The Moon Illusion and the Queen of the Night

Sometimes this blog is quiet because bad things are happening.

Sometimes this blog is quiet because good things are happening.

Sometimes this blog is quiet because there’s nothing much to say.

Sometimes nothing much to say is a good thing.

I’m settling into summer, getting the yard caught up — yanking up the little patches of poison ivy, pulling weeds from between the stones and bricks of the patio, putting in stonecrop and rhododendron… A few times already I’ve gotten a little lost in the familiar sloughs of summer boredom, but I realized, when reading this old blog entry of mine, the tremendous progress I’ve made in learning to live alone. In learning to live, period.

The author of that “old” entry not yet even a year old impresses me with the way that she reveals an embarassing amount of suffering along with a total lack of submission to it. This summer, with new job leads, deeping friendships and fair amount of fun to go along with catching up on my gutters and weeds, things already feel different. And not just because of the unreliable fix of more and better things to do.

My life is slowly deepening and enriching, changing like leaves and detritus turn to rich compost. I am back in love with my sweet house, even more in love with my city, and every day brings me greater and greater awareness of how much I love and am loved by my circle of friends.

I had dinner with a friend last night and as we walked into the restaurant we saw a dear mutual friend there with her extended family, in town for a visit. The friend I’d come with, Laura, told us all a story of a friend of hers getting sick while vacationing in a nearby town, and Laura’s journey of driving to her projectile-puking friend in need and taking her back to Laura’s condo and caring for her.

“I’d do it for you,” she said, looking at our friend and then at me, and was told right back she could expect the same from us. We all kind of turned to one another and told one another that we would all indeed drive to Cherokee to rescue each other should we ever become projectile-pukers, and cart each other back home safe and see to each other until we were well. And it was true.

The point of this nerdy story is to show that this is the kind of tribe worth waiting a lifetime for. My only regret is the constraint of geography that doesn’t allow me to widen my circle to those I would welcome but who live far away.

This is a very fine life I have, not in material riches or even that many conventional accoutrements of contentment (a husband and family, a fat salary), but in gratitude and emotional and intellectual wealth.

Yesterday I woke at 6:15, had lunch with a friend, had dinner with another friend (helper to fallen projectile-pukers everywhere) and late in the evening caught a spectacular solstice moonrise.

Last night was a good night for the fabled “moon illusion,” which according to the buzz of the astronomy newsletters I read is especially spectacular at the summer solstice:

On Wednesday night, June 18th, step outside at sunset and look around. You’ll see a giant form rising in the east. At first glance it looks like the full Moon. It has craters and seas and the face of a man, but this “moon” is strangely inflated. It’s huge!

You’ve just experienced the Moon Illusion.

The buzz was totally right.

I drove to my local eastern horizon observing spot, a gravel residential parking lot overlooking a river valley with a clear horizon view blocked only by the unavoidable ring of mountains, and was met by a few fellow nature freaks. Moonrise was at 9:14 but it took awhile for the moon to clear the dark blue peaks of the Smokies.

We weren’t quite sure where due east was until the undersides of a little bank of low, dark clouds began to glow with an eerie golden light. It was the light of the still-hidden rising moon. Soon part of it peeped, a hot molten blot of orange glowing in the dark gray, not through the clouds but in the gaps between their smoky blackness.

Though we could see little of it through the clouds, we got a breathtaking sense of the strange illusion of its size. It seemed the size of an apple or grapefruit, and glowed a magnificent yellow-orange. Bloated but more luminous than baleful, the moon was for agonizing minutes on end mostly shrouded in black clouds jaggedly backlit with a ragged fringe of gold.

We desperately wanted to see the whole moon, but the color effect of yellow-orange and deep gray was gorgeous. I found myself making impatient lifting motions with my arms, as if lifting a tarp or a sash, I wanted so bad for the bank of dark cloud to lift above that gorgeous orange solstice moon.

“It looks like a sunset,” said the woman behind me with quiet awe, her young son on her shoulders.

Eventually it broke through the clouds. I have never in my life seen a moon so bright. My eyes swam trying to focus on it, and I found myself instinctively shielding my eyes — from the moon.

We missed the best viewing as by the time it had cleared the clouds and mountains it had been rising for a good 45 minutes, and was too high in the sky for the moon illusion, an optical illusion based in the moon being low on the horizon.

But what little we saw was unforgettable. And tonight, with the moon still mostly full, I think I will slink over to another observation spot and watch the show again.

So of course this isn’t really a month where nothing is happened. It’s just a month where everything happening is quiet and small, a molten suburban moon and an excited child on his mother’s shoulders being shushed. I have lain in bed listening to a mockingbird calling for his mate in the moonlight. I finished my first case study with my new corporate client. I knitted on the grassy college quad while listening to live Latin music. And this morning, as if the beauty of the solstice moon last night were not enough to recharge my spirit, I found this:

The year’s first blossom of my well-named Queen of the Night cactus, a night-flowering cactus that must have produced its strangely alien and lunar yellow-white florescence as the moon rose last night in solstitial splendour.

Sometimes this blog is quiet when there are no stories. When the are stories, it speaks up again.

2 responses to “The Moon Illusion and the Queen of the Night

  1. Thanks for the name of that cactus – Queen of the Night. I’ve had one for years, and have never seen it bloom – only found the spent flowers. (It seems to bloom while I’m out of town. Not sure how I manage to do that, but there it is.) It’s beautiful!

  2. The flowers open at night and close when the sun hits them. They only last one night.

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