October 18, 2007

The Lunar The Better

Welcome to our Friday edition of “As My Lens Turns.” In today’s episode we’re going to take a look at the Harvest Moon, which is the full moon nearest to the autumn equinox. People claim that the Harvest Moon seems to be somewhat bigger or brighter or yellower in color than the other full moons. This is an illusion, just like “Mission Accomplished.” When you see the moon low in the sky you are looking at it through a greater amount of atmosphere than when the moon is overhead. The atmosphere scatters the bluish component of white moonlight (which is really reflected sunlight) but allows the reddish component of the light to travel a straighter path to your eyes. Thus, all moons, stars, planets and Olympic high jumpers look reddish when low in the sky.

The first photo is from September 25, the day before the Harvest Moon. I shot it looking thru my favorite arch at Its Beach. The tide was coming up making the shot a little tricky but they’re just crashing waves-I can always replace my cell phone, wallet and the shots from my Bar Mitzvah. There was a beautiful glow painting the sand as the sun set thru the arch as the moon rose that night. The fourth photo is the sky just before the Harvest Moon made it’s appearance. It was an mystical night and when the Harvest Moon rose over the Monterey Bay Orson Welles immediately came to mind-it was that big.

The Harvest Moon behaves in a special way, much like my parents said I did as a child. (Well, they didn’t really say “special,” I believe the word they used was “colicy.”) Throughout the year the moon rises on an average about 50 minutes later each night. But around the autumn equinox the day to day difference is only 30 minutes, so this might be somehow sitcom related.

Before electric lights, farmers relied on moonlight to harvest autumn crops. With everything ripening at once, there was too much work to do to stop at sundown. A bright, full “Harvest Moon” allowed farmers to continue to work into the night before they came inside to watch Jack Paar and then Johnny Carson.

Moonlight steals color from whatever it touches. Consider a rose. In full moonlight, the flower is brightly lit and even casts a shadow, but the red is gone, replaced by shades of gray. The whole landscape is that way. It’s a bit like watching the world through an old black and white TV set. You know, like tuning in “Sergeant Bilko” or the “Three Stooges.” To quote Moe Howard, “Remind me to murder you later.” Love that Curley.

Moonlight won’t let you read. Try opening a book beneath the full moon. At first glance, the page seems bright enough. Yet when you try and make out the words you can’t and if you stare too long at a word it might fade away. Amazingly, this same thing happened to me on and off my first two years of college. Moonlight not only blurs your vision but also makes a blind spot. Of course there are exceptions-some people have “moonvision” which are extra sensitive cones or an extra helping of rods that allow them to read in the brightest moonlight. Either that or they’re cheating with flashlights.

If you are wondering why all of this is happening, the answer lies in the eye of the beholder. The human retina is responsible. And to its credit, the retina has taken total responsibility.

The retina is like an organic digital camera with two kinds of pixels-rods and cones. Cones allow us to see colors and fine details, but only works in bright light. After sunset, rods take over. Rods are marvelously sensitive (1000 times more than cones) and are responsible for our night vision. Bob Seger is responsible for our “Night Moves.” There’s only one drawback-they’re colorblind, thus the rose at night appears gray.

If rods are so sensitive, why can’t we use them to read by moonlight?
And for that matter, why are there no black M & M’s? Anyway, the problem is rods are almost completely absent from a central patch of retina called the fovea, which the brain uses for reading. The fovea is densely packed with cones, so we can read during the day, especially while we’re eating. At night, however, the fovea becomes a blind spot. The remaining peripheral vision isn’t sharp enough to make out individual words, letters or birth announcements.

So that’s our lesson on lunar opthamology. Next time we’ll look at what kind of cheese the moon is made of and if it could work as a fondue. A final reminder, we have one more weekend of Open Studios coming up and I would love to see some more people from this list. Doors open at 11 and close at 6 on Saturday and Sunday on the westside at my home/studio at 128 Echo Street. We have a tremendous selection of affordable photos and greeting cards. If you just want to come by and check out the colors that’s great too but after a while I’ll have to throw you out of here. I’m just kidding, I’ll have my people do it. So have a great sports weekend, enjoy the lunar action and we’ll catch you on the lighter side of the moon. And don’t be afraid to leave me a comment below or email me back. I love hearing feedback from my peeps. It makes me feel so young and alive.

This just in. We had a totally awesome sunrise here yesterday, the best so far this fall. It will be coming to you live and in color next Wednesday, so stay tuned, sports fans.

1 Comment »

  1. That was the most interesting blog I’ve ever read from you, Geoff. Laughed out loud at the thought of farmers leaving the fields to watch the late shows. One thing you forgot to mention: the Harvest moon is the first night of Sukkot.

    Comment by Allison Gilbert, MA, LMFT — October 20, 2007 @ 1:17 am

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