The moon was milky Tuesday night when I was out walking. High clouds, kicked north by an approaching low pressure system, veiled the sky and hid all but the moon and a handful of stars and planets. Come the morning, the clouds had thickened. I turned onto the road to work and saw crimson stripes to the west-northwest. As I got closer to the turn onto the back road to faculty parking, I beheld . . .

I parked, hopped out of the car, and took several pictures, some of which did not turn out well.

It’s been a long while since we’ve had a moonset this dramatic. The photos don’t really catch the colors and the changing light. The moon flowed out at the bottom and melded into the western horizon before vanishing.

It was quite a sight. The only thing missing were wolf howls, or coyote calls . . .


“The Moon Was a Ghostly Galleon . . .”

” . . . tossed upon cloudy seas.” Alfred Noyes’ poem “The Highwayman” was one of the first long ballads I remember reading. Louis Untermeyer included it in the wonderful anthology for young readers that I still have. Even before then, I remember hearing my mother and father quoting the lines when winter winds blew and shreds of cloud dimmed the moon.

“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.   

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.   

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   

And the highwayman came riding—


The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.”

Loreena McKennitt arranged parts of the poem, not the full ballad of doomed love and blind fury. I was reminded of both ballad and song on the eve of the Harvest Moon, when I glanced out a window and saw the above. And below.

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,

When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,   

When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   

A highwayman comes riding—


A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.

He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.   

He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there   

But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

Short Day, Long Night, Conjunction

So, have you been out planet-watching? Where weather and light-pollution permits, look in the southwest sky just after full dark. You should be able to see two faint spots that don’t twinkle. Tonight, you will see one faint spot, as Jupiter and Saturn are in true conjunction, overlapping as the evening star.

Today is the shortest day, in the northern hemisphere, and the longest in the south. The day people feared and hoped for, the day that signaled if spring would return as the days grew longer, or if the great winter, Fimbulwinter, or some other horrible season had begun. It was a time of bonfires and prayer and sacrifice to keep the Dark away. “Tonight shall be wild, and tomorrow beyond imagining,” the farmer tells Will in The Dark is Rising. And so it was for Will, and for me, the first time I read that book. Continue reading