Most people seldom take the time to look up at the night time sky. I guess we just never think about it much and we assume that there is nothing much worth seeing up there. From time to time, I try to take a few moments to look up and contemplate the floating objects above our heads. Strangely enough if we hear an airplane flying just a thousand feet above our heads that is a big deal. Somehow we don’t really find it astonishing that stars, planets, the moon and sun are orbiting around each other at fantastic speeds and distances.
Recently, I recorded a major celestial event — a lunar eclipse. I took out my video camera and followed the slow but steady movement of the moon as it moved through the phases of the eclipse. As I followed the changing face of the moon, I read up on what was actually taking place and found out that an initial shade known as the penumbra takes place when the moon begins entering the earth’s shadow. This part is only slightly noticeable as a dimming of the moon’s pale colour. Soon after, the moon enters into a stage known as the umbra, which is when the actual visual eclipse begins. I was also amazed to find out why the eclipsed moon never really blacks out but rather glows in a reddish hue. Apparently, the earth’s shadow casts a red light on the moon during an eclipse. This red light is the glow of the morning rising sun or evening sunset all around the globe shining on the moon at the same time. If one were to sit on the moon and stare at the earth during a lunar eclipse, they would see a red halo surrounding the planet as it blocked the sun.
When I was young, I enjoyed looking up at the night time sky and I marveled at the idea that we are just a small group of beings on a little ball of matter floating aimlessly across space. I was amazed at the idea that there was a greater universe of stars, dust, planets and forms that we do not yet understand.
As I grew older, looking up into space to stare at the stars and moon became a form of meditation for me. When I was alone at night I would often watch the slow procession of celestial lights in the dark sky. This was my escape from the chaotic routine and stressful environment of living in a remote community. I remember taking time on warm autumn nights to sit and stare at a rising full moon through the trees. I felt as though it was some sort of art show as I watched the pale light shine down on the leafless trees and sparkle on the river while it also lit up the sky in a dark blue hue that allowed only a few bright stars to poke through. In the spring during goose hunting season, I enjoyed sitting under the light of a full April moon. The white snow and ice covered land reflected the luminous moon and the night was alive with the sounds of garbling geese and trickling water as the frozen muskeg thawed.
In the Cree language the moon is called Tah-Pu-Kah-Pee-See-M, which literally translates as the “night sun”. The word is taken directly from the word Pee-See-M, which means sun and Tah-Pu-Kab-Oo, which means night. The Cree respected the night time sun in much the same way that other ancient cultures did long ago. The moon provided a sense of time and marked special phases of the year to help people prepare for hunting, fishing and for the coming of winter. I learned from hunters and trappers that the moon helped travellers out on the land tell what period of winter was taking place at any given time. As it gets colder, the crescent shape of a moon provides a time frame for the cold months. In succeeding months, the crescent shape of the moon begins to turn on its end forming a ‘U’ shape. As it does so, the winter gets colder until this crescent moon turns into a perfect bowl shape marking the middle of winter. As the ‘U’ shape starts to return to its usual C shape position, the weather begins to warm and spring is on the way.
An eclipse is a marvelous thing to witness and I am happy to be able to see it anytime I want on video now. During the full or new phases, the moon, earth and the sun are aligned and this produces a stronger gravitational pull that actually raises ocean tides higher than normal. It makes one wonder how much this energy and gravitation might also affect humans who are made up of about 70 percent water. If it can move tides, I wonder what it does to us?