast-rolling river in Telluride; at a balcony dining room at the top of a hotel overlooking Mexico City’s zocalo; and, many times, at the Bear Cafe (also alongside a babbling brook) in Woodstock, near our upstate NY house. Last night was another one of the greats – a big, boisterous gathering of family and friends at Moonshadows in Luray, down the hill from Shenandoah National Park. There were glitches galore – an immense detour plus immense thunderstorms on their trip from Washington for a group of late-arriving guests; worries about night vision for a guest who would need to drive the dark winding Skyline Drive back to the lodge… But in the event everything worked out perfectly, and UD felt love for all of these people who had gone to so much trouble for her.

Today the rain has cleared out and we’ve done a ton of hiking. If the sky stays clear, we’ll do another wee hours visit to Big Meadow (as close to a true dark sky as you’re likely to find on the east coast), set out our beach chairs, and look up. UD is so full of gratitude and joy today that she doesn’t care whether she sees any fireballs at all.


August 17, 2019


… and unless you feel like a twisting hour-long drive down the hill and back, it’s the one and only meal alternative to Big Meadow Lodge. Our foursome (Peter Galbraith, first American ambassador to Croatia; Sarah Peck, recently retired Foreign Service officer; Mr UD, and UD) met there and on arrival stared from a silent stony hilltop at a garish orange sun settling into pink clouds. The nature/culture clash was equally garish, with raucous country tap dancing in the bar next to the dining room as we entered Skyland. Fa rumore, as the Italians have it; human beings love to make noise. Indeed after a long day of quiet hiking together, we ourselves really went at it over the meal, yelling about the partisan Supreme Court, the Electoral College, and what to do with ISIS prisoners languishing in camps.

Our group prepares for a final hike before leaving Shenandoah National Park. UD‘s inappropriate backpack, foreground.
‘The Perseid Meteor Shower Is Here, And Might Foretell Humanity’s Extinction’

Party pooper! As ever, Les UDs are headed, tomorrow morning, for Big Meadows, in Shenandoah National Park, where they will lean back in their little blue beach chairs and count fireballs. Check out my Snapshots from Shenandoah category for last year’s trip. I’ll be blogging throughout this one, too, of course.

23 Meteors in One Hour.

So last night wasn’t the peak of the peak; but Les UDs left their Big Meadows Lodge room at 3:18 AM anyway, figuring they’d for sure be the only people at the Big Meadow down the road, which has enormous dark skies. They dressed warmly – mid-August evenings turn out to be cold here, especially when you’re sitting (beach chairs) in the middle of a vast wildflower field.

The short drive over there put UD in mind of the night the lights went out over much of the United States in 2003, and Les UDs drove back from Cooperstown to their houselet in Summit in Total Rural Darkness. And Total Rural Silence, something about the gorgeous witchy world having hushed them.

So here’s a family lying in sleeping bags at the entrance to the meadow – quiet father, mother noting each meteor, and small daughter entirely into the experience. A kid, thrilled to be lying on the cold hard ground in the middle of nowhere … Three other cars stood in the parking lot, meaning people had walked through the meadow to distant viewing points.

“Thought we’d be the only people here,” said UD to the sleeping baggers.

“Oh, we set the alarm for 2:30,” said the father.

Les UDs carried their chairs far enough into the meadow to avoid the lights of passing cars, and let their eyes adjust to … yikes… the starriest vastest dome ever…


Mars, the Milky Way. And meteors diving out of the black lagoon – some mere flakes, which we didn’t count, some white missiles with fireballs, missiles so bright they left stellar contrails. With each big one we whooped and clapped and considered again the bizarre good fortune that first hoisted us up onto Skyline Drive and then settled us down into beach chairs under galactic suns.

Barred owls hooted as the heavens rained.

Islands in the Stream

I’m too excited by my location
to sleep much. The advantage
of this: Not only did I finally,
last night, see a big-ass meteor;
I’m up early enough to see the
valley covered in clouds.

Wow. Pow.

So here’s me.
Sitting under a tree
At three.

And through the tree’s branches came the entire firmament as it is spectacularly to be seen at three AM mid-August in front of Big Meadows Lodge, Shenandoah National Park.

I sat in a chair and watched and in only a few minutes several silver glints swan-dived, and this was fine, this was the whole point of being cold and alone out there in my James Joyce sweatshirt…

Oh but then. Then the sky blazed up with a big meteor! I saw its fireball and was amazed.

As it blazed out I raised my arms and let rip a victory whoop because this after all was the moment of triumph for ol’ UD, who has been trying for years, every August, to see the sky blaze big just like that.

Shenandoah National Park…

… Big Meadows Lodge, has spotty internet, so UD can’t at the moment share the long-view-in-cloud-and-sun picture she just took on her first hike. The mixed weather means thick smoky hills out to the edge of the earth.

The climb up Skyline Drive featured fairy tale woods: Green-gray barks and shaggy canopies visible through gray mist. Sometimes sunlight broke the mist.


I.e., it will be a miracle if any perseids are to be seen tonight. But the world from the Big Meadows balcony rolls out beautifully, and UD is more than happy to make do with that. The air is cool, nature madly green from all the summer rain, and my immediate view of parents piecing animal puzzles together with their children as they wait for the dining room to open extremely pleasant.

UD – a charter member of the Hell is Other People club – finds the subdued company of damp weary hikers more than tolerable.

Faithful readers know of UD’s annual, not terribly successful, perseids outings.

She’s got a little house in nowheresville upstate New York, no lights anywhere, a true dark sky, and she has sat in its front meadow many a chilly August night over the years, looking up at the enormous firmament. (Actually, news flash: UD‘s country house has suddenly gone from a nowheresville location to a destination location! Look what’s moved down the lane. That pond you see if you check out the photos on the website was the work of UD‘s old friend, Wojciech Fangor and… well, you can put Fangor in my search engine if you want that story…) But for all her effort, she’s never experienced a true meteor shower – just occasional shooting stars in the course of a few hours.

This year, Les UDs are going to Shenandoah National Park – two hours from ‘thesda – because it’s apparently the best place for hundreds of miles around to see the perseid meteor shower.

There will be a Night Sky Festival at the park while we’re there. So even if UD is again disappointed this year, she will at least be surrounded by experts telling her precisely what’s up there and why.

Obviously, she will extensively blog this experience.

Latest UD posts at IHE