The Perseids meteor showers in August are marked each year by my neighbor. He has camped out in his yard with his boys for years to make certain they don't miss the show. They fall asleep, he wakes them up and they lay in their sleeping bags and see the stars fall.
I didn't grow up in a house where the wonders of nature were followed with any specificity. When we visited my grandparents the years I was very young , I remember nights we were allowed to stay up late until the moon was full on the water and the grunion came to shore. And we would try to scoop up slippery silver fish and put them in buckets. Sometimes, there were nights where it looked like the waves crashing were lit up and an iridescent tide would break and then fade to shore.
I have always felt the pull of the moon. And in recent years more acutely. I don't follow on any calendar when the moon should be full or waxing or waning but my soul seems to know. And unless I pull the drapes in my bedroom fully, the moon sneaks in and fills the room and whispers to me to leave my bed and dance. Sometimes I try to ignore these calls. Pull a pillow over my head and the covers higher. But more and more I simply sit up and acknowledge there is wisdom in moonlight and try to absorb it.
When the weather is good I throw open the door to my tiny, postage-stamp size deck outside my bedroom and I turn around in a circle there. I have a three-quarter-plus view of the sky from that deck and I can see patterns in the stars and the neighborhood. It helps, especially in times I think my troubles are large, to feel small, very small. And I remember how insignificant I am and therefore my troubles.
Last summer there was a night I couldn't sleep towards the middle of August and I decided to not try to fight the moment. I wrapped my thick robe around me and I headed out to the tiny chair on the tiny deck. And I let my worries float up to the sky and I watched them fall back down. I was catching, as it turned out, the tail end of the Perseids meteor showers and all those falling stars were dizzying. When I finally returned to bed I slept seamlessly for hours and hours -- well into the morning light.
This week there was much buzz about the full moon being a blood moon and the eerie quality of that sight and myths surrounding it. Some claimed it marked the coming of the end of the world. I heard an NPR story explaining the red color was caused in the eclipse by the reflection of the sunrises and sunsets happening around the world at the same time that leaked through. I wanted to stay up until nearly 2 a.m. to see it. It felt like something to witness.
But somewhere around 11 sleep came and I let it. Put down my book and entered that deep semi-conscious state. I woke up just after two a.m. as if I had been tapped on the shoulder. I looked my clock and wondered if I had missed the moment. So I jumped out of bed and went the window and there was the moon covered in a veiny red film with one slice of the circle already showing white. I decided it was worthy of going out in the cold night. I grabbed my robe and went to the deck and the moon was so otherworldly I could do nothing but stare in awe. It took me a few minutes but then I noticed how very bright the stars were, too. They were back lit or something altogether different and mysterious and pulsating I think, just a little. There wasn't a sound in the neighborhood. Not a whisper this night. I just stood there in space with time suspended and I thought if the world really was going to end... this wasn't a bad way to go.
But they say we have three more chances in the next year to see this phenomenon happen and then... not again until 2032. Which seems uncertain to make plans now for an event so far in the future. So I am determined to try and remind my body to respond when the pull of the moon calls. And I can't remember who sang it best but I seem to recall a version by the whiskey-soaked voice of Kris Kristofferson singing Jimmy Webb's tune, "The Moon's a Harsh Mistress." I hear a gravelly voice half-whisper... "see her as she flies, golden sails across they skies, close enough to touch, but careful if you try, though she looks as warm as gold, the moon's a harsh mistress, the moon can be so cold."
This week I found her mysterious and powerful in her shape-shifting and surprise cover. There were no reports of animals behaving strangely or tulips dancing in the moonlight so it would sound foolish to mention the things I might have seen. For now, I will simply be grateful I was awakened to bear witness to bright stars in a vibrant sky with a moon pulling not only gravity but me. Whenever midnights beckon me to leave my bed, I have learned to respond. Any day of the week, even any Sunday in the Park....
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.