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  • Writer's picturejamesbriankerr

A Birthday Treat: Watching the Full Eclipse of the Moon

Original photo by Mike Heck

Random musings on my gypsy existence at my cabin in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania and wherever else life takes me.

Today is my birthday, and in celebration of my 63rd year on this earth, I did something I’ve never done before.

I got out of my warm bed at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. ET and went outside into the cold to witness the full eclipse of the moon. I’ve seen lunar eclipses before but never a total one, and never on my birthday. What better way to start another year of life than by experiencing something new?

This stage of my life is all about experiences and ticking items off my “challenge list.” I want to sip as much of life’s nectar as I can before I shrug off this mortal coil. Some of those experiences, like traveling, cost money. But a lot of them are free for the taking (or viewing, in this case). Nature is particularly generous in dangling those free experiences and delights before us, if only we take the time to open our senses to them.

So there I stood at the edge of the shorn cornfield watching this rare dance of three celestial bodies. It was a perfect night for star-gazing—clear and cold, but not bitterly so. I had a coat on and I did jumping jacks and calisthenics to keep myself warm.

The whole process of the eclipse took about an hour as the moon’s light was slowly eaten away, Pac-Man like, by the earth’s shadow. There’s a surreal, meditative quality to watching an eclipse, like witnessing a birth. We watch in awe as Nature goes through her birthing cycle in her own sweet time, waiting to see what special new creature she will present to us.

As the eclipse deepened, the night became darker and more stars appeared in the night sky. Behind me, to the east, the Big Dipper hung upside down over the cabin, spilling its contents onto the roof.

I was alone, and yet not alone. The stars overhead, the trees around me, the lights of distant houses on the mountain. I heard a dog barking in the distance. A cow mooing. Crows cawing.

Then, when the moon was in full eclipse, everything went quiet—or so, at least, it seemed to me. All was dark. I felt Nature holding its collective breath in wonderment at the birth of this strange, blood-orange moon hanging suspended in the western sky.

I found myself thinking of past birthdays, things I had done and gifts I had received. Growing up in our household, we always had a little party when one of us kids had a birthday. There was always a cake—my favorite was vanilla with chocolate icing, made by either my mother or grandmother.

Candles were lit and everyone gathered around and sang happy birthday, then watched as the birthday boy or girl opened presents. Usually, we got two gifts—one a toy (yah!) and the other a needed article of clothing (“uhh, thanks, Mom”).

As I got older, the parties and presents dwindled, as they inevitably do. Still, even into my fifties, my mother would give me a gift on my birthday, until she was too old to handle it anymore.

These days, at nearly ninety, amazingly she still makes a point of sending us a birthday card with a handwritten note telling us how special we are, how proud she is of us. I have a whole stack of those past cards in my drawer. When she is no longer around, I will go back and read them. They will always make me feel special.

That’s what birthdays are about, aren’t they? To feel special and to make others feel special. Because we are, all of us. We’re all born of Nature, and while we may not be as impressively big and showy as the moon, every one of us is as uniquely crafted as a flake of snow or a leaf in a maple tree.

As I walked back to the house, the moon was beginning to fade into the creep of dawn to the east. I thought of one of my favorite lines from Henry David Thoreau—

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”

Another year ahead. Another three-hundred-sixty-five days of life and experiences, if I am fortunate enough to have them. I pray I am awake for each one of them.

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