Monday, January 03, 2011

Dancing With The Stars

I set the alarm for 3:15 a.m.. The lunar eclipse, I understood, would be most visible to those of us at approximately 32 degrees 22 minutes 2 seconds north latitude and 081 degrees, 53 minutes 2 seconds west longitude at exactly 3:17 a.m.. Two minutes would be just enough time to throw back the covers, throw on a bathrobe, throw open the door and dash into the front yard.

My calculations were excellent. I tip-toe-ran across the front porch and down the brick steps, made a hard right toward the southwest and threw my head back as far is it would go. At that exact moment the moon, a mottled yellow, pale as margarine, began to change color. From the lower lefthand curve the yellow yielded – slowly, slowly, slowly – to seashell pink and then to pale salmon and, finally, to deep rich coral. Translucent, like waxed paper or, better, like the glass blocks in bathroom windows. And so perfectly round it could have been drawn with the little metal compass I used in tenth grade geometry.

The sun, the earth, the moon in perfect alignment. On the winter solstice. The first time in 372 years. As the deeper color spread over the face of the moon, I realized that the constellations were brighter, that in the absence of the moon’s reflected light their own was suddenly more visible. I felt as though someone had handed me 3-D glasses and with just one step I could be walking among them, swimming in the Big Dipper, swinging from the North Star. I realized that I’d wrapped my arms around myself and I wasn’t sure whether it was from the cold or the sheer delight.

I do not know how long I stood there, acres of open field around me, light years of open sky above me. I know only that at some point my fleshly consciousness returned and I noticed that I was barefoot, that wet coldness was spreading through my feet into my legs as stealthily as the coral had bled into the yellow. I leaned my head back once more, twirled around once like a little girl in a petticoat and headed back inside.

The bed had not retained much of my warmth. I lay on my back, covers pulled up tight under my chin. I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t calm my thoughts. I knew what had roused me from a warm bed on a cold night – the opportunity to bear witness to something that no one alive had ever seen before.

What I was trying to figure out was what had kept me there, alone, in the cold, in the dark, watching the moon change colors, staring at stars too distant to reach. Something familiar, but distant. Something I knew, but hadn’t experienced in a while. Something universal and, at the same time, intimate.

Eventually I slept, the image of the night sky cycling through my mind.

The next morning I sent a quick e-mail to a friend, sharing that I’d gotten up to see the eclipse. "The sky over Sandhill was as clear as I've ever seen it," I typed quickly, "and the constellations were so distinct, even without my glasses. I want to live in that awe. I want to exist in that state of reverence. I want everywhere I stand to be sacred ground."

Ah, yes, that was it. Awe. Reverence. That was what had wrapped me up, drawn me in. The acknowledgment of something, some thing beyond myself that is, at the same time, the essence of my self.

The next lunar eclipse will occur on June 15, 2011, and I plan to be watching. It will be beautiful and amazing and perhaps, depending on the circumstances, even particularly memorable. The next lunar eclipse on the winter solstice won’t happen until 2094. I doubt I’m around for that one, but somewhere on this green earth I am convinced there will be a woman standing in the darkness, staring at the stars, resisting the urge to dance. And the very thought of it makes me smile.

Copyright 2011

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