For mem­o­ries, noth­ing quite eclipses the full moon

Rappahannock News - - SCHOOL & SPORTS NEWS -

I’m not one to sit out in the cold, es­pe­cially at night, but I made an ex­cep­tion for last month’s lu­nar eclipse. The last time the lu­nar eclipse co­in­cided with the win­ter sol­stice, in 1648, Gallileo “ was lan­guish­ing un­der house ar­rest for sug­gest­ing the Earth cir­cled the sun,” as Slate mag­a­zine put it, so I felt I owed the oc­ca­sion some re­spect.

I awoke just af­ter 3 a. m. to the sound of the alarm go­ing off, with the wind gust­ing in the back­ground. I dreaded the idea of go­ing out and sit­ting in the cold, but I bun­dled up well, re­trieved a com­fort­able, padded beach chair, and went out to my drive­way, where there’s a clear view of the north­west sky. The chair is meant for sun­ning, so it put me at the right an­gle of re­cline for com­fort­able moon gaz­ing.

The full moon was al­ready the orangish shade that char­ac­ter­izes the on­set of a full eclipse. I was warm in my many lay­ers, so it wasn’t all that un­pleas­ant be­ing out. It was clear and quiet other than the gust­ing wind, and stars were in abun­dance. As I watched the achingly slow dis­ap­pear­ance of the moon, I thought of how long this process had been go­ing on, how re­cent we hu­mans are as wit­nesses to it, and how the full moon so cap­tures our imag­i­na­tion even with­out the drama the eclipse adds.

I thought about the many times a full moon had made events in my life more mem­o­rable. When I was a kid, the full moon fac­tored into so many things— from ex­tend­ing the play of Kick the Can un­til well af­ter sun­set on a sum­mer night, to turn­ing a be­nign for­est into a claw­ing horror wor­thy of Ich­a­bod Crane on Hal­loween.

I had a dis­turb­ing dream for many years of a vast, lonely ev­er­green for­est sway­ing in a howl­ing wind un­der a full moon. Un­doubt­edly this came from some of my first mem­o­ries, when my fam­ily lived in Ger­many. We vis­ited the Black For­est, a dark, beau­ti­ful, pro­foundly mys­te­ri­ous place that I be­lieved quite ca­pa­ble of hous­ing those mag­i­cal and some­times vi­o­lent char­ac­ters of the fairy tales that I was read at bed­time.

Us­ing my binoc­u­lars, I checked the progress of the eclipse. The Earth’s shadow had cov­ered the moon, and the night had gone dark. With not much to look at, my mind drifted back to moon­lit nights on the North­ern Plains.

As a young jour­nal­ist, I got the urge to go west, ar­riv­ing in Liv­ingston, Mont., in the dead of win­ter. While lob­by­ing the lo­cal pub­lisher for a pho­tog­ra­phy po­si­tion, I worked odd jobs to make ends meet. With any leftover money, I’d put as much gas in the car as I could and drive through Par­adise Val­ley to­ward Yel­low­stone Park. When half the gas was gone, I’d turn around and drive back.

Some­times I made it all the way to the park, but even if I didn’t, the view of that aptly named val­ley— with the rugged peaks of the Gal­latin and Ab­saroka moun­tains jut­ting up on ei­ther side and the Yel­low­stone River rush­ing through it— made the trip well worth it. Some cows and elk dot­ted the land­scape, but peo­ple and struc­tures were few and far be­tween.

I ended up on a paper in Boze­man, but be­fore I left Liv­ingston I had the great plea­sure of see­ing the full moon light up Par­adise Val­ley. I had made it all the way to the park that day, see­ing bighorn sheep loung­ing in pas­tures near the en­trance. In­side the park, frosty bi­son with ici­cles hang­ing from their beards min­gled their breath with the steam from the nearby hot­pots in the Yel­low­stone, pro­duc­ing a frozen mist over the great beasts’ heads. As night ap­proached, I re­luc­tantly headed back to Liv­ingston, but as the full moon rose, I found my­self re­peat­edly stop­ping to take in the spec­tac­u­lar panorama of the moon­lit val­ley and peaks.

I saw the full moon over Par­adise Val­ley again the next sum­mer, when a friend in­vited me to a cel­e­bra­tion of the bar re­open­ing in the lit­tle town of Pray. I spent most of the time out­side vis­it­ing while ad­mir­ing the moon as it hov­ered over nearby Emigrant Peak and was re­flected in the Yel­low­stone River. It made a great sum­mer night per­fect.

Com­ing back to the night at hand, the eclipse was end­ing. The moon was slip­ping out from be­hind the Earth’s shadow, and the night was be­com­ing bright again. I be­gan think­ing of more re­cent moon­lit nights, here in Rap­pa­han­nock County. I’ve most en­joyed the moon here when I’ve been out in a meadow filled with fire­flies on a sum­mer night. Their twin­kling over moon­lit, misty mead­ows pro­duces an­other kind of magic.

As the eclipse fi­nally ended and the night was once again lit up with the re­vealed moon’s full re­flected light, I said good­night to that friend who had made so many nights, in so many places and sea­sons, a spe­cial me­mory.

Photo by Gre­gory H. Rev­era

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