Assignment: Watch the Harvest Moon (eclipsed, blood-red, supermoon) on the night of September 27th. Make one picture, and write 500 words describing the moonlight.
Between the moon and the earth lives an ocean of unknown, infinite in depth, infinite in height, and 238,855 miles in width. But a few times a year, the moon is at once 13,000 miles closer, and full. On those nights, the sky becomes a dome with a chandelier of white moonlight at its center, and a gradient of blue frescoed to its edges. All that hides from the harshness of daylight tip-toes out into the safety of this dome. On the Mystic River, the lily pads alchemize into sculpted silver encrusted in jade, the autumn leaves caramelize into a translucent yellow, and water constructs a canal of indigo ink. The moonlight has made the world an unknown place.
In the mythology of India, moonlight is the radiance that emanates from the Moon God, Chandra. He is so tall, bright, and handsome that the women of earth and sky fall at his feet. Perhaps because of his beauty, perhaps because of the groupies, he behaves as certain men of earth and sky do – he is arrogant. It is hard to find evidence of merit in Chandra. Either he is philandering with the wives of other men, like Tara the Goddess of the Stars and rightful wife of Jupiter, or he is mistreating his own 27 wives, or he is mocking Ganesha, the fat, little elephant-headed god that rides a mouse. As a result of all the trouble he causes his fellow cosmic bodies, Chandra is constantly incurring curses intended to curb his arrogance by tainting his beauty – he waxes and wanes and bulges, he is eclipsed, he turns a bloody red, and sometimes, he is bulging and eclipsed and bloody red all at once.
Such was the state of Chandra on this night, as he fell into the shadow of the earth, and the night sky began to climb along the North side of his face, burying him in darkness. The chandelier dimmed, the fresco wore away, the lillies lost their shine, and the water turned back to water. The moon, was no longer arrogant. It was sorrowful.
It was the night of the Mid Autumn Festival, where faraway in China, moon cakes were being filled with red bean paste, and paper lanterns were being lit. In this land, the moon is not Chandra, but a melancholic woman named Chang’e. Once upon a time, a great hero had been gifted an elixir of immortality, but he so deeply loved his wife, Chang’e, that he refused to drink it and gifted it to her instead. One afternoon, a covetous man barged into their house in an attempt to steal the elixir, but Chang’e refused to give in to him, drinking it herself instead. She was immediately thrust into the celestial world as an immortal, and so she was forever separated form her beloved husband. With no way to return to earth, she came to live on the moon, so that she could at least be closer to the one she loved.
As the moon receded away into darkness on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, it looked down in desolation. The moonlight that had been so bright it spilt over the edges of buildings was turning to black. Chang’e moved into the full shadow of the earth, so that she was perfectly obscured from the sun. Here, where the Earth’s atmosphere had separated away the shorter wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, all that was left was red. And so, before darkness could separate Chang’e from her husband, she blushed into a deep red.
In Medford, Massachusetts, the moon is believed to be a conglomeration of dust that is held together by gravity and falls in and out of the shadow of the Earth based on highly predictable revolutions and rotations. It is statistically predictable that anomalies exist, such as the moon happening to be as many times closer to the earth as it is smaller than the sun, so that the moon is covered in red and eclipsed on the precise night of the Half Moon Festival, the night Chang’e was thrust to the sky, the night of red bean moon cakes and red lanterns.
The moon returns from its 4 hour pilgrimage traversed every 33 years to illuminate the unknown of the earth in light. And so the tales of Chandra and Chang’e and conglomerations of dust come to us to illuminate the unknown of our minds with images of arrogance, and sorrow, and objective truth that we alone can see, but no one can be sure of.