Looking Up at the Night Sky
In honor of the night “when the Moon is drained of all its light”, meaning the proverbial blood moon of this evening’s lunar eclipse, I decided I would write about feeling particularly drawn to the night sky. It is, perhaps, the only way for us to gain some perspective of how vast the universe is and how minute a space in time we actually have.
My three roommates and I sat on the ground in the parking lot of our apartment complex, which is situated at the top of an exhaustingly steep hill a couple blocks from Echo Park, close to downtown Los Angeles. We sat there for about two hours, taking photos of the eclipsed moon while discussing the magical aspects of stargazing. Because we live in a metropolis, we see very little of of the night sky in comparison with someone who lives in the frozen wastes of Finland or in sub-Saharan Africa or even Malibu. Before we lived in giant cities with electricity one of our only activities after the sunset was stargazing. We watched the celestial bodies rotate around us, noticing patterns, counting down till the next occurrence with the fastidiousness of the most serious students.
While travelling I have taken mostly photos of city skylines at night, but the most incredible skies were always in the places devoid of humans. Of course all those memories flooded back into my mind while Phyllis (one of my roommates) talked about our connection to the planet Earth has slipped further and further from us less time we spent looking up. Truth. Thanks to some recent weekend getaway road trips from Los Angeles, I’ve been fortunate to catch more glimpses of the stars and, consequently, started delving further into nighttime photography. Surprisingly, you can get to many of those spots within a few hours drive from LA so in the past couple months I, along with various groups of friends, have made a number of excursions, visiting the Salton Sea, Mono Lake, Joshua Tree National Park, and Coachella. This week I also snapped some images at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) and, of course, tonight with the red moon. The feeling the night sky invokes in all those places is different, but always special.
We need to look up at the sky more. It’s what connects us to the planet’s rhythm, like we’ve forgotten the beat of our mother earth. Sounds a bit hippie, right… but it’s true!
One of my favorite things about Tolkien’s mythology involving the universe of Middle-Earth is the creation mythology, related in a chapter of the Silmarillion called The Music of the Ainur. The story goes something like this:
Out of the thought of Eru (the One — god?) several lesser gods (Ainur and Maiar) were created. Eru instructed them all in great music, but one particularly powerful spirit, Melkor, turned it to a cacophony and caused turmoil in the voices of the spirits around him with his counter-harmony. Even as the music built to a raging thunder, Eru reigned the music back in to his will. No sooner had he done so then Melkor again caused discord. The battle went back and forth until the tension was built so high the music ceased and the Ainur saw a vision of Middle-Earth “…unfolding a history whose vastness and majesty had never been equalled…” (The Silmarillion, The Music of the Ainur). Eru revealed that together they had created it through the song and even when Melkor thought he held sway, all the melody still came through the direction of Eru. Many of the Ainur wanted to go and see the world and the beings that walked there (Beasts, Elves, and Men). Those that did go became the Valar. They later found out they had landed before the beginning of time and had to construct all those beautiful visions from scratch.
I’d like to think of Earth and all its movements being part of this enchanting music.
The other story notion I love from before the First Age of Middle-Earth is the Elves waking up by the shores of a lake underneath the dazzlingly bright stars in the spring of the world. This was before the Sun and Moon even existed, but the stars were there. How long the Elves lived there is difficult to say, but it must have been quite some time considering they had time to develop language, make music, and ponder the stars.
Later the Elves are invited to live in ‘the West’ with the gods who live, at that time, underneath the light of two trees. For twelve hours one tree grew in golden light while the other faded into silver and vice versa. The most beautiful time of day was when the lights were both dim and they mingled together in a sort of magic hour.
The trees were sadly destroyed by Melkor, who had also come to Middle-Earth, but sought immediately to wreak havoc upon all the works of the other Valar. When this happened the light was lost to the world except for where it was locked inside three jewels, called the Silmarils, that the most skillful Elf ever, Fëanor, had crafted. But he had grown prideful and thought of the jewels as his instead of the light belonging to everyone. This basically was the war in Heaven: there was a split of houses, a spilling of blood, an order of exile, and a deadly oath. Great drama. In the end the trees were lost forever, but a single golden fruit and a single silver flower were saved and two Maiar (Arien, a fire spirit, and Tilion, a spirit of the Valar huntsman Oromë) were chosen to drive chariots that carried the fruit and the flower, or the Sun and Moon, across the vast expanses of the sky. Imagine how surprised the exiled Elves were to see the fiery sun rage through the sky for the first time as they stepped foot in Middle-Earth (incidentally coinciding with the waking of humans).
According to the mythology, the lunar eclipse in the sky tonight is the result of Tilion straying from his instructed pace, hoping to catch Arien, with whom he fell in love, though approaching her would scar him.
Yes, I know way too much of this mythology! Sorry to bore you with it… but I believe I could destroy Stephen Colbert in Lord of the Rings trivia. You know, I believe I could beat Stephen Colbert at this.