I never believed the moon was made out of cheese. Nor did I ever believe that there was a man up there in the moon. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m all for the wonder of childhood, but to me, the moon was always wondrous enough; it didn’t need a promotional upgrade or any fanciful enhancement. It was just fine the way it was. And it still is. I know because last week, I watched it float more than rise above the tree line bordering the river, first red, then slowly passing through a living spectrum of colors: orange, yellow, white, until it finally settled on silver, painting the surface of the water with a shimmering beacon of bright light.
Our heavenly orbs—the sun and the moon—have put on a spectacular show of late. I’ve heard it said that this may be the result of charged particles in the atmosphere emanating from the wildfires in the West, and this (I fear) may be a true reckoning, not a tall tale. The effects of climate change are very real, but at least in this particular case, they have infused the sky and its passengers with striking effects and colors. Sadly, we deny or enjoy them at our own peril.
But on one blissfully cool summer evening a few days ago, a few of us sat out on the dock, good friends, talking about nothing. And suddenly, unbidden as a breeze, there she was—the goddess of the moon: Selene (Greek), Luna (Roman), or Change’e (Chinese), dealer’s choice. Other cultures have other moon gods, some (like Chandra, the Hindu goddess of the moon) are still powerful enough to drive their calendars according to the phases of the moon. Even the Muslim world, as fiercely monotheistic as ever, has always looked to the moon for guidance: Ramadan, Islam’s annual twenty-eight days of fasting and prayer, begins with the first sighting of the new moon on the ninth month of their lunar calendar.
It’s safe to say that those of us on the dock that evening weren’t thinking divine thoughts. Nevertheless, when that full moon first came floating up over the river, we were struck speechless. Recalling that moment now, I wonder if we weren’t all that different from our hominoid ancestors who stared up into the night sky, gazing at something they couldn’t begin to understand. Even now, barely more than fifty years since Neil Armstrong took that one small step that made such a giant leap, we’re still gobsmacked that something so barren and lonely can be so serene and beautiful.
There is a phrase in Japanese that translates into English this way: “The moon is beautiful, isn’t it?” It’s Japan’s more poetic way of saying “I Love You.” I like this a lot. In our modern, science-oriented world, maybe the moon can still teach us a more sensitive style of speech. I’ll experiment tonight. Just before we fall asleep, I’ll turn to my wife and whisper, “The moon is beautiful, isn’t it?” I’ll let you know how it goes.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown, MD. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com