“Look up – look way up…” If you’re of a certain age, you remember that admonition each weekday morning from The Friendly Giant. He’s moved on, but in Grey County, you have every reason to keep looking up, way up. My neighbourhood (in the larger sense) is one of the best places on earth to watch and wonder at what unfolds in the night sky, or really, any sky, any time of day. But let’s start in the dark.
Just north of us, on the famous Bruce Peninsula, is an officially designated “dark sky community”. A place so devoid of artificial light, it is deemed not only acceptable but preferred when the heavens beckon your sense of wonder. That dark sky area is about a 90 minute drive from my home in Owen Sound. Because of that proximity and by chance the direction in which it lies, north, I only need to slip just a few minutes out of town to find a comfortable approximation that is, in the night. Inky black, studded with diamonds, filled with fireworks or shimmering with the blues and greens only Mother Nature or God can create, the Northern Lights.
Location: Big Bay, ON
I suspect not many who live here, let alone visit, understand how easy it is to get out to where the night is devoid of streetlights, headlights, advertising signs and all the rest that help us navigate an urban night. Some call this “light pollution”, but I suppose there are arguments on both sides.
North of Owen Sound there only the widening Owen Sound bay, and beyond that, the empty expanse of Georgian Bay, large enough to be another Great Lake! North of Owen Sound, there is only blackness, as rich and fertile and full of possibilities as the black dirt of an Iowa cornfield. This is where the sky opens up for me.
I discovered this one year as the Perseid Meteor Shower approached. Astronomical experts promised a light show, and I bit. I went out around midnight to my dark sky spot with nothing but watery blackness stretched before me, and let the wonders of it explode in front of me.
Location: Leith, ON
You see, the Perseids, in late July and early August, is the most active meteor shower of the year, with a potential of up to 200 meteors’ per hour. They originate in a constellation that, from where I perch, makes them appear to be coming out of the northeastern sky, out there where there is nothing but dark, dark, dark Georgian Bay.
Little sparks, giant streaks, the wonders of nature, maybe of a God depending on your philosophies, it’s all just there, unique and beautiful. The Perseids is an overnight delight your memory will capture and hold in a way no camera ever will. Its magic showers the sky every summer over Grey County, as do the Leonids in November and a few others throughout the year. This makes the positioning of Owen Sound uniquely advantageous, there’s nothing out there!
Of course, right here inside our own atmosphere, that velvety blackness to the north of me is also the grand stage for “sturm und drang”, “donder and blitzen” – OK, thunder and lightning! Thunderstorms come rolling in across Lake Huron, almost always from the northwest and southwest, and the best of them cross the Bruce Peninsula to the north.
Location: Leith, ON
Instead of a lawn chair, I wait in my car and let the light show rock my senses. I cannot conceive doing this in many other places in southern Ontario. I have only experienced the same blackness out on the Prairies of Canada and the Great Plains of the United States. The blackness is that deep and the sky that large over Georgian Bay, the lightning is just etched on that canvas that much more clearly.
That’s my Grey County, or rather the sky above. An American patriotic song has the phrase that fits it best: “for spacious skies”. It’s the mantle above us in beautiful Grey County!
Photo Credit: All photos were taken by Wil McReynolds, Grey Bruce Explorer