The Trip to Totality – A Luna Eclipse?

Back in 2015 I told the girls we were going to watch a full lunar eclipse. Maddie held up her fluffy white cat Luna.
“You mean a Luna eclipse?”
“Granted she’s fluffy and white and reflects light, but no.”

Luna Partially Eclipses the Sun.

We loaded up and headed to the desert. I choose a place on wind farm, hoping to catch the volcanic hills and windmills as foreground. We arrived just before sunset and the clouds took on vibrant and electric colors as if neon had been spilled over them. I’d taken them out to see partial eclipses and made them endure the cold to see meteor showers and the conjunctions of planets. In Idaho we’d camp in the forest and deserts and watched the sky turn until we all fell asleep. The last few years we’ve gone to Pismo Beach for New Year’s Eve and camped in the state park and ventured out onto the beach toward the midnight hour and watched the sky as the cold sea breeze washed over us so much cosmic wind. We saw the comet Lovejoy from the telescope at the Griffith Park Observatory and beforehand took photos of the glittering city from the heights, but saw few stars in the light washed sky.

We’re waiting for moonrise and the lunar eclipse.

The girls hang out as night falls.

It’s funny to think that’s how I grew up. Camping on the desert with my family, sky watching. I think I was in the fifth grade when I saw my first total lunar eclipse. We stood in our suburban driveway as the moon became rusty from the Earth’s shadow. We looked through a handheld telescope my dad had gotten by collecting cigarette coupons and sending them off in the mail. It was green with a black focus ring on the eyepiece. I wasn’t super powerful, but had a good weight and it did bring the craters and plains of the moon into a sharp relief like we’d never seen before. It felt as if we should be able to see the American flags, landers, and the moon buggy left behind on the moon’s surface.

In the Earth’s Shadow.

It was the early 70s and I had loved watching the astronauts walk on the moon, wrapped in my boyhood wonder. At this time the Apollo program had been discontinued. That last man had left the moon, but I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I believed we were just catching our breath and we’d be off and flying to the moon and on to Mars in short order. In truth, many adults at the time had lost their appreciation for what we were doing and probably didn’t understand the importance of being there and continuing to fly further into space. The space program kept going, but the glory days were on hiatus. In retrospect, I could make some connection to the gas crisis, Watergate, the end of our involvement in Vietnam, the rise of Disco, or any other social clash and cultural malaise that drew our attention away from space and the resulting drop of television ratings. Lose the ratings, cut the program! But that’d be unfair. It is a reality we all lose sight of the miraculous when it becomes normal. Human flight, wireless communication, and Polaroid photos (I know! It develops right before your very eyes!), have become not so awe-inspiring as when they first made their appearance. Moon landings had become no big deal – what’s the point spread on Monday Night Football?

She strikes a fine silhouette with the moon.

Life is hectic, and it’s easy to let immediate concerns of family, work, and world events cloud over the things we should stop once in awhile to appreciate. I try to keep in touch with that kid who stood in a driveway on a warm evening in Arizona with a telescope acquired through chain smoking. Check in with him and see if he remembers the wonder and glory of our solar system. It’s right there and even though we look right through it, it is our celestial doorstep and a miraculous system to contemplate.

Hunkered down with blankets to enjoy the view.

Now we prep to see a total solar eclipse. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, right after the lunar eclipse, when I realized how I’d been calling my daughters’ attention to the sky. By accident, I’d been instilling in my girls an appreciation for the mechanics and simple beauty of our planet’s place in the light and darkness of our universe. It was a thing I just did, much like my parents had done for me.
Next up: Citizen Science!

Kicking back as we wait for the moon.

2 Comments

  1. Beautiful expressive writing. Well done, Jerry.

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