On my way home Saturday night from one of the most enchanting wedding ceremonies I have ever had the honor of attending, I caught a glimpse of the moon. It looked enormous, larger than usual. Odd, I thought, must be the wine. Every few blocks or so, it would reappear from behind a tall building, plump and yellow, overripe, sitting just off the edge of the skyline. It was a magnificent sight, and once I stopped worrying about hallucinations, I simply enjoyed it. (The photo above was lifted off the web, and I can't find a credit, but I liked the cactii standing in as skyscrapers...)I learned the next day that I had been lucky enough to witness an unusual "super-moon" that, thanks to a fluke in orbital mechanics, was 7 % closer than at its most distant point. I can only imagine that it is a propitious sign for the young couple.
And a good omen for the book I reviewed in the New York Times, which coincidentally made its appearance with the super-moon, called Nocturne by James Attlee. The book is a ramble around the world in search of moonlight, and a passionate plea that we learn to turn off the night lights. This isn't just for city dwellers. All all of us in suburbs and even rural areas are burning too brightly: some of the night lights on houses in my rural Rhode Island town are bright enough to land a helicopter. Neighbors several acres away can no longer see the stars. Light pollution has become such a problem that we now have an International Dark Sky Organization to fight for our right to enjoy the night. We have forgotten what we are missing.
One of the most poignant comments in a long thread on the Japan nuclear crisis was from a person who said that because of the cascade of power outages across the country, she was able to see the night sky for the first time. Never had she known that stars glittered so. She took it as a gift, but it made her sad that it had to come at the expense of so many lives. We do not need a calamity to find our way back to the dark magic of night.