Thursday, September 22, 2005 | There was never a doubt we would see the Harvest Moon rise Saturday night.
You could not see the eastern horizon because of gray haze. But I have seen that before. The California light is entering its vintage September days.
These are the golden days. Today is the equinox, and around the equinox, the light acquires a patina, no doubt just a textbook effect of physics, caused by more of Earth’s filtering atmosphere between the sun and us as it tracks farther south, a degree or two a day, toward the equator.
But we don’t see, or think, physics in the September California light, any more than we think physics when we see the patina of age on antique surfaces. We just see, and feel, the patina.
It so happens that September is the time that the patina light starts to quarter across my living room, in the morning and again before sunset. On clear days, my house is in light from the instant of sunrise to almost sunset. The house sits suspended between earth and space on the very edge of a rocky little knob of a hill in far southeast La Mesa, almost to El Cajon. The space around me is unobstructed, in a sweep beginning with Cuyamaca Peak to the northeast, all the way around to Mission Bay to the northwest.
The eastern horizon is shaped by foothills 20 miles away in some places and 30 miles or more in others. I track the sunrises along this horizon from solstice to solstice, both winter and summer, and I have identified landmark features where it rises at the solstices and at the equinox. This morning the sun rising will have completed half its horizon trek from June to December. In another month it will rise later, because it will be behind Lyon’s Peak, which splits the sunrise light and illuminates hills and valleys to the south while I remain in shadow.
With the golden light of September comes the gray September dusk that settles on the land like the light afghans we take outside and throw across our knees to watch evening events. Again, the dusk is only a matter of physics and location, an ocean next to a coastal desert still trying to stay warm as the sun’s angle lowers, trying to cool things off.
But we don’t think about physics, watching the merge of dusk and horizon until all you see is gray. But we know the moon will be there. But where? We make little wagers. “Farther this way,” she says, snuggled close under the afghan. “More toward Lyon’s Peak,” I say. We wait, and a spider plunges earthward from the eave of the porch toward a place on the ground to anchor lines between which he will spin his web and then wait with us.
She sees it first. Farther that way, just as she said. An orange puddle, glowing. Then the rounded edge visible, orange to begin with and made totally so by the gray dusk. Then higher and even brighter, this amazing orange pearl culturing itself from the gray Earth. The Harvest Moon rising in coastal Southern California. A couple of miles away we can see headlights streaming east on Highway 94. Why don’t they stop, and watch?
It is time for the owls, two soundless white ghosts on huge wings, to start their evening run. What do they think about this moon? Too bright for them? Will they wait? No, there they are, gliding left to right, and then one breaking off and arrowing to a spot below us on the hillside 40 feet away, wings contorted for an instant until he is up again with his catch – a gopher, I hope – in his talons. It screams, whatever it is, a tiny noise of life and death that is played out how many times a day, I wonder, in the beautiful and violent tableau before us.
We are privileged to watch and linger and listen in consciousness of majesty until we want to go in and turn out the lights and slip into bed by the soft golden moonlight of September in Southern California.
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at www.michaelgrant.com.