Tuesday, December 21, 2010

In honor of the eclipse: Moon Madness Strikes

In honor of the eclipse: This column appeared years and years ago in the Ridgefield Press, back when I was a reporter there .


Moon Madness Strikes Reporter

by Mar Walker

Some Ridgfielders had a perfect view of last Sunday's lunar eclipse.

``Did you watch the eclipse?'' I kept asking friends expectantly.

``Too cold.''

``Too late at night.''

``Saw one last year.''

Like many other disinterested parties around town,  I've always figured the stars and the planets could carry on perfectly well without me. And what I had planned for this particular event was to skip the whole thing and stay in bed.

Fortunately I was awake at midnight. On impulse, I put on some shoes and threw a coat over my pajamas. I was curious I guess, and it seems I've been cheating myself all these years. It's like the Grand Canyon was right off the porch and I'd never even looked.

Out the back door I went at a little past midnight. There was a bite out of the full moon already, just a little nibble really. It was a perfect night, utterly clear. The bright moon washed the night sky to medium grey and crisscrossed the yard with shadows. Bare trees swayed in parallel. Black limbs juggled stars in leafless hands like fussy husbands rearranging Christmas lights.

And of course there was music - the brook out back, full from the day's rain, murmured on its way to the Norwalk River. Over the scuttling of leaves and over the wistful sweetness of wind chimes on the back porch, ever so slowly, the round silhouette of Earth stretched over the moon.

As moonlight dimmed, starlight and darkness heightened. I felt cold and alive, shifting weight from one foot to the other, craning my neck like some fat bird in a courtship dance as I stared straight up.

My cat wailed at the backdoor to come out and as I turned, momentarily facing further North, I saw two bright shooting stars, one right after the other. The very long, very bright trails streaked down and I imagined I could hear the sizzle of air as they fell.

A little numb now, I ran into the kitchen and put on water for tea. I wrapped a scarf around my neck and rummaged around for a pair of binoculars. Leaving the tea to steep I went back outside.

What a revelation - with the binoculars I could make out the dark spots on the crescent of moon still showing. I studied a pale smudge to the lower right of the moon and found a cluster of stars. I focused on stars and found where I thought I saw one or two, there were entire flocks of stars drowned out by ambient light.

Alone under such surprising immensity, many thoughts came. About the fear this ancient sky-dance had once inspired. Once, before there were electric lights and television, it must have been a natural thing for men and woman to study the night sky, feeling its beauty, dwarfed by its enormity.

Now we hold nightly vigils before the TV's glitzy banality - consumer culture flashing across an 22 inch screen. What a contrast in pacing and depth when compared to an eclipse.   Our attention span is jaded by 30 second commercials. Our awe is reserved for special effects.

Instead of stepping outside and experiencing nature firsthand, we watch the highlights, rebroadcast to us as we sit on comfortable couches in warm living rooms. I know that I myself am like that. Most people I know are too.

A sudden noise caught my attention as a bright light appeared moving quickly along from the direction of New York. In the binoculars, red and white lights flanked the slender shadow of a jet. As it drew closer, low in the sky, I could see the glow of its engines spewing eerie white smoke, twin rockets in the dark. The sky is amazing and despite our drawbacks, we and our technologies are amazing too.

At one thirty a.m., when the moon had dimmed to a glimmer, and my hands had grown numb holding the metal glasses, I went in and drank my mint tea and rubbed my neck. I found if I lay flat on the floor beneath the kitchen window, body stretched under the table, I could see the moon easily without having to twist my neck. Lying on linoleum, bathed in the emerging moon, I fell asleep.