I had set the timer on my phone set for exactly 10:00 pm. For one hour, the moon would align perfectly with the sun and earth in a rare occurrence. This configuration would put the moon fully in the earth’s core shadow, causing the earth to refract the sunlight, bathing the moon in a muddy red light, thus the name “blood moon.”
The only problem was, we couldn’t find it. At the sound of the timer, my daughter quickly clicked away the movie we were watching and jumped up off the couch. We weren’t about to miss this celestial event. The record-breaking heat had burned off all the humidity and there was not a cloud in the sky as we descended the stairs and went out into the balmy night.
It felt like another country; “balmy” is not a word I associate with Germany, especially not at night. I suddenly realized I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Again, at night. The unusual temperature added to the suspense. I had already spotted a red blob in the sky behind a tree from the window of the apartment, but it was only a hint of the moon and warranted going outside to get a better look.
Criss-crossing the empty streets randomly, we craned our necks upwards, but the old-growth trees in the neighborhood were blocking our view. This was not looking good.
“Let’s go down this street,” I suggested.
All three of us, my daughters and I, instinctively picked up the pace. Only an hour. What if we missed it? And that despite the perfect weather conditions! Who knows where we’d be for the next occurrence: it was now or never. Reaching what I had imagined to be the perfect spot, the view was again blocked by trees.
Three women appeared in front of us, wandering aimlessly, wine glasses in hand, looking upwards. These were would-be moon gazers, too. Probably having a kind of blood moon party, I mused. They were going to toast the blood moon in style. Wouldn’t it be funny if they couldn’t find it?
“Are you looking for the moon?” I couldn’t resist. That’s not a question you get to ask every day. I ignored the glares from my daughters. They’re teenagers and always embarrassed when I start to chat up strangers. I got through it; they will, too. And my mother was far more embarrassing than I am.
“Yes!” the ladies laughed. “But where is it?”
“It’s up there somewhere!” I said, pointing southeast. At least I knew which direction to look.
As panic began to rise slowly in our stomachs, I hatched a brilliant idea. The train station – there are no trees there!
We set off, walking even faster, and spotted people milling around in front of the local ice cream parlor just behind the station. There were often people hanging around there in the summertime, but this time there were more of them – and they were looking up. One man stood blithely with his legs firmly planted in the middle of the street, arms akimbo, clearly taking in the view. The taxi drivers at the nearby taxi stand were leaning back against their cars, smoking and waiting for customers. They obviously weren’t interested in the moon.
There it was! A dull, red ball glowing above the tracks. It did look muddy, as if it were blurred by something. We had found it after all. I was so relieved.
Suddenly I remembered that Mars was supposed to be clearly visible, too. I had never seen Mars, just Venus next to the setting sun. It was nowhere to be seen. Too late, I thought about bringing our opera glasses. Maybe they would have helped.
We stood for half an hour, soaking up the view. As people emerged from the train station and scurried on their way, oblivious to the spectacle just above their heads, it took all my willpower not to grab them by the arm and say “Hey! Don’t you realize there’s a blood moon on right now – just over there?! This won’t happen again for years – and you’re just going to walk by?!”
But then I remembered that I had already chatted up the ladies with the wine glasses, so I managed to restrain myself for the sake of my daughters. I didn’t want to push it. There’s only so much mom-embarrassment you can take in one night.
An old lady with thick glasses shuffled over to us. She had been peering up at the sky, too, apparently unsuccessfully.
“Can you see it? Can you see the moon?” she asked us.
“Yes, right there!”
“Where? I can’t see it!!”
“So, there’s the streetlight, see? Then follow straight up with your eyes…”
“THERE it is!” she said. She looked up admiringly.
We all stood in silence, in awe of nature’s wonder.
The man with his hands on his hips was still standing in the middle of the road.
After a while, we’d had enough and headed home, thrilled that we had remembered to cut off our movie and actually get outside and find the moon. I texted my husband, who was on a train home from Berlin. He would get there in just enough time to see the celestial spectacle.
He burst through the door at 10:45 pm. He hadn’t seen the moon.
“It wasn’t there!” he exclaimed. Of course not. This is a man who can’t find the butter in the refrigerator in front of his nose. How could he have possibly spotted a small red blob in the huge night sky?
“Hop on your bike! Go back to the station!” I commanded. “It’s right above the streetlight on the left-hand side!” Some of us knew how to find these things.
He managed to spot it, just minutes before it disappeared. The next day they announced on the news that many people had not been able to see it because of poor weather conditions. Not us, I thought smugly.
Title photo by W. Carter, Wikimedia Commons