Monday, June 04, 2012

A Night With the Moon and the Birds

Photographed at 5:46 a.m. Eastern, 4-second exposure at f/4.

Mary and I are both wide awake at 4:30 a.m., but she chooses to stay indoors. She tells me she'll wait for my photographs. I get dressed, attach my camera to its tripod.

The first time I open the front door I close it, quickly, and half-sprint to the studio to grab my digital recorder. Our local mockingbird is in fine voice. I'm pretty sure it lives in the oak tree that Mary had grown from acorn.

She and I blow each other kisses before I open the door again.

The Moon and I have a date. Our last photo-op had been the rising Supermoon back on May 5.

Before this morning's session, I had checked the info on EarthSky. The penumbral phase of the eclipse has already begun by the time I step outside; but it is so thin a veil I can't tell it's there. I'm after the umbral phase -- the shadow that starts by nibbling at the Moon's rim and gradually eats its way inside.

The Full Moon in penumbral eclipse looks pretty much like any other. But I squeeze off a shot because -- well, because it's the Moon.

Photographed at 4:54 a.m. Eastern, 1/160 second exposure at f/7.1.

It hangs low over the house and gets itself tangled in foliage.

Photographed at 4:56 a.m. Eastern, 4-second exposure at f/4.5.

I stand in my quiet street, close to the mailbox. My recorder rests on a cinderblock that Mary's put down to divert the streams of water that spill toward us in heavy rain.

It's not raining tonight. The sky is almost completely clear, with a few wisps of cloud.

Repetitive beeps form a counterpoint to the more inventive mockingbird. I stand aside as my camera counts off the beats to its automatic shutter release.

The Moon sinks behind the house over the next hour. My next photo shoot takes me down the block and around the corner. By the start of the umbral phase, the Moon has gotten a bit of color.

Photographed at 5:47 a.m. Eastern, 1/125-second exposure at f/4.5.

In addition to the Earth's penumbra, it travels through a thicker layer of atmosphere as it drops toward the West.

With the exception of an occasional car engine, I am the only person on the road. But more birds have come on the scene. I've got plenty of company down at the corner, singing their hearts out in the trees.

Photographed at 5:54 a.m. Eastern, 1/20-second exposure at f/8.

The Earth's shadow starts making inroads, and the Moon's smooth curve looks a bit dished in and ragged. That's my planet's shadow falling on her. That's the ground I stand on.

That's my shadow on the Moon, and the shadows of all the birds in the trees around me.

About one-third of the Moon will be covered at maximum -- this is, after all, just a partial eclipse. It's still impressive. The growing darkness makes it seem misshapen, the victim of someone who simply doesn't know how to cut a pie. And it is now low enough so that what the Earth's shadow doesn't cover, the tree branches do.

Photographed at 6:03 a.m. Eastern, 1/15-second exposure at f/5.6.

The sky grows lighter as the Moon gets darker. From my location it will set before the eclipse reaches maximum. A man jogs toward me, his back to the phenomenon, intent on his routine. The sounds of traffic grow louder and the birds change shifts. First the crows wake up, then the mourning doves.

Photographed at 6:09 a.m. Eastern, 1/5-second exposure at f/8.

I have also spent the night keeping company with the Moon through a total lunar eclipse. The one in 1982 had given me me this poem. The Solstice eclipse in December 2010 had given me this video.

Next up: The Transit of Venus on June 5.

Telescope? Check.

Solar filter? Check.

Weather forecast? Isolated thunderstorms.

Fingers crossed.

(I've also posted this story on Cowbird.)

Elissa Malcohn's Deviations and Other Journeys
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