I woke up this morning about 5am. I usually do. The alarm is set for 5:20, and I often get up before the alarm so that I can take my shower and then have a few minutes to relax, browse the internet, eat breakfast, make even more coffee; though my morning timing is more dependent on my wife, who gets up after I do, and then has to finish her morning so we can go to work together around 7:45. First thing I do when I wake up every morning is take the dog outside, since he hasn’t had a whiz since the night before. Usually I take my phone, look at Twitter; he’s only out there for thirty seconds, maybe a minute. No big deal.
This morning when I opened my eyes, I saw light coming through the windowshade, and I thought, “Oh, right – blue moon, supermoon, blood moon, right? Cool.” So when I went outside with the dog, I looked up at the moon.
It was eclipsing.
It threw me off, at first; I had a student tell me that the eclipse would happen between 5 and 7 pm, the evening before (Though at this point, I realized he had probably seen the times and not realized that they were am, and this is why I don’t trust student recommendations of things.), so when I saw the moon looking less than full, I was confused. But I quickly realized that it was shadow that I was seeing, not a different phase of the moon.
I tried to take a picture: didn’t work. I only had my phone, and it isn’t set up to take precision images of celestial events. So I just looked at it for a minute while the dog trotted around the yard, and then I went inside to take my shower. I glanced out the bathroom window, and I could still see the moon, so I checked on its progress, which was much faster than I would have thought; so I hurried. I went back out to look at the moon before I brushed my teeth, because I wanted to catch a glimpse of the almost-but-not-complete eclipse.
Here’s the thing: I have a telescope. A pretty nice one, not an observatory telescope, but a step up from the Junior Astronomer telescope that grandparents buy their science-y grandkids. I never really use it, sadly, but I do have it sitting in the corner of the living room. But clearly now is the time to bust it out, right? So I take it outside, fumble off the lens caps in the pitch black cold, and then I swivel it around in the general direction (After trying to use the spotter sight on the side of the telescope, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t set that thing up right, as it never shows what the main eyepiece sees.). And it takes a minute, because my dumb luck is actually pretty dumb, but eventually, there it is! The lunar eclipse.
I mean, it’s a gray-white blob, part of it darker than another part of it. I focused the telescope better, and now it is – a gray-white blob with some dark patches. Those are craters. I think: they might be mountain ranges. The most interesting thing is actually a tiny point of light that zips around the edge of the moon’s disk, and is either an interesting effect of the sun’s light, or some imperfection between my eye and the telescope. I am not riveted, is what I am saying. And I’m cold.
So I went inside to brush my teeth, and then wake up my wife. This is when I would be sitting down on the couch, petting the dog while I look at the internet, starting with social media and then moving to the New York Times. (Hey – there was a State of the Union speech last night. Another craggy, reddish-white object that I didn’t watch as it turned slowly darker and more shady. Fancy that.) But instead, I went back out to look at the moon, which was now fully eclipsed, and starting to turn reddish: the Blood Moon.
Now, I love the idea of a blood moon. I’m a fantasy/horror fan, and a writer of same; the blood moon is vampires and werewolves and things that go bump in the night. It’s awesome. I’m also a longtime collector and player of Magic: The Gathering, and I have a card called Blood Moon, which I’ve used to good effect in the past. (If you don’t know the card but do know the game, it’s a red enchantment that turns non-standard lands into mountains. I had it in a goblin/mountainwalking deck with two Goblin Kings – who give all goblins mountainwalking. Mwahaha. If you don’t know anything about Magic, sorry for the delay: back to the actual moon now.) So I am psyched for this blood moon. I’m happy that I have a little free time in my mornings, so that I can do some gazing. I’m happy that I have a telescope so I can see it close up.
Except now I can’t see the moon in the telescope. It moved in the intervening ten minutes while I was brushing my teeth and getting coffee, and now I can’t find it. I also can’t work the controls that make the telescope move, because though I learned how to do this, it’s been too long since I have done it, and it’s too dark outside to see what the various dials and gadgets do. I keep trying, fidgeting with the fine adjustment wheels, unsure if they’re actually doing anything because all I can see in the field is blurry darkness and occasional stars. And sometimes the very edge of what appears to be a very large circle of light, which is either light pollution zipping across the lens, or the end of the world, I don’t know which. Finally I tip the whole telescope, lifting one of the tripod legs, and the moon shoots across the field. Success! I hold it there and try to find a way to move the controls to make it point at that exact spot without me holding it up.
I can’t do it. I don’t know which levers to loosen, which wheels to turn; when I find something that can turn, I can’t tell if it’s working, or whether or not it’s going in the right direction, so do I keep turning it, or do I turn it back the other way? I picture my students laughing at my telescopic incompetence. I get more and more pissed as I spend more time trying, and still failing, to center the telescope. Goddammit – my morning is ticking away; the blood moon won’t last forever; I’m getting cold – WHY CAN’T I TURN THIS FUCKING TELESCOPE?! WHY?? WH – Oh. There it is. I finally get the moon in the field, and I see –
A gray-white blob. Somewhat reddish. Mostly blobby. I focus, and I see – a gray-white blob with dark spots. Still somewhat reddish. Those are craters. I think.
I lift my head and look up into the sky, and I see: a blood moon. Big, fairly bright, definitely red, quite clear. It’s excellent. I look back through the telescope, having to adjust it again to center the moon in the field; it looks – I mean, it’s a little larger, a little clearer. But without the whole sky to frame it, to make it into the moon I have looked to all of my life, it’s . . . boring.
So I spent a few minutes looking at the moon, this morning, while I drank my coffee. I put the telescope back inside, and when Toni was done with her morning shower and all, I called her out to look at the blood moon, and I just pointed at the sky. “Wow,” she said. “Beautiful!”
So it was. When you just looked up at the sky.
You know what I thought about today? I thought about how often I try to look very, very closely at things – particularly literature, since that’s my job; but also my life and what I’ve accomplished and what I’m worth; my reflection in the mirror and how my hairline is changing, and my jawline, and the shape of my eyes; my career, what I can do, what I have done, what I should do – and how, when I try to look really closely, I take away the bigger picture. Often I am looking through a lens that I am not using correctly: when I decide to write a blog about politics, for instance (as this one was going to be when I first thought of it), I’m setting myself up to have a hard time, because I just don’t know enough about politics to really see clearly. I know there are people who can use telescopes and could have used mine to see far finer detail of the eclipse and the blood moon than I could see with my naked eyes; I know there are people who can see far more nuance and historical significance in political events than I can see. For me, I just sort of fidget around for a while, turning things and twisting things, getting more and more frustrated, and nothing gets any clearer.
When that happens, I should step away, and just – look at the sky. It’s worth seeing, all by itself, even without a telescope.
This morning, I saw a blood moon. It was wonderful.