by Bodwyn Wook
[Extracts from the journal of an amateur farmer-astronomer of Old Earth; the dates and times herein are all based on the Old Earth-usage, of the early post-modern pre-galactic human period — BW]
THE Eclipse of the Moon is just getting going, with the penumbral shadow advancing from the lower NE across the face of the full Moon on a frosty night. I can look East right out my study window up on the first floor of the old convent, here in Mad Dog Lake, MN, and see it all so very clearly — that’s from the 2nd floor of course, to you Yanks! I am just at about 44 degrees N latitude here and the Moon is about 35 degrees above the horizon right now, just ten degrees South of East….
Here there is just a fine silvery haze of very thin cloud, and it is all quite lovely to behold. It is just below zero (fahrenheit), and the snow squeaks underfoot, if you are going to look in on the new lambs at any rate….
I Believe this might be total indeed, in thirty-five minutes or so — BBC ‘Radio 4′ says it is to be so, also, in England this morning. The uppermost umbral bulge is not yet verging fully into the centre of the visible lunar disc.
THE Rising Moon is now 13 or so degrees S of E, and the shadow of our old Earth is just looming like a red-nosed gentleman advancing full of Sin and Brandy on a young flowergirl outside the Criterion theatre. A false alarum…’tis only matches he is after, this time and for a reeking holmesian meerschaum.
I Am going downstairs and out, to make some observations.
THE Penumbral shadow is now bisecting the Moon’s disk from ESE to ENE (I think that’s right), and the rising Moon at about 40 degrees is now over 15 degrees to S of E. The fall of Earthlight on the Moon’s face is a rich transparent plum colour, and she must think the old World is, as well, a frightful old rummy & a toper!
THE Initial shadow is almost all the way across the Moon’s face, excepting the tiniest clear limb on the due-South (righthand) edge, and there is a suggestion of deeper shadow now on the ENE (observer’s lower-left) edge. The Moon is now risen to about 43 degrees — it is in fact just now exactly 3:00 AM GMT/9:00 PM CST, but as we are in about the dead-centre of this time-zone, it will be another seven minutes or so I should say, until moonrise is at 45 degrees. (This brings us to the feature of ‘local’ versus sidereal midnight — the literature on this is dense, dry and makes for a good exercise of one’s reading-comprehension!) The really sinister thing is that the clouds are thickening in their usual tiresome fashion, and they are hovering just off to the side now with a packet of Dad’s Woodbines they knicked earlier, and they are planning in their bastardly all-lads-together way, just when they shall rush out to spoil things for the others….
THE Moon now (w/in past two minutes, eg) is at 45 degrees elevation and at twenty-two point five degrees S of E. The Moon’s face now is wholly veiled in penumbral light, no bare limb visible, and the light is progressively darker from S to N, or right to left, across the Moon’s face — as we are six hours behind here in terms of the unnversal time, I expect the Moon is in SW English skies now as we compose these notes. And, I rather fancy, there is a rat now in the Wensleydale, if you know what I mean:
I Don’t think it is going to get any darker, and that we are on the western-most end of this particular ‘astrological phonometre’, as Prince Bumpo put it to Dr Dolittle. Anyway, my 88-years’ old Danish- and Welsh-American farm-neighbour and WW II veteran, Mr Judson Andersen, just now walked in and out of the night-time yard (his is the next place over) and said in passing, scornfully — and when I ventilated my doubts about the integrity of this particular eclipse — and speaking especially to annoy me in the all-knowing accents of one who was a small boy when Coolidge was President:
“WELL, God damn it, ANOTHER God-damn Lie & A Disappointment! Kind of like that OTHER bullshit at the fair, about ‘Shorthorns That Milk…Like Hell!'”
IT Is quite dark now, but still lighter to the South of the Moon’s face, and I expect that “she’s a dang grazer!” There goes the telephone!
THE Eclipse here hath passed its height — there is now visible to the Moon’s SE a clear limb resembling nothing so much as a nail-paring, and the penumbral shadow otherwise glides off into the deepest slate colour.
The ‘phone earlier, was SWMBO, calling from her two-days’ doctor- and dental-outing to the Twin Cities, to babble of love undying and hector me about a load of complicated orders that somehow cannot be found and filled around here….
Then it went again — this time, Neighbour, er, Neighbor Andersen was ringing up to say that he’s just put the coffee on to boil and that I’d better “get her while she’s hot.” It’s Lent and lambing-time, all night long too, sometimes, when the old ewes all spraddle hay-bales in their biblical grim exhaustion like old lutheran church ladies in the church cellar after a successful lutfisk-supper, and all the lambs are triplets and all hung up sidewise, waiting to be hauled forth into a cold and unbelieving World.
I Am the only other one in the neighbourhood to keep a wall-phone anymore.
One with a rotary dial, too.
It is so that Mr Judson Andersen will have someone to talk to. For some reason, rotary-dialled calls do not always go through to people’s mobile ‘phones. So, when Judson wants to call his nephew, Kurt, he rings me up and says: “Say…! Can YOU get through to the little sonofabitch on YOUR God-damn cell phone? I tried, God damn it, but she dried up on me this time!”
And so I ring up Kurt, who calls his Uncle “Jud” — “the little sonofabitch” was three inches taller than I when we were young men, and he outweighs me by three stone! — and who knows what it is all about immediately he hears my voice, and then I hold my mobile ‘phone right by the receiver of my wall ‘phone whilst Kurt hollers at his Uncle, “hang ‘er up, God damn it, and I’ll call yuh right back!” To which I can hear Judson rejoin thinly:
“See that you do, by God…Jesus Christ! Bunch of God-damn screwing around…!”
NONE Of this, of course, is helped particularly, by the fact that Mr Judson Andersen hates mobile ‘phones.
I therefore have to do all of the calling whenever once a year we go driving on down into the North Iowa back-country in search of some hypothetical ash fence-posts. Judson manages once a year to find an advert for a supply of these in one or the other of the regional trade papers, and nothing will do but we must go driving along and haring off cross-country, after them:
“They’re just so God-damn handy to have…and with the God-damn green blight now, too, well Hell, pretty soon you just won’t be able to find any of the sonsofbitches fer love OR money — just stall around and WAIT an’ see, and by God, you’ll be on the outside looking in, I can sure as Hell tell you all about THAT, by God!”
All of which means that on the 7th of July, on a day “hotter than the hubs of Hell!” we invariably wind up in Rake, Iowa, trying to find our way out to something called The Norwegian Backhouse Road. Or, maybe, it is The Norwegian‘s Backhouse Road. It is, in any case, a critical distinction to be sorted out, as there are indeed two (!) roads in question, one with, the other without, the apostrophe.
Like any detective-work, this all involves much ringing up of a bunch of smudged numbers from off of cut-out adverts Judson dredges up one-by-one from out of various overalls-pockets. This, taken together with the agonizing uncertainty of communication because of the randomness of satellites or radio-towers, or whatever, makes of it all an un-utterably hellish and, somehow, quintessentially upper-middlewestern and hideously post-modern, american, experience.
Especially intolerable to anyone who remembers how well telephones used to work in America is the peculiar and enraging, fading, delay of voice-transmission, by which all involved are always all talking all at once, all of the time….
Browned off, I jab once more an exchange and number, stabbing at the absurdly tiny buttons made for asiatic finger-ends and sticking the telephone abruptly into Mr Andersen’s work-scarred hands when once I get the connection, only he is as abrupt to jam the wretched little gizmo right back at me.
This all usually takes place in the Rake, Iowa, one-and-only “eating restaurant,” under the bemused gaze at the odd strangers “from up North there,” of the stolid and taciturn Norwegian farmers — most of whom are not bachelors and therefore know only too well, from having wives and ex-wives and teen-aged daughters of every provenance laying around all over the place, just how awful this mobile ‘phone misery and degradation truly is. Unsurprised by now by anything to do with post-modernity, they gaze on us as blank, unblinking, as so many figures in Ibsen, as Judson Andersen thrusts away the not-wanted mobile ‘phone:
“HERE, by God, YOU better talk to the bastards…I’D look like a REAL asshole or something, using THAT God-damn thing!”
THE Eclipse here is well-and-truly over, with a scant NE portion of the bright Moon yet covered by the World’s failing shadow, at eleven o’clock high — and, now, I must go a-lambing and dare down yet some more of it, I mean Mr Judson Andersen’s impossible coffee.
[Emmett R Smith all rights reserved 21 February 2008]