WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer,
... How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
~From "When I heard the learn'd astronomer"; Walt Whitman
Eclipses are slow. Which means there is plenty of time to notice the dew on my feet and the armadillo hole I may or may not be standing in, to hear a strange choral performance by the frogs in the branch that sounds like a rustling of the feathers of a giant flock of geese, to get just a little impatient and start staring at the stars instead, making up my own constellations.
Eclipses are slow. Which means it is probably inevitable that I will end up wondering what it is about me and moons. Full ones, half ones, quarter ones. Waxing and waning ones. Harvest moons and blood moons and paper moons.
I remember the one that rose over the field behind Mama and Daddy’s house, as big and orange as a revival tent. I remember the one that spilled out over the ocean at Amelia Island, too tired to lift itself all the way out of the water. I remember the one that lit up my car with green light and followed me home from work and another one that hypnotized me through the windshield and caused me to miss my turn on the way home from Baxley. I remember them as though they are not all one moon, are not the same heavenly body spinning wildly and, yet, predictably through space around this heavenly body on which I am spinning wildly and, yet, predictably through space.
Moon myths are as old as man. My favorite may be the Inuit tale in which the moon, called Anningan, chased his sister Malina, the sun, across the sky every day, forgetting to eat in his pursuit so that he grew thinner and thinner. Not a completely logical explanation, but certainly a poetic one and, in an age before telescopes are pointed toward the sky, the poet is revered above the scientist.
The thought crosses my mind like Anningan and Malina crossing the sky, arcing and falling. Filling and emptying out. Giving and taking.
Eclipses are slow. I decide that there is time to find my glasses, get the camera, record in some form the sky show. Coming out this time I decide that the porch is a fine enough place to stand and I feel the wood flex and flex again under my bare feet as I shift to widen my stance, pull in my elbows, minimize the inevitable shake. I point the lens toward the
darkening moon. The shutter clicks. I have captured an image, but I suspect that I have captured nothing to explain what it is about me and moons.
I also suspect that my friend the astronomer might tell me that pointing lenses — telescope or camera — is not supposed to explain humanity’s love affair with the moon, but only to document it. I imagine that she might tell me that a knowledge of astrophysics would not assist me in articulating why I stay up late and get up early to stare at circles and half-circles and slivers of reflected light. I think, but cannot prove, that she would even be a bit perplexed at my need to try.
That may be why we still need myths, the stories that explain without logical explanation, the tales not of things that never happened, but of things so important that they happened and still happen over and over again. And it may be why we need poets, the people who bid us to join them in the grass, throw back our heads and stare at the sky.