Last night we were aﬀorded an astronomical feast. There was going to be a full moon which is always nice. It was also going to be the Full Wolf Moon according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Not only that, but it was going to be what’s known as a super moon since the moon was at perigee, meaning its closest approach to earth. Top all of that oﬀ with a total lunar eclipse making it a blood moon as well. It was going to be quite the lunar show.
So many times these spectacles are obscured by clouds. We’d had what felt like an endless stream of rain and clouds and gray for quite some time. We were beginning to wonder when we would see the sun again, much less the dimmer of the two great lights. And there were clouds early in the night. For a while the moon was playing hide and seek behind the clouds that were moving along rather quickly with the wind. A little light here, a little glimmer then, a few seconds of clear view before it was back to being behind the clouds again. It was pretty in its own way. The moonlight would occasionally ﬁnd clouds thin enough to cast a bit of a halo through. The meteorologists had said the clouds would break by about 11:30. Turns out they were right!
Now I know all of this because I had decided that the forecast and the event itself were due cause to get out and camp in my hammock. The forecast was for the temperature to dip down to around 15º; there was a fairly steady wind out of the north-northeast at about 7-10 mph; but it was going to be clear after midnight. This situation sort of calls to me.
I have been fascinated with the moon and stars since I was a boy. As a child of the 60s I watched the space race with great interest. I remembered watching the ﬁrst moon landing and seeing Armstrong and Aldrin make those historic steps on a extraterrestrial sphere. I had a telescope and did my best to look at planets and stars. I had dreamed of being an astronaut like countless other kids in those days.
But perhaps my favorite experience of cold weather star-gazing happened years later. I was a young man sharing a house with a buddy in the hills of Tennessee. We had had a pretty good sized snow (at least for our neck of the woods). We were without power for 8 days. There was not much to do after it was dark.
So one night I decided to take my sleeping bag out on the balcony and just lay there and watch the stars. It was cold and clear. I could see my breath. And then I saw a shooting star. I thought to myself how neat that was. Some piece of space had entered our atmosphere and in its demise I saw a ray of light. I was struck again at the vastness and wonder and mystery of it all.
Then a few minutes later I saw another. And then another. I was surprised. So I got up out of my sleeping bag and went in to ﬁnd my Old Farmer’s Almanac. Sure enough, it was the Geminid Meteor shower taking place. I was excited. I hurried back to the balcony and crawled back into the sleep bag. I laid there for quite some time watching the show unfold before me. Me bundled up and warm feeling the bracing air on my face and watching an event that has been repeated countless times before. It was as close to magic as I think I’ve ever felt.
So when I get the chance to camp out under the winter sky for some special occasion, I am always eager to do so. I strung up my hammock and installed a couple layers of underquilts. I grabbed my down top quilt that is rated down to 15º. I had on some warm layers and covered my head with wool caps. Surrounded by down and nylon I laid back and watched the sky.
The super-wolf-blood moon did not disappoint. It may just be a shadow that occurs with some frequency, but there is still something mystical about it. The moon which was larger and brighter than normal was slowly engulfed in a darkness that usually shoots oﬀ into eternity. Yes, it turns a shade of red, or maybe copper. Some may not see it that way, but the ancients did and so we have ‘blood moons.’ And I had a great view.
I know that I’m not going to sleep as well or as much when I camp out on such nights. Not because I am uncomfortable—indeed, I was very comfortable in most respects—but because I do not want to miss a moment of this subtle show. I ﬁnd it invigorating to place myself out in the cold and stare into the sky.
People will look at me with a strange look when I tell them that I slept out in the open last night on the coldest night of the year thus far. They will wonder what has gotten into me that I would give up a heated house and warm bed to sleep in the cold and wind. There is a reason they call folks like me a ‘lunatic.’ Yes, moonlight, especially from a super-wolf-blood moon has an eﬀect on me. But at least now you know why.