Wish Upon A Star

The gentle snoring of my husband creates little eddies of sound in the otherwise motionless air. There are no other sounds. The sultry night air feels heavy on my skin. Like a warm embrace from a lover. I feel sheltered and protected. Nothing stirs.

I drift in and out of sleep. Occasionally I pop my head out from under the mosquito net, and gaze at the night sky that lies towards the north. Astronomers made promises of a possible ‘never-seen-before meteor shower called Camelopardalis’ to appear in the northern sky somewhere between 3am and 5am UAE time.

No real stargazer myself, unless gazing up at the stars in wonder and amazement, qualify myself as one, I have heard of Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper, and Little Dipper before, but never of the dim constellation called Camelopardalis. Also known as The Giraffe, it is said to keep these constellations company. It is here that astronomers are expecting a brief meteor storm of about an hour or two. Not the fast streakers, mind you, of some meteor showers, but ones that are expected to ‘glide through the air, in a stately motion’ as the debris of comet 209P/LINEAR, discovered in 2004, is expected to plough through the atmosphere at only 19.4 kilometres per hour.

As the night progresses, and I lose track of time, my sleep-blurred vision distorts the night sky and my perception of reality. Swirls of light form a kaleidoscope of patterns as my focus waxes and wanes. I feel disappointed when none of these psychedelic patterns resemble blazing bits of light gliding through the air, even though hundreds of shooting stars were promised by the media. In my mind I imagined the ultimate cosmic fireworks display. A dance of light trails filling the night sky and my soul with awe and wonder. We are, after all, supposed to be made of star dust.

A rustle of sorts invade my jumbled train of thought, as grains of sand are displaced in the dark. Perhaps I am only imagining it, but there is a sense of movement and mystery that ripple through the immobile air. It is almost audible as it hovers at the edges of my sleep-heavy consciousness. While chaos and traffic jams clutter the desert at the Bab al Shams Resort outside Dubai, where stargazers like me, with romantic notions in their hearts, gathered in numbers greater than organisers expected, I listen to the slow, deep breaths of the desert. Unsullied by human voices and humming engines.

As the early morning hours of May 24 retreat back into time, my body stirs. I reach for my shoes and camera, release myself into the expansive embrace of the desert, and inhale the sweet, still air of dawn.

Like bold brushstrokes of black ink on a white page, the stories of the night are etched in the shifting sands. I follow them with my eyes and lens. They tease me, and lead me deeper into the quiet ochre of the dunes. Life has retreated. Hiding from the fierce heat that will follow in the wake of the rising sun, the little creatures of the night have left behind fleeting snapshots of their existence.

I later read that comet 209P/LINEAR has been ‘swinging between the orbits of Earth and Jupiter for centuries’, leaving behind trails of cosmic dust. It is when Earth passes through these bits of dirt and grit that the sky is filled with a symphony of shooting stars. Unfortunately, these trails have never before lined up with Earth’s orbit, but the whole media hype this year was the result of astronomers predicting that it may just happen for the first time. What they didn’t know though, was if the comet shed any dust during the 18th, 19th, and early part of the 20th century. If not, the night skies would be silent. A cosmic riddle, fraught with hope, that enticed many to seek wild, open spaces for the possibility of wonder.

Sadly, there were no stars to wish upon. Only a solitary walk in the desert, as the sun coloured the sky and the sand in shades of orange. The equivalent of a wish made long ago, come true.

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If, like me, you are fascinated by the footprints of the creatures of the desert, you can find more pictures taken on previous occasions, in the Gallery Section.