|Lunar Eclipse 12-21-2010|
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It’s been a long time since I stayed up half the night to watch a natural event. Found out last night it’s been way too long.
When you’re a kid, you don’t think anything of doing what Buck did on a warm July night 65 years ago at the age of 8 when he stayed up most of the night reveling in a total lunar eclipse. He quickly discovered that he would get a crick in his neck if he tried to stand and stare up at the sky, and the heavy dew in the grass would get him wet if he lay down on his back in his parents’ yard.
Buck’s solution was to get one of his mother’s quilts and spread it out on the grass. Then he stretched out, arms behind his head in a classic pose of childhood wonderment, and watched the whole show, from start to finish.
Last night, Buck and I decided to just stay up and read until it was time to watch this rare combination of a total lunar eclipse occurring on morning of the winter solstice, rather than to sleep for a couple of hours and then stagger out into the cold from a warm bed. I doubted my own resolve to leave the bed.
I downloaded Don DeLillo’s 2007 book, Falling Man, onto a Kindle application for my lightweight ThinkPad Edge laptop. Time passed quickly and my mouth grew increasingly dry as it always does when I read DeLillo. I was glad to be biding time to view a spectacular sky show rather than awaiting the Armageddon-like experience this spare, devastating book explores. The Kindle app, which I set for a 125%, sepia-toned page, provided just the right texture for DeLillo’s perfect paragraphs.
At about 12:30 cst, Buck and I pulled two patio chairs out onto the concrete deck surrounding the swimming pool. I eyed the pool warily, thinking how easy it would be to become engrossed in standing, staring up at the eclipse. Two or three backward steps. Plop. Hypothermia in an unheated pool. It’s Florida, but we have had a string of sub-freezing nighttime temperatures and the water had that milky, gelid look of frigid liquid.
Buck watched for a while through his big binoculars, and then returned to the warm bed. “Call me if it turns blood red, and take out your softest pillow to prop up your neck so you can get a good angle.”
I made a pot of Lady Grey tea, pulled down a red Christmas mug that has “You better jingle all the way” written in black script around the top of the cream-colored inside, and stuck a gingerbread biscotti into my jacket pocket, then headed back outside to experience the wonder.
Two nearby-owls kept me company. I more than halfway expected a chorus of yipping howls to erupt from the neighborhood coyotes at the crescendo of the eclipse, but all I heard was the distant drone of airplanes and, due to a trick of wind, the high whine of a long-distance truck on the interstate highway several miles away.
I dipped my biscotti into the hot tea, leaned back into the pillow, and watched the show. The glittering stars were exquisite; the eclipse mysterious, gorgeous.
Stretched out there in the patio chair, eyes on the sky, I felt something reluctant, hesitating, something hard and parched curled up inside me begin to soften, unfurl and become fragrant again, like that dry gingerbread biscotti dipped into the hot tea.
For some really great photo streams by professionals and gifted amateurs, click here for the Wired Science page.