Wednesday, February 20, 2008

loony tunes

I did something very much out of character tonight. With no necessity facing me, no requirement to do so, nothing compelling me, I actually chose to put on a coat, wrap a scarf around my neck, don some gloves, and stand outside in nearly zero degree weather for many, many minutes. My breath hung in the night air for only moments before sinking under its own weight toward the ground. No one passed by; not even a car moved on the street. But I stayed there, my eyes focused on a rare gift that I did not want to give up.

We don't get to see total lunar eclipses as often as we'd like to. The next possible one in this hemisphere isn't for two more years, and who knows whether clouds or storms will obscure it when it finally arrives. But tonight was clear as crystal, one of the most perfect nights I can recall in a long time, certainly in this month of awful weather that has seen more snowfall than most recent winters have had in their totality. And as I stood in the frigid night air, looking up at the pure black sky, seeing that red moon--first with my naked eyes and then, even more spectacularly, through binoculars--hanging against the darkness surrounded by planets and stars, I couldn't help thinking about the small miracles that nature provides to transfix us all if we stop and think about them for more than a millisecond.

All of my life I have been infatuated by natural beauty. On first seeing the majesty of the Grand Canyon, its huge and ancient walls rippling with spectacular bands of colors, all carved from solid rock by that tiny trickling rivulet deep down within the valley, I sat on a rock promontory and simply stared in awe. At Bryce Canyon, with its feathery sandstone pillars rising like some otherworldly landscape from a red dwarf-pine dotted floor, I marveled at the sheer audacity of the delicacy of the design of the whole as I wandered joyfully through its sculpted maze. In Yellowstone, where the cars stop along the roadsides at even the hint of animal sightings, there were enough moments that arrested me in my tracks to fill several memoirs. So too with Arches, with Grand Teton, with Yosemite, with Denali, and with so many, many others.

But it isn't only the huge National Parks that make me stop and smell the proverbial roses. I do that literally, too. Walking the Breast Cancer 3-Day several years ago, I recall coming suddenly upon a sidewalk garden bursting with red and white roses freshly in bloom. Many of my fellow walkers slipped on past as if this were any other gate in any other yard. I just couldn't. I caught a whiff of that scent as I neared them and it simply forced me to stop, to admire, to enjoy the first roses I had seen that season. Like the early crocuses peering through late February (or, this year, maybe early April) snow cover, dotting the gray landscape with bright color, these flowers arrested me, forced my notice.

I notice the fall colors too: I have been known to pull over to stare at particularly magnificent trees (usually maple trees, which tend to turn the most spectacular and vibrant shades of orange and red). And (despite myself) I stop and stare at the calm and serene beauty of freshly fallen snow or of the sparkling aftermath of an ice storm. Nature has so many ways to call to me, to let me know I should be looking.

One month years and years ago I was staying late in a building we owned in New Hampshire each night, renovating it, painting rooms, etc. Some nights I slept there; some nights I drove home very late. Because of its physical relation to the highway and a run of excellent weather, I found myself noticing the moon that month in a way I had rarely noticed it before. I saw it go through all of its phases, and saw the details of each one. I watched as the full moon rose, seemingly filling the entire horizon. I saw it ten days later as a small crescent, a "Cheshire Cat" moon, a disembodied smile hanging mysteriously in the night sky. It's not often I notice the moon going through its phases, but it is a remarkable thing to see.

Not that everything that arrests me in nature is beautiful. I remember driving up the long, long road to Mt. St. Helens, stunned by the immensity of the devastation caused by the eruption of the volcano. I remember similarly being overwhelmed at the extent of the destruction caused by Yellowstone's forest fires. Nature's power to awe is not limited to its beautiful aspects. Nor is it limited to vistas, though if I started naming animals, birds, insects...well, this post could go on forever. It's difficult enough to stop thinking of all of the times I have been moved by places I've seen and beauty I've seen. I grew up in New Hampshire, where spectacle is commonplace, where forested mountains meet lakes only fifty miles from the ocean, where the state's symbol is the natural rock formation of a man's head overhanging a crystal clear mountain lake, a formation I visited dozens of times in my youth and adulthood and never tired of seeing, a formation that, alas, finally gave way to erosion a few years ago and slipped into history.

All of this--and so much more--is in the power that bound me to the moon tonight. I stared at its reddened surface, heedless of the cold that would under any other circumstance have sent me scrambling back into the house. I don't know how long I was out there.

Dirk asked, "Haven't you ever seen a lunar eclipse?"

Of course I had. But how can you be so jaded that you don't see the stunning show Nature is putting on for you? As I stared at the moon, a shooting star whipped past its darkened face: one more element added to the perfection. I didn't even notice the cold. Maybe one of these winters I'll make it up north to see the Aurora. I can't think of anything more lovely than a sky full of rippling lights. And if I can handle the cold for an eclipse, I might just be able to handle it for the Northern Lights.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I agree. But the trick to that, of course, is obvious: you have to be willing to look.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

WELL, IT HAS WORKED (IN SPADES! - just kidding)




it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be

Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
  • M*A*S*H
  • The West Wing
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show
  • Ally McBeal
  • Picket Fences
  • All In The Family
  • Seinfeld
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Star Trek
  • Firefly
  • Wonderfalls
  • Northern Exposure
  • Get Smart
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
  • Felicity
  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
  • Scandal
  • Fairly Legal
  • Girls
  • Don't Trust the B---
  • Justified
  • Portlandia
  • Psych
  • The Middle
  • Person of Interest
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
  • Glee
  • Haven
  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Colbert Report
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Leverage
  • Rachel Maddow Show

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