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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Lurid!

There is a lunar eclipse tonight, and the moon is going to turn bright red! The last time this event happened, I was walking around the Upper West Side, when I noticed that every person on the street was staring at the sky and pointing. I had forgotten about the eclipse, so I was startled to see the red moon.

There was a great article in the Times yesterday about the off-season tourism industry in Fairbanks, Alaska, where Japanese tourists are frequent visitors to see the Northern Lights. It is my life's dream to see the Northern Lights (or the Southern Lights, I guess, although it's more likely that I'll see them up north--they're visible 200 nights a year in Fairbanks). It is also my life's dream to see Halley's Comet twice, but I have less control over that one--2062 isn't that far off, though. When I was in fourth and fifth grade, we read "The Cremation of Sam McGee" every single day, and I've been obsessed with them ever since.

I've been getting in the mood for it by reading my favorite passage from The Scarlet Letter--the phenomenon in the book isn't a lunar eclipse, but it's close enough:
...a light gleamed far and wide over all the muffled sky. It was doubtless caused by one of those meteors, which the night-watcher may so often observe burning out to waste, in the vacant regions of the atmosphere. So powerful was its radiance, that it thoroughly illuminated the dense medium of cloud betwixt the sky and earth. The great vault brightened, like the dome of an immense lamp. It showed the familiar scene of the street, with the distinctness of mid-day, but also with the awfulness that is always imparted to familiar objects by an unaccustomed light. The wooden houses, with their jutting stories and quaint gable-peaks; the door-steps and thresholds, with the early grass springing up about them; the garden-plots, black with freshly turned earth; the wheel-track, little worn, and, even in the market-place, margined with green on either side; all were visible, but with a singularity of aspect that seemed to give another moral interpretation to the things of this world than they had ever borne before. And there stood the minister, with his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynne, with the embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom; and little Pearl, herself a symbol, and the connecting link between those two. They stood in the noon of that strange and solemn splendor, as if it were the light that is to reveal all secrets, and the daybreak that shall unite all who belong to one another.
...
Nothing was more common in those days, than to interpret all meteoric appearances, and other natural phenomena, that occurred with less regularity than the rise and set of the moon, as so many revelations from a supernatural source. Thus, a burning spear, a sword of flame, a bow, a sheaf of arrows, seen in the midnight sky, prefigured Indian warfare. Pestilence was known to have been foreboded by a shower of crimson light. We doubt whether any marked event, for good or evil, ever befell New England, from its settlement, down to Revolutionary times, of which the inhabitants had not been previously warned by some spectacle of this nature. Not seldom it had been seen by the multitudes. Oftener, however, its credibility rested on the faith of some lonely eyewitness, who beheld the wonder through the colored, magnifying, and distorting medium of his imagination, and shaped it more distinctly in his afterthought. It was, indeed, a majestic idea, that the destiny of nations should be revealed, in these awful hieroglyphics, on the cope of heaven. A scroll so wide might not be deemed too expansive for Providence to write a people's doom upon. The belief was a favorite one with our forefathers, as betokening that their infant commonwealtlh was under a celestial guardianship of peculiar intimacy and strictness. But what shall we say, when an individual discovers a revelation, addressed to him alone, on the same vast sheet of record! In such a case, it could only be the symptom of a highly disordered mental state; when a man, rendered morbidly self-contemplative by long, intense, and secret pain had extended his egotism over the whole expanse of nature, until the firmament itself should appear no more than a fitting page for his soul's history and fate. We impute it, therefore, solely to the disease in his own eye and heart that the minister, looking upward to the zenith, beheld there the appearance of an immense letter--the letter A--marked out in lines of dull red light. Not but the meteor may have shown itself at that point, burning duskily through a veil of cloud; but with no such shape as his guilty imagination gave it; or, at least, with so little definiteness, that another's guilt might have seen another symbol in it.

Oh, I always see my name (or initial) in lights!

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Blogger anhaga on Sun Mar 04, 12:26:00 AM:
You saw Halley's Comet? When? Has it been by in our life time? Yikes. Where was I?

I've always wanted to see a lunar eclipse again. The last time I saw it the moon looked HUGE and was shining down, all brownish and intimidating, over the lake in my backyard in NC. I...was...well, scared, mostly, but I thought it was pretty neat.

Though nothing, really, beats the solar eclipse that happened during rehearsal for the May Procession at my Catholic elementary school. (and they said that Catholicism didn't pick up non-Christian celebrations and convert them to celebrate the Virgin Mary!) Try telling 250 kids that they *can't* look up or they'll go blind. I pity my teachers.
 
Blogger Alice on Sun Mar 04, 06:20:00 PM:
Halley's Comet last appeared in 1986.
Check out this note on Mark Twain's famous claim that he came into this world with the Comet (1835) and left with it, too (1910): http://faculty.citadel.edu/leonard/budd.htm
(I can't get the html tag to work right)