08/13/2012 01:41 pm ET Updated Oct 13, 2012

Perseid in the Suburbs

If my brothers had been there, we might have been able to learn more about the physics of the whole thing. Why some of the meteors seems to move more quickly than others, for example, or what made some seem to streak across the sky while others seemed to just flash and burn out.

But it was just me and my daughter, and what I could offer by way of historical insight on the Perseid phenomenon was really just whatever I could pull up on Google.

Well, that, and my memories of watching similar August night skies from my mountain perch at Camp O'Ongo, where we marveled at the shooting stars right before we were sent back to our cabins, one by one, down a dark lane lined with older campers trying to scare the hell out of us.

There was no Scare Walk for our meteor viewing this August, just sleeping bags and the slice of sky, between the trees and the roof-line, visible from our back deck. We knew the sky would be darker if we would just drive away from Seattle's reflected light, but we trusted we'd see something...

I admit I was eager to share that sense of wonder people so often report feeling in the face of nature's displays; feeling insignificant in the face of evidence of something so much larger than one's own tiny life... you know, in the scheme of things and all.

It got off to a slow start.

Sure, there were some distant streaks in the sky here and there, but we were more mystified by the number of airplanes that still crisscrossed above us that late at night!

We'd gasp when we'd catch a silver streak seeming to land on our roof, but we also repeatedly sang "The Final Countdown," reflecting on the previous night's outdoor '80s concert and debating the relative merits of popular music of our two generations.

Our neighbors took out recycling and walked dogs well into our viewing, which were themselves impressive phenomena, given the hour -- and still we sat, chatting about my daughter's day out on the lake and only occasionally pointing at the sky.

This suburban version of interaction with nature, I'll admit, inspired less of the wonder I remember feeling during those summers in the San Bernardino mountains, and the reminders of life going on around us might have reduced the universe to merely a backdrop for the more mundane events of our lives.

But as my exhausted daughter curled her sleeping-bagged body over to me, resting her head on my shoulder, I was glad we were home alone together. She slept and I watched the stars blaze by, feeling a different sort of wonder at being so very tiny, yes -- but significant, too.