Asking for the moon

On September 27, a rare celestial event occurred: A supermoon eclipse. A supermoon is a full or new moon that happens when it is closest in its slightly elliptical orbit around the earth. It appears 14% bigger and shines 30% more light than a normal moon. Supermoons occur about once in every 14 moons. A lunar eclipse, where a full moon passes through Earth’s shadow, can happen anywhere from 0 to 3 times a year. But happening at the same time is a much rarer event. The last year when a supermoon and a total lunar eclipse coincided was in 1982, 2 years before I started working at The Record. The next one won’t be until 2033 when I’ll be in my mid-70s. Needless to say I was eager to get a shot of it this time around.

It was cloudy when I woke up on Sept. 27. I checked the forecast online said that it would be partly cloudy to mostly cloudy all day. A weather satellite image showed a large swath of clouds emanating from way out in the Pacific Ocean southwest of Stockton. It covered all of San Joaquin County as well as parts of Sacramento and Stanislaus Counties and headed northeast all the way into Nevada. It didn’t look good but I kept up my optimism. Perhaps the clouds would peter out by the time the eclipse occurred.

The eclipse was scheduled for just after moonrise early in the evening just after sunset and it would be low on the horizon. This meant that, if the skies cleared, it would happen during the blue hour rather than in the inky blackness later in the night. An eclipse is also called a “blood moon” because when it’s completely engulfed in the Earth’s shadow, the moon can turn a deep red or orange. It’s due to sunlight passing through the Earth’s atmosphere, as if all the world’s sunsets and sunrises happened simultaneously and landing on the darkened moon. I envisioned a shot of a crimson moon set against a deep indigo sky rising above a landmark or building which would still be illuminated with enough surrounding ambient light.

I did some mental calculations and determined that, viewed from the street just outside of the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton, the moon should rise somewhere near the 12-story Medico-Dental Building. Now if the weather would just cooperate. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

The eclipse was to peak at around 7:45 p.m. and I arrived at Weber Point in downtown Stockton at about 7:00 p.m. just as the sun was setting. Unfortunately, clouds still filled the sky. There was some clearing toward north and I debated on driving that way to find some open air, but not knowing how far the clouds extended, I decided to stay put and try my luck where I was. The eclipse was well under way but the cloud cover was so thick that the light from a bright full moon would have been completely blocked let alone and eclipsed one. But I still hoped for even a small gap that I might get a shot.

As I hoped and waited for the clouds to part, I wandered down to the water’s edge where the head of the deep water channel reaches into downtown. Sert Keo of Stockton sat on a bollard or mooring post. Keo was also waiting to watch the eclipse and was even more hopeful than I that we’d be able see it. The sun had just sunk below the horizon and its warm rays were turning the clouds a brilliant scarlet red. After a few minutes the color deepened and intensified and the sky’s beauty moved Keo to get up and take a picture. The cloud cover never dissipated that evening and we missed viewing the supermoon eclipse but were treated to another kind of light show. I wanted to curse the clouds for blocking out the once-in-a-lifetime event, but oh, what clouds they were.

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