Earth Still Spins

Some destinations exert a magnetic force, compelling us to return time and again. New Mexico’s Villanueva State Park is one such destination for me. Reachable only by a little-traveled county road, it is situated at the end of a fertile valley first frequented by Paleo-Indians and farmed in more recent centuries by Hispanic settlers, with water provided gratis by an early stretch of Pecos River, between its origin in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and its eventual destiny in Texas—the mighty Rio Grande.

During my most recent visit in late April, not only do I travel a distance of nearly 300 miles (480 kilometers) south, I also journey into a more advanced stage of spring, with budding or blossoming trees and shrubs, a few blooming wildflowers, and pleasing temperatures, conducive to sleeping in a tent. The park’s campground is hemmed in by towering walls of sandstone carved by the stream and clad with the juniper-pinyon community typical of vast expanses of the arid Southwest. Rocky trails lead to various overlooks with views that touch infinity. The rushing river, swelled by snowmelt in the highlands, provides constant background music, to which resident and early migratory birds add their joyful voices.

It is a place permeated by a sense of timelessness, even though I am swept up in its daily arc far more than at home: Up and down with the sun, active early in the morning and late in the afternoon, with decreased activity during the heat of the day, like many fellow critters. The more egregious and topsy-turvy the man-made world, the more I long to be reassured that the earth is still spinning around its axis, that flora and fauna still follow their age-old rhythms. We would do well to heed Mother Nature’s mostly patient and persistent, but recently more urgent, pointers that to ignore those rhythms is to do so at our peril and to our detriment.

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Moonstruck

As high and low tides are the earth’s oceans’ response to the moon’s gravity on a large scale, so are women’s menstrual cycles on a smaller scale. Whether we are greatly or hardly affected by our close (relatively speaking) cosmic neighbor, whether it depresses or impresses us, it has inspired humankind since we have had the capacity to observe its wanderings across the sky. Long before we understood that it revolves around the earth, as the earth does around the sun, we tried to explain its regular appearances and disappearances.

In ancient Greek mythology, the moon was thought to represent the Goddess Selene riding her silver chariot across the firmament at night, just as her brother, Sun God Helios, moved across the day sky in his golden chariot. The scientific terms selenology and selenography (the astronomical study of the moon, and the study of the physical features of the moon, respectively), still commemorate that divine lady of the night.

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Our ancestors prayed or sacrificed to it, or joined wild canines in howling at it. January’s first full moon is known as Wolf Moon, named after the hungry wolves that vocally lament scarce food offerings in the midst of the coldest and darkest month of the year. Its monthly waxing and waning are obvious to anybody who takes the time to gaze at the heavens, and special celestial events, such as eclipses, have always brought out admirers, just as it did a few days ago, when a Wolf Moon, which was simultaneously a Super Moon (a full moon that appeared larger and brighter, as its orbit reached the perigee, the shortest possible distance from the earth), was involved in a total lunar eclipse, thereby being transformed into a Blood Moon (in which the fully eclipsed moon took on a reddish color).

I am not one to set my alarm at 3 o’clock in the morning to witness most astronomical happenings, but I like to be aware of the lunar cycles. Even before I learned about this month’s planetary spectacle, I had sorted through some of my old moon photographs to prepare a blog post. As the sky in Colorado Springs was clear on January 20, and I did not have to set my alarm for the middle of the night, I was able to add a few additional lunar impressions to share with my follow moon lovers.

Complete lunar eclipse and Blood Moon (as “blood-red” as it gets with my limited technical skills)