The rude rebuke just above is to myself.
In the last column, I was dumb enough to refer to “the winter equinox.” There’s no such thing. Yes, there’s a spring equinox and a fall equinox, those days when the hours of light and darkness are roughly equal. But what I was trying to talk about was winter SOLSTICE, the 24 hours that have the least light and the most darkness.
That’s the time that turns up in Frost’s superb “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,’’ when the speaker reins in his horse “between the woods and frozen lake, the darkest evening of the year.’’
It was the winter solstice that had Ed Hobbie all revved up to take photos of something not to happen again for 500 years: a moon in total eclipse on the very night of the winter solstice! Well, who wouldn’t be excited? Ed was so keyed up that he crunched outside through snow in Arctic cold at 3:30 a.m. _ but a full 24 hours early. He’d misread the calendar.
Thanks, Ed. That makes me feel a bit better about sticking an “equinox” where it had no business being.
The final irony was that, though Ed was outside shivering under a beautifully clear sky, on the next, actual night the Millennial Event was obscured by thick clouds.
I know that for a fact. I went outside to see it, Ed, and I’m betting you went out again, too.
But here’s a comfort for us both: We couldn’t see the lunar eclipse, but it still happened. It didn’t need human witnesses, and it won’t in another 500 years, if humans are still around to see it.
Behind that cloud cover, the earth’s shadow did creep across the moon, reducing its brilliance to a pewter gray. Then the shadow crept away again, not to disturb another winter solstice moon for five centuries.
The event didn’t need us to confirm it. And maybe that’s part of the awesomeness.
I reminded of a few Easter Sunday mornings when I’ve stood shivering down at Lake Front Park for the sunrise service.
A couple of those times have been heavily overcast, too, and even full of blustery snow flurries.
On one such morning, as I walked back up the Pioneer Street hill, I heard one kid yell out to another.
“What a bust! Won’t drag me at another one of these!
The sun never rose!’’
Well, it did rise, stupid! (Sorry.) It rose without our seeing it. And maybe that gave us a better spiritual lesson than a Technicolor sunrise would have provided. Maybe we’d been offered a symbol of faith, “the witness to things unseen.” Maybe we were being reminded that “Blessed are those who do not see, and yet believe.’’
It’s not our seeing them that makes things real, any more than it’s our hearing the figurative tree fall in the forest that makes the sound real. The thunderous crash produces waves of vibrations. That’s what sound is, not our hearing of it.
(“What’s that?” says the wife. “What’s what?’’ he responds, and she whispers, “I just heard a sound.’’ Well, hubby hadn’t, and so there was no sound.
“Go back to sleep, dear.’’) Q.E.D Focusing on hearing the sound (or seeing the sunrise) is just a further example of how absurdly self-centered is our thinking about reality.
Mindlessly, we presume that everything draws meaning from its relation to us. Forgive me, but that’s crap.
Does the tomato plant produce lush fruit just so we humans can enjoy it? Nope.
That ripe redness is meant to feed the very part that we humans may scrape out of the tomato before eating it.
The tomato’s meat is for its seeds. The plant meant it to be, once the tomato has fallen to the ground, a rotting bed of nourishment for tomatoes’ next generation. And that meaning would exist even if humans had never shown up on the scene.
Oh, and how about that poor flower that sadly grows far away from humans, and so “wastes it fragrance on the desert air’’?
Hey, that’s a lucky flower!
It’s not going to be yanked or cut from its roots and stuck in a vase to die. Its fragrance and those beautiful colors, untouched by humans, will draw their intended admirers: Bugs and bees will fumble at the blossoms and carry off fertilizing pollen to make still more lovely, fragrant flowers.
That’s the way it goes in nature, friends, and praise God, we’re in it and of it and a part of it. Of course we’re meant to enjoy nature, to revel in its goodness and beauty. But pretending that nature’s only meaning is what we assign to it is precisely what has made us blunder into a grim, blind canyon.
We’d better wise up and put ourselves in our place, or maybe the dear old earth, out of patience with us at last, will shrug us off for what we’ve become: destructive parasites. Anyway, I like sunrise services on overcast days. And, Ed, I think that cloud-covered eclipse probably did us good.
The wondrous event occurred without our seeing it. And that, like your rushing out on the wrong night and like my mixing up equinoxes and solstices, ought to put us in our place.
Humbleness. Laughter at our bloated egos. That’s what comes to us old folks if we’re lucky.
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