Selenelion

Today is the shortest day of the year. This morning I woke up before the sun and climbed up onto the window ledge in our spare bedroom to watch the earth’s shadow slowly swallow the moon. I had never seen a total lunar eclipse before, and I got up to watch it from the beginning until the end. I thought of early medieval folk beliefs, half-understanding how if you didn’t know that it was simply the earth casting its shadow across the moon that it wouldn’t be too hard to believe that the dear moon was under attack, and you had to shoot arrows at it to help ward off the monsters that were attacking her.

For my particular place in the world, the lunar eclipse was also a selenelion: the eclipsed moon setting just as the sun was rising, meaning that for a brief time both were visible above the horizon. The last time a lunar eclipse fell on the night of a winter solstice happened toward the end of the medieval period. Maybe some of the people I’m reading about saw the last one. I saw also a falling star streak past the eclipsed moon, perhaps it was one of the rare Ursid meteors.

I say I watched the eclipse from beginning to end. I suppose this is not technically true, for the moon was entirely eclipsed when it set; I did not see the end of the eclipse. Even so, how fitting it was, that the moon faded into the dawn on the day that marks the sun’s return. The long night of winter has reached its zenith; the sun has stood still, and soon will return the day.

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