By Anna Daniels
Did you see the moon earlier this morning? At 3 am, when I rousted myself out of bed, it was already Part Deux of San Diego’s total lunar eclipse –the moon glowed a reddish umber behind the earth’s shadow. It was mysterious and somewhat confusing –the “rabbit” in the moon that was so clearly visible when I went to bed earlier had disappeared.
Holding coffee cups in one hand and binoculars in the other, My Beloved and I sat on the side of the house craning our necks upward. Watching an eclipse from start to finish is the cosmic equivalent of watching paint dry–long moments of nothing seeming to happen, then voila! the moon is occulted. Or it is whole again, a shining coin pulled from night’s pocket.
The term “blood moon” strikes me as an exaggeration, but perhaps nascent cataracts have cast time’s own dim umbra across my eyes. It took a while before I stopped channeling Neil de Grasse Tyson, who was providing a voice over inside of my head of how human beings have regarded eclipses as signs of the apocryphal. I can’t imagine what greater calamities the moon could possibly portend for us here on earth–we already seem up to our eyeballs in conquest, war, famine and death. I sat in the quasi-darkness of our side yard waiting for the rabbit to return.
The eclipse was the reason for getting up in the wee hours of the morning, but I was immediately struck by the number of constellations, stars and planets that I could see. The skies over City Heights are not velvety black at night like those I remember from island living or occasional visits to mountains and deserts. City Heights sits in the glowing heart of the city and residents here have gone to great lengths to further illuminate the darkness. Darkness has become a thing to be vanquished for its lack of usefulness or because it obscures lurking dangers.
But there was Orion, The Hunter and Sirius, the Dog Star. Directly over my head the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters. Rich points to the “V” forming the horns in Taurus, The Bull. While the moon was in total eclipse I could see Uranus through the binoculars. There was something thrilling about seeing the constellations, calling out their names. It was the thrill of remembering something too easily forgotten when darkness was vanquished.
Rebecca Solnit’s book “The Field Guide to Getting Lost” contains an essay devoted to the topic of darkness. It is a reminder of how humans have oriented themselves literally and metaphorically in terms of the cosmic dualities of day and night. Neither navigation nor agriculture requires being attuned to nocturnal skies as they had in our not so distant past.
The moment when a child is able to connect certain stars and see a familiar shape provides both the thrill of discovery and the safety of the known. Do kids learn to pick out the constellations anymore? Can they even be in some place dark enough to see them? Last night I experienced the pure joy of rediscovering a forgotten language. As an adult now, I realize that is not so much a matter of being a forgotten language but rather a language that cannot be used very often. There is a difference.
Solnit writes that the places we come to know, and darkness can be one one of them, “become the tangible landscape of memory, the places that made you, and in some way you too become them. They are what you can possess and in the end what possesses you.”
Last night I was possessed by stars and planets– and a lunar eclipse.
Editor Note: In the rush to publish, I forgot to add the song that immediately came to mind when I first looked upward.
Have You Seen the Stars Tonight/Starship Jefferson Starship