We live by day with the sun that illuminates our lives, powers growth, and contributes light to the natural processes that nurture our communities and ourselves. But we are reminded these days of the destructive power of the sun, that evaporates our fresh water, dries our fields, and foments the wild fires that consume our forests and threaten our life and property. I associate the sun with the circumstances of climate — shifting weather patterns, extreme storms, rising water temperature, acidification, glacial melt, sea level rise, coral bleaching, shifting marine habitat, and so much more.
But the moon. Yesterday signaled the full moon that, from where I sat on an island watching a spectacular sunset, rose silently and stealthily behind my back and waited patiently for my attention. The moon does that. While the sun blares and glares and demands, the moon awaits, modestly, demurely, patiently, for notice. Turning to the opposing view then offered another perspective on everything — the view of another waterscape of harbor and horizon and all the implication therein.
The tide was full as well. And so the ocean was swollen around the rocks and islands, a kind of calm, soundless fecundity that suggested the teaming life within, and an embracing of those edges as opposed to the clash of wave and storm. There was grace to be seen there, coherent movement that suggested peace and harmony. And then there was the uncanny light. We call it surreal in its unexpected clarity, so sharp that we can see moon shadow. The vastness of ocean in that light seems so much greater to me than a sunlit day with its mist and haze. The mystery of the ocean is there to be seen and considered, what is revealed above and what lies below in depth that seems so much deeper and impenetrable than the height of the day lit sky. One becomes pensive, introspective, melancholy, depressed if that is your wont, but the murmurs of that water support reflection, perception, solace, cure, even poetry, as antidote to the cacophony and challenge of daily living. There is no need for exclamation or conversation beyond the quiet, appreciative exhalation as an affirmative response to beauty.
As the sun sets, we look for the so-called green spark, the precise moment when we feel the loss of light and rise of darkness. That moment, seemingly always missed, is an existential measure typical of our time, marking real or psychological coordinates that declare to self and sundry that this, absolutely, is where I am. Not so in moonlight, where things appear always ambiguous, profound, less explicable, more unsure. It is perhaps the constant change within the always shifting tide, its moving nature, rise and fall, fall and rise, that forces a continuing calculation and recalculation of one’s place along a progress from somewhere to somewhere else, a journey taken without choice, thus best taken willingly and with exuberance.
The tide covers as much as it reveals. The offshore rocks and ledges and the dangers of the treacherous coast are sometimes visible, sometimes not, and so we seek the reassurance of lighthouses, buoys, charts and maps and calculated tables forward for all time to provide the navigational aid and avoidance of danger. But the tide also ebbs and flows with powerful currents that can be used to add power to a passage or even to take us through a dangerous place if we can observe and understand its natural flow. A truly remarkable seaman once showed me how the tide and the shifting volume of water around rocks could be used to move through such a tight, seemingly impossible passage without either sail or helm. It was a terrifying, but astonishing demonstration of how knowledge, experience, and appreciation of natural systems can be so powerfully and successfully instructive.
So thanks for the moon, and its power and light, which serve to determine and illuminate our thoughts and actions with a unique, often-unappreciated force. I feel optimistic and emboldened by these thoughts from my ocean-side communion with the moon.
PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the health of the world ocean, providing links and proactive services to individuals, aquariums, science centers, educational institutions, governmental and non-governmental organizations to build public awareness and a global constituency for the ocean. “Moon and Ocean” was originally published as an audio podcast on WORLD OCEAN RADIO.