Confrontation with the Moon

Full Moon732X520This morning, as the crescent moon sailed up the sky from the east, it pulled bright Venus and Saturn in its wake.  All three climbed, in straight-line order, through the bare-branch ladder of my neighbor’s front lawn tree, winking on and off as they advanced past each twiggy rung. Earlier, when I first rose, Jupiter shone through my bedroom skylight, with the tiny ruby of Mars in tow.

January 6 AM

Four planets and the moon in formation, marching up the January sky. The website EarthSky says that Mercury is there as well, just above the eastern horizon, but the structures of civilization block my view. I expect the brightening sky will make this planet invisible by the time it rises above the housetops.

I have come to love the dark early mornings of winter, when the sky is cloudless and the air, clean as crystal. With a dusting of snow, as there is today, everything seems more sharply defined—more open and exposed.  There’s no barrier between me and the cosmos.

Tonight I am taking my first of four classes at the Natural History Museum: All Things Moon.  And I am remembering the first time I saw the moon through a telescope, about 30 years ago.  When I put my eye to the eyepiece and the moon floated into view – so clear – it actually scared me. I could see the craters, the mountains and plains so razor sharp, right there-in front of me.  The distance between us disappeared and I was confronted, face-to-face, with the moon. Apollo 17

Confronted.  It felt like a confrontation; so powerful and immediate and undeniable in its detail.  The moon became real to me that night in a way it had never existed before. It became an impossible thing, a magical and deliciously frightening thing, hanging there in the night sky.

My mind could rationalize all I knew about how and why it was there – the gravitational attraction that created its intrinsically linked orbit, and the sun-earth shadows that engineered its shifting phases.  But the primitive in me was touched and the moon’s existence in my world suddenly became both impossible and frighteningly necessary, all at once.

I understand that our earth is alone among planets in its possession of a large moon so closely linked to and influencing the daily environmental activities of the planet. The tenuousness of life on earth – how thin the line is between what makes life possible or impossible in the universe is both wondrous and scary.

earthriseIn confronting the critical necessity of the moon’s existence to our own, here on this fragile planet—how can we continue to deny the impact of our influence on that tenuousness?




Photo credits: NASA Moon Gallery

Being Amazed

Under the glass on my desk, right next to my computer, is a greeting card with a picture of Mary Oliver as a child; long blond hair, princess dress. She looks right at me, one arm reaching up and out. Below the photo is a quote of hers; “Pay attention. Be amazed. Tell about it.”

Mary Oliver

These early mornings, as the sky crisps and clears, I have been amazed by the view out my front bay window. Venus, intensely bright, rises in the east before the sun can lighten the sky. She has been followed in recent weeks by Jupiter, who climbs closer to her each day. Fainter, but still visible is Mars. In a few days – October 26 – one hour before sunrise, they reach their closest proximity of the year. It will be something to see, weather permitting.


I rise early and sit in my living room, first cup of coffee in hand, cat on my lap, looking out at the sky through the upper panels of my tall bay windows.


I get to see the sky brighten – naked or cloud-shrouded. I watch the trees gradually disrobe in the fall and dress themselves in the spring. But these past weeks, with the planetary display, I have been amazed to feel something of my place in this corner of the universe by imagining the silent, smoothly moving orbits of the planets in our solar system, oiled and balanced like the jeweled movements of a fine watch, We all move ’round and ’round our own courses, but from time to time, get a glimpse of where we are in relation to others.

I imagine myself, sitting on the surface of earth, facing out to the edges of our system – a ring-side seat, right now, to the performance of three sibling planets dancing together for my amazement each morning, I will be interested to see what happens October 27. Will Venus, Jupiter and Mars begin to move away from each other again? In what directions? Will there be some dramatic shift in the choreography that will surprise – change the rhythm of their moves?

Where I am in relation to others has been a subject of much musing lately. My own orbit has changed so dramatically since retiring from my rewarding but all-consuming job – less than a month ago, now. I am working to find the equilibrium that will govern the shape and balanced eccentricity of a new orbit, and its relationship to the orbits of others. I expect there will be new entrants in my planetary system, and some old and familiar worlds continuing to circle with me. I wonder, a year from now – five years from now – what my universe will look like. Who will I dance with in a regular cycle of relationship, who will I meet serendipitously or through some unseen machination of time or karma? And how will my orbit shift or settle in response? I can’t know, of course, but I can pay attention, and watch with amazement. And maybe tell about it.

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