Sangamon Nights

Friday October  4, 8:45pm, front porch. New moon.

I sit on the front porch at our home on the Sangamon River, listening to the rain and enjoying a dark stout at week’s end.

In the darkness, I ponder the beginning of the “moonth”,  the 29-day lunar cycle, thirteen of which make up a year. Today is the New Moon, the day when the moon travels across the sky with the sun, its dark side facing earth. So even if skies were clear, there would still be no moon.

It was almost 90 degrees today, and in October! But the rainstorms provide welcome wet relief for the parched Sangamon River. The rain portends change. You can feel it in the air.

Saturday October 5, 7:15pm, back porch. Day after New Moon.

Much nicer Saturday. It’s now that time of day after sunset and before dark when the stars first pop out. On this unseasonably warm evening, Carol and I sit out on our back porch, sip Chianti and listen as the crickets and katydids sing the music of the night.

When I was young (but older than I’d care to admit), I truly thought these sounds were the twinkling of stars. Sure, I realized stars were far away, but it just seemed right somehow. Besides, I never saw a cricket chirping at night. And I still haven’t.

And even with all my grown-up scientific knowledge, it still sounds like stars twinkling. Almost makes me question the value of scientific knowledge.

Tuesday October 8, driving along CR 600E, 6:45pm, waxing crescent moon

The waxing crescent moon hangs low in a neatly manicured thumbnail lying on its back in the indirect-sunlit deep indigo Western sky.

And just beyond its grasp lies the first-appearing and by far the brightest star in the night sky.

Actually, it’s not a star, it’s the planet Venus. And I lament the many wasted wishes on this “first star I see tonight”.

This planet of love is more like the planet of hell; a dire neighborly warning of the consequences of greenhouse gasses run amok. Venus’ thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide clouds let solar radiation in then traps it there like a pressure cooker on the planetary surface.

A typical Venusian forecast would call for completely overcast skies and a balmy 900 degree high with a decent chance of widely scattered sulfuric acid rain showers. And forget escaping the heat by heading down to the river. All the surface water on Venus evaporated into space long, long ago.

Saturday October 12, 4:30 pm, front yard, “half” moon.

What we often call a “half” moon is really the first quarter since we can’t see the back half, and we’re only seeing half of the front half. Thus, a quarter.

The moon has just passed first quarter phase and out in the front yard, I see it rising high in the Eastern sky in the full daylight of late afternoon.

I ponder the blue sky through the holes in the apparently paper thin moon. Sure, I get that the sky is in front of the moon and that the bright parts shine through the sky and the dark parts don’t. But this isn’t very satisfying. I prefer to think of it as it looks: a holey paper moon, even if it isn’t sailing over a cardboard sea.

Monday October 14, 8:30 pm, walking along the Sangamon, waxing gibbous moon.

The waxing gibbous is one of my favorite moons. Unlike the full moon rising at sunset, today’s waxing gibbous rose at 3:43 this afternoon. So now walking down along the banks of the Sangamon at 8:30 pm, the nearly-but-not-quite-full waxing gibbous is already high in the sky above my treetops, shining brightly and lighting up the surface of the river at night.

Today was Columbus Day, and say what you will about the man, he and his crew did cross the Great Pond with nothing but the moon and stars to guide them. I ponder the glory of a waxing gibbous moon night on a journey to an unknown land standing on the deck of a schooner under full sail far out in the middle of the Atlantic pushed forward by nothing but the night wind.

Friday October 18, 6pm, sunset. Hunter’s Moon.

Overcast skies mean we won’t be seeing the huge full Hunter’s moon rising in the Eastern sky just as the sun sinks in the West.

They say the large moon rising on the Eastern  horizon is a “moon illusion” and that it’s always exactly the same size no matter where it is in the sky. Apparently, if I were to measure the moon in the sky with a paper clip bent like a caliper, I’d find it’s no bigger on the horizon than it is when it’s high in the sky. So, why would I do that?

Friday October 25th. 9pm, walking my black lab, Josh, waning gibbous moon.

A dark clear night with a waning gibbous moon; perfect for gazing up at the stars.  Tonight’s waning gibbous moon won’t even rise ‘til after 11. I’ll probably be in bed by then.

Josh and I are taking our walk.  He’s sniffing the ground, and I’m looking up at the glorious night sky.

Looking up at the stars is to look into an infinity of space and times. Yes, that’s plural. The light from Altair in the constellation Aquila is a mere 15 years old while the light from Deneb, a hugely bright star 70,000 times brighter than our sun in the constellation Cygnus, is over 1,500 years old. Both are shining brightly overhead, only a short visual hop down the Milky Way. Who says we can’t time travel?

Interestingly, light from the galaxy M60 in the constellation Virgo (currently up during the daytime), is 65 million years old. I ponder the fact that if the people from galaxy M60 were to train their super powerful telescopes here at my spot on the Sangamon River, they wouldn’t see me, but they might catch a glimpse of a Tyrannosaurus Rex searching for prey in a humid, sub-tropical swamp.

And if they were to travel here, time warping across 65 million years, they’d arrive prepared to do battle with dinosaurs but find us here instead. Which would they find the more frightening beast?

Sunday November 3rd, 8:45pm. New moon. Front porch.

I sit on the front porch at our home on the Sangamon River. I notice the crickets and katydids are silent as I sit enjoying a dark stout at the end of the weekend.

Coincidentally, the end of this lunar moonth is also the end of daylight savings time and darkness has come on eerily early. In the darkness, I think back on this past lunar moonth of darkening days and leaves changing from green to yellow and red then gone.

Today’s New Moon brings on another new moonth. And the New Moon portends change. You can feel it in te air.

This is the final  version of a column, a draft version of which mistakenly appeared as Notes from the River in the Mahomet Citizen, November 14, 2013 by Scott Hays

Comments are closed.