Sunday, March 20, 2011

Super Moon Goes Extreme

A painting I did two years ago, 'Enchanted
Moon', ink and watercolor.
How beautiful was last night? With all of the terrible things going on around the world right now, it was wonderful we could all share one powerfully bright, perfectly round, purely white sparkling Moon. I wish we had more positive world wide events like that, something to make everyone pause and press their noses to the window pane like children. To lure folks out onto their lawns in the middle of the night, to gaze up in wild wonder at something still far more amazing than anything we've come up with. We can create tiny devices with calming GPS voices to tell us where to turn, but they sure as heck can't guide us to the Moon. It reminds us we still have distance to explore, horizons we've never seen but for a handful of us. If we'd all just work together we'd be there already. Instead we fight about the simplest thing, how to treat people (the answer is nicely, just treat them nicely).

Maybe someday we'll be traveling to the Moon the way Ryan and I take planes back east. A simple trip, a search through security, free diet cokes, all the peanuts you can eat. And we'll look out into the sky from the Moon and see the Earth, the distant place we need to return to in days or weeks time.

The Moon is the one Earth held land (literally held, not by bedrock or rolling sea, but tied to our spiraling side with gravity) that we've yet to pollute or build a McDonald's on. Besides a stiff American flag and a few dusty footprints it's the same vast landscape as it was in the 1800's, 1500's, 400 B.C. No foundations breaking into the crumbling soil, no burnt stones where once a hearth glowed. Just rock after rock, crater upon crater, for miles and miles of silent, pearly dust prairies. The lunar planes.

It doesn't get more vintage than the Moon.
The fact that the lands of the Moon have been the same for centuries fascinates me endlessly. Travel anywhere on earth and where you walk will be different than it was even one hundred years ago. Trees grow, trees fall, forest fires erase, rocks roll, rocks crumble, wind shifts pebbles, waves slice a shore. Our earth has been changing since it began, landscapes forming and reforming over lifetimes. Man has cleared roads, chopped trees, moved stones into mysterious Celtic monuments. We've scurried across its surface like birds with seed and ants with grain, making the land what we needed. However the Moon remains as it was. Without wind, without substantial water, and yes, without us it's been theorized the Moon's surface has not changed since a gas release a million years ago.

That would mean with the exception of that flag and those footprints, the Moon we see is the same Moon Jules Verne thought upon, pausing between sentences, searching for the next right word to craft the future. Marie Antoinette celebrated it during parties and glimpsed it from a jail cell. Galileo studied the very Moon the Mayans took into account when they made their calendar. When Leonardo Da Vinci solved the riddle of moonshine, he solved it for folks who had walked by moonlight in the Dark Ages, the Roman Empire, and the time of the pyramids. Mary and Joseph made their way to Bethlehem under the watchful gaze of the same craters and volcanic formations their child and all children see as the Man in the Moon. Think of a person you admire in history, and they saw the Moon exactly as you see it. (Okay, not Helen Keller, but I imagine the Moon held a dreamy fascination for her too, whether or not she could physically look upon it).

Even in fiction: Elliot and ET flew by the same Moon
Odysseus journeyed beneath for years.
And what of that flag and those footprints? To realize that in our lifetime, or our parents' and grandparents' lifetime, man has touched the Moon? That man has walked its surface--we ourselves come from the first generations to leave footprints on that pristine frontier? It makes me simultaneously happily amazed and a little sad. In all the lifetimes since Earth began birthing humans, we are that one blink. That brief second where we broke the bounds of H.G. Wells novels, stepped off the page, and touched the Moon.

What will the Moon look like in one hundred years now that we have made contact? In a thousand? Are we not only the first to cross its border but also the last generations to view the same Moon our ancestors have enjoyed before us? Are we going to smooth roads for dune buggies? How long after can we keep Walmart from breaking ground? People will need matching hand towels and Tang after all. Will we one day indeed catch space flights to the Moon? I think it's inevitable. If Star Trek communicators and cell phones have taught us anything its that once man sees it in painting, print, or film--he wants it real. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells didn't predict as much as they inspired.

However if we'd been there last night, we would have missed the view. Last night the best place in the world was in each of our own backyards, or in our beds gazing up through the windows. Seeing that big, bright, beautiful beacon in the sky drawing the eyes and imaginations up since the first man searched for something comforting in the dark.

A lovely seaside photograph of last night's Moon
captured by my friend, photographer Jed Thompson.


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