Moonset

Coast Watches: Twelve Meditations

Prior: Seeing the Stars Every Night Overhead

December 16

Not sunset, not sunrise, not moonrise. These have all been written about, romanticized. But not moonset. Who stays up all night to see the moon float across the sky, eventually to set in the west? I don’t think there’s even a word, so I’ve just created it. Moonset.

Tonight I woke up, and overhead, through the skylight, I saw the moon. Round and full. Lighting up the waves.

Later, I stirred again, and saw it from my bed through the trapezoidal loft window, hovering low over the horizon, about to sink under the waves streaked silver.

I watched as it dropped lower and set, disappeared as if lapped up by the horizon’s waves. Lovely, delicate as a spider’s web glinting with early dew. My first — no, my second moonset.

Why don’t we pay attention to moonsets? Or is this something suppressed long ago, along with the Goddess religions?

I can recall seeing only one other moonset, when I fasted all night on top of Mary’s Peak, Tchatimanwis. I had decided to do it properly, Lakota way, wrapped only in a starquilt, wearing a fasting dress and holding a pipe wrapped in sage.

I had chosen one of the highest points on the peak (the very top being occupied by radar tower and beacons), a cliff crest facing east.

I stood there and stood there, freezing. The wind (this was September, but still) howled and blew cold cold north air through me. I knelt down, I huddled amidst the rocks.

I watched the sky, the stars rotate, the moon rise and inch across the clear cold sky. I prayed.

Then I prayed for the moon to set, for the sun to rise. All night I waited for moonset. And because I was too cold to drop off into sleep, I saw it.

The sky lightened in the east, almost imperceptibly as the moon dropped lower over the rough-mounded slopes to the west, pine-dark hills, the Coast Range, and into a sliver of ocean fifty miles away — a sliver which only on clear days (or nights) can be seen from the 4000-foot rise of Mary’s Peak.

The moon stayed small and silver, lit the water like mercury, and vanished. Finally, an hour later, the eastern sky lightened and the sun rose.

In moonsets, I wondered, does the moon change color as it’s seen through the earth’s atmosphere — glow golden — as with harvest moonrises? Does it grow larger as it sinks into the horizon?

I don’t know. I’ve seen only two moonsets, and that’s not enough.

Next: Living in a Bowl of Ocean

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