Saturday, December 10, 2011

Shadows in Cold and Light

When I read my E-mail from I had less than 24 hours to prepare. Not that there is much to prepare for a lunar eclipse. I could have just ignored the message. But I told my just-turned-ten son Jamie about it. Jamie is fond of astronomy, like his dad was at that age and still is. I think I first learned about eclipses from a Bobbsey Twins book where the villain was planning on fooling some savages into believing he could extinguish the sun. I think Jamie just showed an interest.

So Friday afternoon I told the family that there would be a total lunar eclipse the next morning starting at 4:45 a.m. Jamie was down for it. I did a little research that evening to remind myself why the moon turns red during totality. I had seen eclipses before. One of the most unforgettable things is that when the moon is completely in the Earth’s shadow, the sunlight still shines through our atmosphere. Depending on the global air quality, the light turns red or orange, much for the same reasons our sunsets are that color. Jamie was thrilled to look forward to me waking him up early for it. He instructed me not to look at him and marvel at how cute he was sleeping and then leave him be. I told him it would be early, and it would be cold. He was still set to it.

That Friday night I stayed late at work to help facilitate an event. I suppose I could have left earlier and trusted others to lock and code the buildings. But that’s not what I do. Maybe it’s pride more than courtesy, but my help was appreciated. I’m usually done with work at 10 p.m. I was the last to leave and coded the last building at about midnight.

I set up the coffee pot and went to bed. The cat walked on me and kneaded me in the back. I fell right asleep, and woke up at 4:45. I quick check out the back door revealed a mostly clear sky. The top portion of the full moon was just a little shadowed. The air was cold.

Here was the part of the day where I could have hoped for Jamie to grumble and fall back asleep. Then I could too. But I gently shook him and whispered to him and he sat right up, smiled and nodded. I turned on the coffee pot and put on some warm clothes. We got some sleeping bags to wrap up in and I took our telescope outside.

Then Jamie and I spent about an hour and a half sitting in lawn chairs whispering to each other. I sipped coffee and Jamie didn’t complain about the cold. The shadow of the earth descended over the moon. (Proof of the earth’s roundness all you flat earth folks.) We checked the telescope periodically, but it is hard to adjust in the dark if you’re not used to it and the moon isn’t as stationary as stars. But even with the unaided eye we could see the disappearing portion of the moon turning a reddish hue already. By the time totality was near the sky was lightening up. The moon little more than a rust colored half-disc low in the east. But the sky around it was a brighter blue by the minute. I was hoping to see the brilliant sliver of white appear at the top. But Jamie was ready to go inside.

I stayed outside for a few more minutes. But the moon was almost faded into the sky. And I want to be at work at eight. But first a quick blog entry. I thought I would jot some notes and then revise and post this on Monday. But I’ve got it all here now. I had analogies about parenthood, faith, and creation in mind. But this will just be an account of watching a the eclipse on a cold December morning with my ten year old son. If you can think of a good faith analogy about God’s Earth and the perfect cosmos set in motion please feel free to imagine one now and even share it in the comments section.

I will say however, that hearing Jamie’s exhalations of amazement were worth every cold moment of sleep lost. God’s creation is always more spectacular when you can share it.

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