supermoon

The event of the supermoon this past month was, I must admit, underwhelming. This is not entirely surprising, considering that widespread popular news tends to blow actual events way out of proportion by highlighting facts whose sole purpose is to raise your expectations unreasonably. Biggest Moon In 68 Years! Never Again!!* (*until 2034.) However, it cannot be denied that the moon was very bright and rather big and reddish at moonrise for almost a week, and where I live was lucky enough to have clear skies at the time.

Something I miss most about living in a rural area is the nighttime sky. Now that I’m surrounded by urban centers, all but a handful of the most prominent stars are allowed through the heavy light pollution, so when I do make it up north, I try to spend some time stargazing.

In winter this is easy because the sky gets dark there by around 4pm. I remember lying on the crusty top layer of snow in my back yard as a kid, staring up at the night sky. I can still feel the sharp air circulating through my nose and mouth and lungs and the chill of the air on my eyeballs with every hard blink. The surrounding woods make a frame around the northern sky, and the Big Dipper spins brightly within that frame throughout the year. The Dipper and Orion were – and are – like old friends, so easily recognizable even to a child, and so very bright when given the chance.

One of the drives between my house and church growing up brought you along a small ridge with an incredible view of the White Mountains. On really clear days you could even make out Mount Washington (especially identifiable if it had just snowed). But my favorite time to drive past that vista was at night. Sometimes in the winter we’d be driving back late from a church event, silently riding together in the car, maybe with Christmas music playing on the radio. I would press my forehead against the cold window so that I could see the huge, black expanse above me, unobscured by trees or streetlights, and scattered with thousands of visible stars. I say thousands – but how could I know? I would like to say a million, but I have no idea what a million of something looks like, so I compare those vivid pinpricks with the half dozen I can normally make out where I live today.

This past summer some friends and I went camping in New Hampshire and spent a long time lying on the beach. The sky was pitch black but for the stars, and we were completely alone, dwarfed by the sheer number of galaxies above us and grains of sand below.

Without looking up the science of it all, I always feel like I can see more stars when it’s cold out. I vaguely remember reading that the northern hemisphere faces more stars, or at least more bright stars, in the winter than it does in the summer. And I imagine there’s less interference from hot, hazy air, too. (I really am being very lazy by not verifying this for you. But you can do a bad google search just as well as I can.)

On the evening of the supermoon, my partner and I walked down to the water, to the end of a pier. The moon was bright and clear (just like most of the adjectives in this post) and cast a long, wavy reflection in the water, like a path across the bay’s surface. We identified Venus and Saturn.

A couple days later we went back again. The moon was still bright but waning at the top, as though it were looking down. Maybe it was the right time of year, or maybe the light pollution was less than usual, or maybe it was just cold, but we could see about a hundred stars – entire constellations – more than I had seen in months. And although I will always want more stars in my sky, it was wonderful to greet once again the Hunter and the Great Bear.

seas

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about a trip I took with my sister a couple years ago. I visited her at her flat in Vienna, and then we traveled together to Rome and back to Vienna. It’s taken a while to process the trip, and it’s only now becoming a monumental and formative part of my memory. I suppose I needed time to sift and dull the memories of travel stresses and weary fighting (have you ever taken a long trip with your sister?!). I’m now left with amazing memories of ancient streets and ruins and delicious bruschetta and real cappuccinos and navigating a foreign city by myself while my sister was at work. (“Kann ich einen Kaffee haben, bitte?” I did try, albeit pathetically, and the barista would give me a look of pity [disgust? amusement? strangled patience?] and reply in English. He was very hip, though, with his long white hair pulled back into a ponytail.)

I’m sure I will, at some point, write more at length about our Vienna/Rome trip, but today I want to focus on the rather modern experience of traveling by plane.

There’s something about a place that is utterly lost when you’re flying high above it. The things that make each area unique get swallowed up into vague lights, shapes, and shadows. This reduction turns farmland into patchwork during the day and cities into Christmas lights at night. It’s beautiful – sometimes breathtakingly so – but it is too removed from daily reality to be quite living.

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Austrian fields

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A city, rendered nameless by the distance
I stumbled across a poem that I wrote on one of my flights during this trip. It touches on the feeling of eerie yet peaceful detachment that comes from being above the world rather than surrounded by it.

*       *       *

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A perfectly silent sea above me
Another sea below
The one above is glassy smooth
The other, ragged snow.
From my hyperterrestrial limbo
I count the sleepy cities beneath –
Isolated pockets of snuffed lights
Above and from whom frothy milk clouds
Peel away the nights
West to east
Like a caravan returning home,
Not in the least
Bothered or aware
Of the double seas soundlessly raging
Above them there.

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ten

In light of the election, I felt like I both had to and could not write a post. I wanted to and didn’t want to. Don’t worry – it will not be political. Turbulent times, no matter the reasons behind them, always need moments of rest for those they toss.

I have a staggering number of friends and acquaintances who are afraid, and although I have no power to assuage their specific fears, I can, I hope, do my part to relieve some of the general darkness they feel. One excellent way to do that is with art.

For some reason, I have always been timid to say that I like a piece of art, or to declare that it’s good. There are plenty of people who study art (I do not study art) and they’re the ones who I assume have the authority to make such declarations. I’m afraid of being laughed at for saying that I like a painting when its subject is mundane. I’m afraid of being sneered at for saying a painting is good when maybe in reality it’s shoddy work. I wouldn’t know. But there is one piece of art that I saw years ago at the MFA in Boston that I still think about a lot. I even had it bookmarked on my browser so I wouldn’t forget it. It’s called Farmyard by Moonlight by Jean-François Millet, and it has many cliche things that draw me in: a moon, a pastoral scene, clouds, no people. It has a gate in almost the very center of the piece, which I know is a trope in art for drawing attention to something, but I also vaguely remember hearing that it’s an amateur way to go about drawing such attention. But I really like this piece and think you should look at it, and also look at other works by J.F. Millet, because they’re very peaceful and – I’ll say it – very good.

And now to leave you with a contribution of my own, which you may judge as you please.


a candle quivers
momentarily expunged
darkest before dawn