Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tumble Into Darkness

The hand-off of 2009 to 2010 was accompanied by a full moon (a full blue moon if I recall), and I love that image as a visual metaphor of year's end: one orb setting just as another rises, with you at the fulcrum, balanced between them, the past calling from one horizon, the future from another (Marilynne Robinson describes this much better than I in the opening pages of Gilead). The sky becomes a mirror of the mind. We watched the moon rise from the bluffs of the Arkansas last year, came home, celebrated the New Year six-ish hours later.

This December's lunar eclipse didn't fall on year's end, but it came the day before solstice, the day before the darkest day, and mirrored my own mental landscape so well it follows me into January, as I write this. Perhaps the sky is not the mirror. Perhaps I am the mirror.

Skies were cloudy, it was cold out, and I wasn't expecting much. But clouds began to clear as the eclipse started, just before midnight, so I fired up the clay stove and set up the big dumb telescope. Just before totality I woke the rest of the family up, dragged them outside.

Eldest lasted about a half an hour, til totality began, then stumbled back to bed, familial obligations fulfilled. Hux fared much better, well into the thing, but she too wandered back inside after an hour or so. And then it was down to me and youngest. We snuggled close to the stove, talked some, went to the telescope a couple times, but mostly just watched as the moon turned eerie red, then dull brown as the moon slid fully into shadow. It was a long, cold wait for light after that, but light, when it came, was dramatic. It was preceded by that same weird red glow, and then, not quite suddenly, the edge of the moon lit up, and light slowly spread across the surface as the red glow faded. Lovely, startling, moving.

After that even youngest gave up the ghost, went to bed. I tucked her in, poured myself several fingers of good bourbon, and went out to watch the end. Things were about half in shadow by then. I sipped my bourbon and smelled the woodsmoke and watched the moon slide into sunlight, surrounded by darkness, and thought about that tumble into darkness, that long cold time in shadow, and the slow but inevitable progress back into the light.


Laura said...

what a beautiful, beautiful account of the lunar eclipse. thanks for sharing.

Hilary said...

Beautiful and illuminating.

Fresca said...

I got so excited by the first lunar eclipse I saw, which I was watching--in my jammies--in my sister's backyars (I was housesitting), I went and knocked on the door of the neighbors (who I barely knew) and made them come out and watch it too.

This time, the sky was totally clouded, so no chance.

Been there emotionally too, of course.

Do you put ice cubes in your bourbon?

P.S. Unrelated--did you see Peter Weir's latest, "The Way Back" opens in a couple weeks?
The preview looked good, anyway.

slommler said...

Beautifully written. It allowed me to experience the eclipse all over again. Thank you!
Glad the family at least got in a view of some of it.

Linda said...

This was exceptionally well written. I could feel the chill of the air and the warmth of the stove. Thanks for describing the event in a way that helped me feel as if I'd seen it myself. I wish I had.

Rudi said...

Gilead is a wonderful book. Have you read Home as well? As good as Gilead was I think Home is better. Or at least the experience is better for having already read the related earlier work.

Moannie said...

POTW mention, congratulations.
This was a lovely piece and enjoyed it more from the fact that cloud covered our view for most of us here in the UK.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful, soulful description. Thank you!

Clowncar said...

Oooooh, I get two beautifuls! Thanks Laurita. Goof luck with your fiction in the coming year.

Hey Hil. Thanks for the POTW. I love that occasional spike in web hits whenever you link to a post of mine. Have a great new year.

Such a great story, Fresky, about going to barely known neighbors in your jammies to invite them into the experience. Did they appreciate it? Have not heard of the Weir film, but it is now on the Netflix "save" list. And, I usually drink bourbon neat. I appreciate the whole ice-slowly-melting-in-your-drink aesthetic, but do not personally subscribe.

Sue Ann, sounds like you are one of the few who actually saw it. Good to hear!

Thanks Linda. And thanks for stopping by.

Rudi, I have Home on the bookshelf, but haven't read it yet. Partly because I loved Gilead so much, and hate to potentially ruin it by reading a sequel.

Thanks Moannie, and thanks for visiting.

And you as well, Barbara.

Rudi said...

Fear Not O Humor-Laden-Automotive-Man. Home is not really a sequel. It happens at the same time but is told from a different point of view. From the other Minister's family.

Travel Nurse Extraordinaire said...

Very beautiful and Congrats on POTW

Gwilym Williams said...

I managed to catch the partial solar eclipse of 4th Jan here in Europe - about 80% it was - there's a photo from Poland on my page. It's from Wiki, I didn't dare point my new camera from Santa at the sun.
Keep the Oort Cloud flying in 2011. It's an enjoyable spot.

Emma J said...

Lovely, startling, moving - this post is too. I love that fulcrum moment too - it's that balanced moment they call East of the Sun, West of the Moon in old folk tales. And yes for Gilead, yes yes for Home. But it's worth saving until you really want to read it. Robison is an iluminting author always.

Clowncar said...

Okay, Rudi, Home is on the stack of books. But it's a big stack....

Thanks Nurse, and thanks for stopping by. You sure have an interesting job. Enjoyed your blog as well.

Gwil, that musta been pretty cool. Solar eclipses are so much more dramatic than their lunar cousin.

Hey, Emma J, how nice of you to say so! I love the phrase "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." Thank you for sharing it with me.

Gwilym Williams said...

What you say is true, the moon gets to have a rusty blush like a cox's pippin (that's an apple) but just for a while. The full solar eclipse, and I saw one about 7 or 8 years ago, is an enormous experience. I remember seeing the red flames (red thru special lenses) leaping from the surface, and butterflies bemused by the whole thing, suddenly lost, birds suddenly silent, but again just for a while. The partial solar eclipse on Jan 4 was quietly comfortable, a slight dimming of the light (many wouldn't notice) and a sense of the year turning. A boat in the sky sailing to new adventures.

Clowncar said...

That full solar eclipse sounds stunning, Gwil. My only one was decades ago, I was a kid, but it made a huge impression. As did yours, apparently.

Fresca said...

Finally checking back---yeah, the neighbors I dragged outside thought it was great--they hadn't noticed it, from inside!

Used to drink scotch (Bushmills)-- not so much anymore--but whenever I do, I like it straight up too. Even though I love the sound of ice in a lowball glass.
(One of the best things about the movie "Good Night and Good Luck" was the way they caught the sensual pleasures of drinking and smoking.)