Watching the Perseids Meteor Shower from a Kayak in Lake Michigan’s Good Harbor Bay


Been meaning to do a nighttime paddle this summer but hadn’t gotten round to it. So last evening, with no wind and the weather people predicting perfect conditions for Perseids Meteor Shower viewing (a thin moon setting early, so a sky as dark as can be), I figured best get on the water.

A couple of calls to friends yielded no partners. One guy was redoing his floor and needed rest. Another phone went unanswered. So ended up as a solo journey. I concede there were moments of inertia as I considered the tying aspect of kayaking, as in tying the boat to a car or trailer. Not a big deal, but just one of those things.

But then I had a bit of marvelous thought. I realized I could just pop open the hatch on the ’96 Saturn wagon and shove the boat in. No ropes. Nothing. Sure, about half the boat stuck out the back, and I had to hang onto it when I was accelerating, but I was only going three miles. Instant and excellent.

I got on the water about 9:45. A half dozen fires burned on the beach in the near-dark. To the east, the stars were already distinct, but to the west, they were just coming on. I paddled out on the soft water, the dark ridge of North Manitou barely visible on the horizon. I was breaking the rule about kayaking alone, and it was dark, so I paddled just far enough off shore to get beyond the little rollers at the sand bar.

I headed down shore, toward the bottom of the bay, eyes stuck to the sky. Let’s be honest. There were hardly any meteors. But the sky was marvelous as what little light there was in the west leaked out, and total darkness allowed the stars to, well, star. The Milky Way was especially handsome, a gauzy ribbon of white arcing grand and confident from the south horizon to the north.

Around 11, meteors started to appear more often. Never a lot—I saw maybe 20 tops—but I saw some great ones. Bright and streaky bullets tearing across the sky, their thin and blurry contrails gone in a nanosecond. Fantastic out on the black water, with the quiet purl of the surf and an occasional laugh from a distant campfire the only sounds. I turned around, aiming for the two remaining fires that burned in the distance at my put-in.

I wasn’t out long—off the water by midnight and wishing I’d stayed out longer. Thunderstorms predicted for tonight.

Why we live. Here.

p.s. I spoke with a guy today who went out about 2 a.m. and he saw hundreds of meteors. Guess it pays to listen to the NASA’s meteor watchers. —Jeff Smith is editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine

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5 thoughts on “Watching the Perseids Meteor Shower from a Kayak in Lake Michigan’s Good Harbor Bay”

  1. I heard one explanation that it is like bugs on the windshield. Early in the evening you are looking out the side window of the earth-car. As the planet turns, and by 3 or 4 in the morning, you are looking out the windshield, and many more meteoric ‘bugs’ go ‘splat’ on the glass of the atmosphere. That was a very nice read, Jeff. I almost developed sea legs reading it. 🙂

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