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Category: moonwatch

lunar pull

there she is, hanging, shining, beaming, i tell you. illuminating, casting shadow. not a reticent bone in her body. she is out there. boldly. no peek-a-boo moon this one.

she’s there now, just sliding down from the nightsky, our nightsky at least. she’s moving on to someone else’s night now. i’m left standing here, jaw-dropped, marveling. moon struck.

the moon, when you watch her, puts on one heckuva show. problem is, we don’t watch her so much anymore. we’re busy. we’re tucked in our houses, under our 100-watt moons. we might be out driving, but it’s the fluorescent beam that keeps us on our side of the yellow line. who, since the owl and the pussycat, thought to steer by the light of the moon?

when’s the last time anyone turned out the lights and watched how the moon shines?

a coupla kooks for the moon show, my man-child and i, we headed out to the horizon’s-edge theatre the other evening. took our seats right there on the beach. waited. the opening act, clouds billowing, streaked with azalea and rich dabs of peach blossom, they warmed us up, got us ready for what was billed as the 5:39 showing of the full worm moon rising, only eclipsed. a once-every-few-years total eclipse, which means that, by the celestial geometry that dictates these things, ol’ mama earth had wedged herself wholly between moon and the sun, and all that we’d see of the moon was the shadow of earth cast on moon’s face.

well, don’t you know, those opening clouds did not get off the stage. they stayed there and blocked the big act. so we sat, and we waited, kept thinking she’d get up, take a bow. but nope, clocks all over the beach (for we weren’t the only ones who’d been drawn to the moon show) ticked toward 5:45 and then, finally, 6. there would be no moon show, not yet anyway.

by the time we drove home, by the time we were nestled back snug in our house, that ol’ wily moon, she appeared. broke through those show-stealing clouds. shone bright as a beacon all through the night, and me and the man-child we kept gawking.

there is, for my money, nothing quite like the nightly moon show. especially the once-every-29.5-days moon show, the full moon show. the one where her whole face is aglow, all lit up, like, well, the moon.

got me to thinking how for so many eons, and in so many civilizations, the moon was the beginning and end–save, maybe, for the sun (which, to my taste, is a tad boring, same old, same old, day after day). but for us, most nights, the moon, it’s barely a blip.

if you check the old farmer’s almanac, a compendium of charm and delight if ever there was one, you would find that each full moon has a name. the one shining right now is, by some accounts, the worm moon, because for the native americans who named her this was when the rains came, and with the rains, came, you guessed it, the worms. thus, the full worm moon.

but that’s not the only name that’s been pinned to the full moon of march. listen to this:

in colonial america, she was the fish moon. the chinese call her the sleepy moon. to the cherokee, she’s the windy moon. the choctaw, sadly, called her the big famine moon. the dakotah sioux, poetic, pragmatic, call her “moon when eyes are sore from bright snow.” the celts, snaring their own bit of poetry, call her moon of winds. and the english medievals, primly, call her chaste moon. hmmm.

once upon a moon, wise people looked into the nightsky for, well, wisdom. for when to plant, and when to set sail for new lands. for when to wage war, and when to harvest their fields. the moon, you remember, has the power to pull oceans in and out like a yo-yo. and somehow it has something to do with the number of kooks who come barreling into emergency rooms and jails and other dark corners of the moon-lit city. remember the term, lunatics. hmmm.

as for the moon shining light on the farmers, how’s this: whole fields were laid out according to the phase of the moon. from new moon to full moon, when each night a new sliver of moon is lit up, you planted your crops that bore fruit above ground, foods that delight in the light. but from full moon to the next new moon, when every night one less crescent is lit, you planted your under-ground foods, the ones that produce in the dark. your radishes, carrots, potatoes, and such.

by the way, you would never plant on a full or a new moon. and no seeds should be scattered on earth during the 48 hours before the full moon, the book says so. perhaps that has something to do with the universe stingily gathering all life-force for the full glow of the moon.

as for those sea captains, they charted the pull of the moon on the tides, decided when to pull in and out of the ports, depending how high or how low the waters, which of course might have meant the difference between scraping the bottom–or not.

it’s spine-chilling to think that as long as there have been bipeds walking this earth, there has been an undeniable pull between mere earthlings and moon. once it was the night’s only bright light. but then, as torch passed to torch, and lightbulb turned on, and now as you fly up above, whole beltways of light light this globe, we seem to care less and less about dear mama moon.

ancient peoples once thought her a big bowl of fire; then, a mirror reflecting the light of the earth. the greeks, smart, figured out she was a sphere orbiting. plutarch, though, thought little people lived on the moon. ptolemy thought moon and sun revolved around earth. copernicus, though, straightened him out. galileo mapped the moon in 1609. neil armstrong slapped his 13-by-6-inch left foot on her moondust, july 20, 1969.

all the while, she’s hung in there, the unflappable light of our night. the bright beam of all of our dreams. undaunted.
sad fact is, she’s slipping away from us, one-and-a-half inches a year.

i don’t know about you, but i’m thinking we turn out more lights, we look to the moon. we bow down and honor the moonbeams. she’s been keeping us out of the dark for as long as there’s been creation.

and that, friends, is worth more than some awe as we stand under the nightsky and whisper our moon incantations.

p.s. for a peek at the mighty fine cloud show, the one that got in the way of the worm moon rising, check out the lazy susan, which, as always, was restocked over the weekend.

p.s.s. dear marlee we’re thinking of you…..

moon walk

“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