Blood on the moon

Early, very early, this morning, with a aid of a little piece of modern technology called an alarm clock, I rousted my poor tired body from bed to view the total lunar eclipse that the sky offered up.

I have seen a number of eclipses: two solar (one full, one partial), and now two full lunar eclipses. It is not surprising that in other cultures they have been viewed as miraculous and portentious events. And this was the first I have ever seen in absolutely clear skies.

Over the months, I have become fully indoctrinated into country living, rising most of the time with the light and going to bed generally not too long after the dark creeps in. I may sit up and read for awhile, but most often, the total dark is the signal to call it a day. In the winter when nights are rather long, it’s not uncommon for me to get up in the dark, use a flashlight to get downstairs, turn on NPR to see what’s happening elsewhere, and snuggle up in one of the recliners, still in the dark.

It’s been so long since I used my alarm clock that when it went off at 2 a.m. I didn’t at first know what it was. My mind was sorting through a large group of possibilities, most of them involving things like smoke alarms, UPS alarms, and the like. Then I realized it was my little 12-time-zone battery-operated clock. So I got up.

The first time I saw a total lunar eclipse I was living in San Rafael, California, and the event occurred at a much more civilized hour–about 9 p.m. The moon turned blood red and angry. Very little else in the sky was visible–too much ambient light.

My neighbor Kenny tells me he saw a picture of an eclipse in Germany in which the moon turned blue. He tells me it depends on the composition of the atmosphere in the viewing area.

But I didn’t know other colors were possible, so I was expecting and found a red moon. But this moon wasn’t an angry red. It looked sad, if anything, a soft rose that I associate with pensiveness and even mourning.

But when the last bit of white faded, the sky lit up like a Christmas tree. It was one of the more amazing celestial sights I have ever seen, this sad (blue, if you will) rose-colored moon amid stars that were as bright as any I’ve ever seen.

And so many of them. If you live in a city, or even a small town, you may never have really seen the night sky unless you like to go out camping in the mountains or desert. Even then you have to be willing to extinguish all of your camp lights, set up camp far from anyone else, and be patient long enough for your eyes to adapt to the dark. Then you can see the sky, a night sky you’ll never forget.

The dark adaption is important. There is a chemical that floods the back of your eye when it is exposed to white light to reduce the impact of the brightness. When white light is absent, the chemical gradually subsides and you see better and better in the dark. The process can take 10-30 minutes.

But it’s worth the trouble. There’s nothing else that I can think of that gives me a truer picture of my place and relative importance in the universe than a view of an unobstructed night sky with a little learning to understand what I’m really looking at. It’s truly humbling.

I was moved by this sad moon, and I’m glad I got up to see it. I’m not sure how anything watching the mess we are making of our world these days could not be sad. But last night’s moon, like a mourner at a funeral, helped spread the grief. 

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6 Responses to “Blood on the moon”

  1. siffrun bokstaw Says:

    a red moon is a blood orange,
    you´ve pressed juice out it?

  2. Marianne Says:

    Siffrun, I suppose you could say I drank it up. . .

  3. ClapSo Says:

    I saw that eclipse, I wish I could write as great a post as this to describe it! Fortunately, Marianne did it for us. Very nice work.

    The scientifically impossible I do right away
    The spiritually miraculous takes a bit longer

  4. Marianne Says:

    Thanks, ClapSo, now I’m struggling with trying to condense all of this into a poem. It’s much harder than letting myself ramble on and on. . .;^}

  5. jackiesgarden Says:

    What a beautiful post. You said it all – and so eloquently.

  6. OmbudsBen Says:

    Interestingly, given that the last time you saw an eclipse was in the Bay Area, the SF Chronicle just this weekend ran a cover page feature article on Timothy Ferris and stargazing:
    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/09/09/CM5ERLVBE.DTL&hw=San%2BFrancisco%2BState&sn=003&sc=133

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