As with all these mad cap ideas, when the alarm went off just three hours after going to bed I questioned my sanity. Experience tells me however that once over the initial shock of getting up in the middle of the night these crazy ideas are always worth it.
The combination of a ‘super moon’ and a total eclipse of the same, coupled with a forecast for a completely cloud free sky meant that it was just one of those things that we felt we shouldn’t miss. We wrapped up in unfamiliar winter clothing and crept out of the house, conscious that our neighbours are generally sane and would, most likely, be fast asleep in bed. It already felt like a mini adventure.
The moon was startlingly bright and it was immediately evident that we had only just got up in time. The shadow of the earth had already taken a small bite out of the brilliant white sphere, the show had already started. Surrounded as we were by street lights it wasn’t the best environment to appreciate a night time eclipse so our plan was to walk out of the village onto unlit lanes to get the full impact of the spectacle. As we walked along what I have always thought of as a relatively straight road the moon swung through nearly ninety degrees revealing the true change of direction we were taking. It made me think of the early navigators, traversing seas and deserts simply by observation of the planets. Travelling with hope and courage rather than GPS and backup mobile phone.
Orion was looking down on us, his sword and belt easy to identify but the still bright moon made the fainter stars of his bow harder to pick out. Similarly we could just make out Cassiopeia and The Plough. With ninety percent of the moon still beaming down our shadows on the road were sharp and distinct, the light easily sufficient to read by. The progress of the shadow was slow and we became aware of other elements of the night. The call of birds on the nearby creek, geese from the sound of them, and the smell of the damp earth as we took to a dirt track to get further from the light pollution. If we stood still it was possible to make out the occasional rustle of a creature in the hedgerow, perhaps a hedgehog or a rabbit. As the moon’s light was slowly stolen by the shadow of the earth so the stars became brighter and easier to distinguish. Just a trace of the milky way could be seen and Venus, low on the horizon shone brightly, a real star shaped star, as if drawn from a child’s imagination.
The final brilliant ellipse was extinguished leaving us in a new kind of shadowless darkness. The moon was now a strange red circle framed by a brighter rim and we were mesmerised as we stood and stared until the pain in our necks grew too much to bear. Naively we imagined that the shadow would clear and the moon would reappear as quickly as it had been obscured but it didn’t. We had no idea that it would remain in it’s current state for an hour or more.
We waited and waited but reluctantly we gave in and began to wander back towards home, constantly checking over our shoulders for a sign of change but it never came. It was as if the show had been put on pause and we didn’t have the remote control to do anything about it.
We were cold by the time we got home and astonished to find that we had been wandering the darkening lanes for two hours. That’s longer than your average feature film and as it turned out a lot more entertaining than many. We took about twenty photographs of this rare phenomenon, every one of them was rubbish. But that’s OK. The photographs would probably have ended up languishing in some forgotten folder on Google Drive never to be seen again. Whereas the memories, the experience, they will last forever and what’s more they are high definition works of art. But you will have to take my word for that of course.