Last Friday night, I took the dogs outside to commune with nature. It was after midnight, and above us was a sky that I will never forget.
Two nights earlier, the moon had been full, and now its leading edge as it scooted across the sky was being worn away by friction, it seemed, waxing gibbous. Still, the moon was round and bright. It was the moon of fate and fortune, of propositions and proposals, of art and science.
Now, I realize it wasn’t the moon soaring across the sky to the northeast, but rather the clouds being blown to the southwest at a noticeable pace. What clouds they were, too, covering perhaps 95 percent of the heavens like great patches of cotton. (I know that to compare clouds with cotton is cliché, but all clichés have truth behind them, and that similarity was valid Friday night.)
The moon, though nearly full and extremely bright, didn’t appear all that large in the middle of the sky. Nearer the horizon, it might have loomed large, but what it lacked in acreage that night it made up for in wattage. It hurt my eyes to stare.
So bright was it that even when it ducked behind the huge mass of clouds – one cloud, actually, with a few gaps here and there – it shone through. Where the clouds were the color of cotton, those gaps were jet black, ink black, midnight black.
The clouds were thin enough to let the lunar light push through easily, never completely disappearing. At one point, though, the moon glowed from the high end of a particularly thick patch of clouds that resembled a long, soft, billowy hallway. The white clouds were dull gray by comparison.
Here and there, brilliant points of light showed up in the gaps of the cloud, stars that tried to match the moon for output. They, too, appeared to be scuttling across the sky.
That sky was memorable, although my dogs paid it no mind. In fact, they waited patiently at the door while I stood scanning the sky, no doubt wondering what the holdup was.
Since that night, the moon has waned, headed toward third quarter, then crescent, until it reaches new moon status and becomes invisible. A new moon can’t be appreciated the way a full moon can.
Long ago I learned how to tell whether the moon was waxing or waning, in case you have been holed up for weeks. If a partial moon resembles a C, as it does now, the new moon is “coming.” If it resembles a D, the new moon is “departing.” I try not to miss out on the moon so much I don’t know its phase, though, and I hope you took time to go outside and look up the night I did.
If not, stay tuned. The great thing about the moon is that it will perform its show all over again if only we wait long enough. Not every night has the right mixture of moon and clouds to be glorious, but when the price of admission is just an upward glance, we can’t lose.