Night Watch

Begun last night; finished tonight:

No, i wasn’t on a ship, but it felt a little like it. Like the evening watch, 2000 to 2400.

i had read about tonight’s lunar eclipse. i have seen several partial eclipses in my time. i’ve been around a number of solar eclipses, but never saw much sense in looking at a light so powerful it could ruin my eyes, even with filters or  pinholes in cardboard or whatever. i’m a little shy on the eclipse viewing scale, so i thought i would check this one out.

i left my chair by the hearth and a warm fire and wandered into the night. As with standing watches back in my day, i turned off the lights. Darken ship. Night vision. i had binoculars, not as heavy or as powerful as the olive green ones which used to hang around my neck, but it sort of felt like those other days. i was dressed warm enough for what is call cold in the Southwest corner: mid-fifties. i had on a tee shirt under a blue chambray cotton shirt — ahh, the best working uniform a sailor ever had, so we ditched them for all sorts of less useful things but the coveralls and who would want to dress like a submariner? Over the shirt, i had pulled on a green hoodie. It made me think of the best jacket ever made: the Navy’s drab olive green foul weather jacket. Oh, how i have often wished it had been part of my personal seabag, not an issue for ship wear. i could have used one about a gazillion times since i left the sea.

Earlier, the weather prognosticators had predicted rain, which meant cloudy skies, which meant this would be a bust. The rain however slid north as it often does. The clouds were thin and sparse. Looking up at the full moon, i knew i would be okay on that point. The bright beauty of the super full moon rises just a tad south of dead east in this neck of the woods and climbs in an arc diagonally over our home. It would be at about a sixty or seventy degree angle south by southeast  from our back yard when the eclipse occurred, perfect to view from the uncovered patio at the back of our yard proper. In this neck of the woods, when it would occur, the moon would be smack dab in the middle of the constellation Cancer the crab. The twins, Gemini would be at 11:00 from both on the direction clock of the sky.

i was out early. It looked like there was a stray wisp of a cloud covering the bottom of the moon. Initially, i was disappointed until i realized it was the shadow of the earth. The eclipse was beginning. i sat from around 2220 until around 2250, in a patio chair, not the captain’s chair on the starboard side, mind you, but in the XO’s chair on the port side, my ultimate, final location. Appropriately. Maureen and Sarah wandered in an out. It takes patience to watch an eclipse and for a rare time in my life, patience was in my approach. Sarah brought out my telescope Maureen gave me one Christmas, which i vow to use prolifically each year and either give up because of the complexity or my clumsiness or simply never get to it. We could not get the big scope to work. Now i have another to-do on my list. We shared the two sets of binoculars for…oh, about ten minutes.

They went inside around 2240. i remained a while, looking skyward, looking at the heavens, checking Castor and Pollux, the twins of Gemini, before returning my gaze to the darkening moon. It was not “blood red” here, but i could make out a tint of red.

No matter. As i peered at the heavens, i was taken back to being at sea, on the bridge of a ship with a star to navigate by and then further back when the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, and probably every other group of humans in the world at the time, without our seemingly limitless knowledge (Remember: Mose Allison intoned, “…I’ve been sitting around thinking about ultimate knowledge and such//The smartest man in the whole round world really don’t know that much//Well ain’t that just like living, blame it on your wife/Ain’t that just like living – what ever happened to real life?) and those folks back thousand of years ago awed by the vastness of the universe they didn’t know, making their sense of it.

And, as i did on the rushing Cumberland River in a fishing boat, then so many times at sea, and letting the petrified chunks of wood roll through my fingers as my nine-year old daughter Blythe frolicked in the Petrified Forest, and in the Christmas Eve service when they sing “Silent Night” with the lights off and each of the congregation holding candles aloft, i got this feeling inside, warm and calm, not induced, not invoked by someone else, but there: peace.

And wondering: why, oh why can’t we rise above our pettiness, our selfishness, our need for confirmation of our worth at the expense of others when we are so insignificant in so many ways, yet so much a part of this whole thing far beyond what we can discern even now with all of the knowledge we have gained along with (“the smartest man in the whole round world,” we really don’t know that much. And the thing that separates us from the animals and all else is this idea of humanity, going beyond the instinctual self preservation to be humane, kind to others, true justice seeking.

And it matters not, i think as i go inside in the chill of the night as the eclipse begins to wane. It has to be me, or you if you prefer, who chooses to live in the spirit of what i felt, a oneness in the vastness of it all, a mariner with his stars and his Cancer and his Gemini and his star to navigate by, to live as well as one can, knowing what is right deep inside just as the feeling that i felt then and now.

It is time to be human, real, kind, in peace.

2 thoughts on “Night Watch

  1. Oh, my Jim, you did it again. I saw the same thing you did except I thought the fuzziness was caused by my aging eyesight. I didn’t know it was the Earth’s shadow. And like you, I felt an inner warmth while I recalled a NASA scientist breakdown the existence of all Life. She said that our Universe is less than a speck. That the existence of other universes is greater than the numbers.
    Then she showed how all forms of Life started with a single speck of stardust. Isn’t that magical?
    So last night, this speck of stardust watched the eclipse enraptured by the wonder of all that IS. Bless

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