“hey mom, something’s wrong. the sky is green. no, it’s orange. i have a idea. the sun is probably getting ready to come up.”
this, at half past eight on a night when, as always, the orange glow from the city lights oozes across our evening sky, blurring the edges of day and night, urban and beyond.
and so we set out, me and the boy with the tethoscope. or so he called it. actually he had emerged from the basement with the purple plastic spy binoculars, the better to lead the way. so we trudged, he and i, through the great arctic alleys, past the abominable snow shoveler, down the ice floe of a sidewalk.
“be careful,” he warned, my 5-year-old admiral byrd. “there’s ice underneath the snow. hold my hand,” he insisted, the boy with one hand still on the binoculars, peering ahead into the molasses-thick murk of the night.
“mom, why are you walking so fast,” he asked when my toes got so cold i was scrunching them under, shuffling a little more swiftly than when we’d set out, me and my arctic explorer.
we looked up, the orange glow and the snow clouds stretching a sky screen far as we could see on all sides, blocking the moon, most of the stars. we managed to pick out the north star. groped through the heavens, intent on finding the february trifecta: saturn, the ringed one; venus, the evening star; and mars, the angry planet, i tried to explain.
“why is it mad,” he asked, and i didn’t have much of an answer. maybe because it can’t find the moon either. “mars has a mad face,” he told me, making one. “earth has a gloomy face,” he added. why, i wondered out loud. “because we’re using up all the energy. and the sun is getting too close to it, so the moon is trying to get close to the sun so we don’t all fall asleep and never wake up again.”
hmm. not bad for a sky novice.
we are beginners at this, me and the boy with the purple binoculars. i know a kindergarten where the children keep a chart of the moon. the moon journal, they call it. i swooned when i heard the idea. love the notion of a child connecting the dots up above, of a child figuring how to add and subtract with crescents and quarters of the man in the moon.
of a child learning to marvel.
of a child learning how little he is.
learning to read the heavens seems like a very smart thing for a boy who is struggling to learn u, v and j. those scribblings on paper, they don’t seem to stir his sweet little soul, not yet anyway. so maybe the sparkling on high is the way to go, to entice, to engage, to draw him into the learning.
with our fingertips frozen, the tethoscope threatening to stick to his nose, we bid good night to the sky, dashed back in the house.
thawing, i grabbed for the newspaper, spread out the page that might be one of the best in the bunch: the one with the maps, and the charts and the moon. the only place in the news that reliably reports on the heavens.
look here, i showed him. here’s today and here is the moon. and then i learned something. ohhh, i began, making my mouth like a moon. the moon doesn’t rise ‘til minutes to midnight, i found out, i informed. the news, not good news at all, landed with a thud for the boy who’d set out to lock his lens on the moon.
i promised, as i tucked him in bed, i’d get the moon just for him. and so, like a card-carrying lunatic, i crawled from my bed at 2:43, crept down the stairs, walked into the arctic cold night, me and my red-plaid pajammies. i aimed and i grabbed, i got the moon, all right. but what i got was all black and blur.
undaunted, moonstruck maybe, i went back just before dawn, when the blue of the heavens is first being stirred into the black of before. there was no missing this moon, hanging up there in the limbs of the linden. there is his moon. there is your moon, too. the one shining way up above. one half of the snow moon, on its way toward the worm moon of march.
next moon walk, i teach the moon boy how the moons got their names. i’m pretty sure he’ll howl at all that.
for a heavenly guide to learning the sky, check out http://skytonight.com/observing/ataglance