I believe that the more clearly we can focus our attentions on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.
From my front porch, floating in and out of the trees, the moon is just a pale curl of a fingernail. And tonight even within that sliver I can spot the rounded outline of the whole.
It balances beneath the shadows, a promise, a reminder of constancy in it’s monthly glide across the sky. A sign of renewal and re-awakening when so many things around me are in violent chaos.
Last week we were graced by the dramatic Harvest Moon, named because at one time farmers used the extra moonlight in the days for their fall planting.
Moons are a tidal pull on so many things: the ocean’s surf, the calendar year, the seasons of my own body. We women mark off our reproductive lives within the grid of the lunar calendar. And now at 53 my own body is at the waning crescent end of fertility – once full and ripe with hormones, now housing only trace amounts of their elusive power.
We usually think of the mighty sun as life-giver and sustainer. But that explosive ball is like an oversized ego that obliterates and covers everything around it. It is volatile in it combustibility – we protect our bodies and cover our eyes from this overpowering force of nature. For me, the sun is too blinding to contemplate for very long.
But the moon with its cool underbelly of playfulness draws me into its sly gaze. It is a constant reminder of faith in a gentle presence that is astronomically distant while never seeming too far away.
The moon is a hopeful note that life is cyclical, that there exists the possibility that our wasted planet might wane from destruction and yet wax back into some kind of wholeness, even as it seems to forever fade to black over and over again.
I only really began observing the moon when my son was in middle school. His teacher who was raised on a farm (and was a journalist), assigned the class to observe the moon for 30 days and keep a journal of what they found.
She explained that in today’s modern world we no longer considered the moon. That as non-agrarians we failed to see the significance or value in seriously watching it.
So every night for a month my son and I sat outside on the picnic table in the yard and drew sketches, wrote poems and jotted down random observations in our spiral notebooks.
And at first I had to really squinch my eyes to see any big changes. Sometimes it was hidden by clouds, barely visible at all. Often the trees hid it. Some nights the lights from downtown dimmed our subject. And a few times it memorably appeared like a glowing ripe tangerine.
But if I paid attention I knew I was witnessing a pattern that somehow included me.
And I remember feeling close to my boy those nights and how quickly it was that the assignment was over. And now how many moon cycles have occurred since then.
Obviously I haven’t kept up the moon journal. At night when it gets dark my husband and I typically wind down at the end of the day reading our books in bed.
At the moment he’s tackling This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein’s book on climate change. He reads me portions and it makes me feel desperate and sad.
We are destroying our finite environment and are at a loss to find tangible strategies to fix our broken ecosystem. There simply aren’t clear solutions, at least ones that I can glean.
And it’s a small thing and maybe that’s the point, but when I recall the old moon journals there feels like the glimmer of a clue.
What they contained was a truth – that change will always be slow and incremental. That maybe there is a larger design that is merely imperceptible to our human eyes.
And what is the significance in our observation?
Why pay attention at all?
Maybe it will always be a question for the poets and the dreamers and philosophers or even still the farmers. But like so much of the mundane in our surroundings, this act of curiosity feels like a spark.
Connecting ourselves to the stars: this lunar force, from particle to particle, we are part of this and not.
Not long after that school assignment was 9/11. I remember picking my son up from school and struggling with what to say, how to explain such unimaginable violence. If it was difficult for me to process as an adult how could a kid?
And it saddened me then to think of all the work the kids were doing at their school – discovering how to be critical thinkers and learning how to find strategies to solve complex problems, global problems.
The class was doing a unit on environmentalism. Lewis would come home with assignments to measure water from our showers and to record (and scold us on) our wastefulness.
They were studying ecology, a word I hadn’t heard since the 70s.They took a trip to the North Carolina coast to observe the wetlands.
And I never thought it was mere child’s play because what they were learning was profound. They were finding their own agency. They were looking at their natural world in a rigorous and real-world way. Which was more than I could say about my own eduction, hell about my whole generation.
Even though they were just naive kids they were being given actual tools to change the world. And it began with observation and investigation.
And now I think about those old moon journals and I know that the questions sketched out in them were not simply dreamy crayon meanderings. They were an important step in understanding the nature of the universe.
To observe, record, reflect and find meaning. The moon journals were as good an attempt to find the answers as anything.
And as I write this tonight I feel the first slight chill in the approaching October air and I spy a shadow passing over the moon. But I know it’s winking visage is there, hovering between the dry crackley oak leaves, obscured but also still filtering down a little bit of pale light.
And I sit beneath the dome of my galaxy, inhaling a tiny bit of ancient cosmic dust and I’m grateful – for the patient and conciliatory moonlight that bathes my heart and soul in its healing and yet fierce and unremitting grace.