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La Bella Luna

How do you know when you’ve seen the moon?

All the time I lived on Redbird Farm, there was never any question of seeing the moon. Without lights from the city or even neighboring farms, the night skies dazzled with stars, the milky way ribboned its bright blaze among them, and the moon waxed and waned, sometimes making a snow-covered field nearly as bright as daylight. A full moon meant more restless beasts moving through the fields, a new moon meant much darker skies, and one memorable winter eclipse found my parents and me huddled together watching the mystery outside my bedroom window in the wee hours.

When the moon is full, it’s full for the entire planet—unlike the seasons, for example, that flip-flop depending on which hemisphere you’re in or the constellations that shift and change locations. So the moon I saw when I moved away from the country to cities and suburbs in the east was the same moon shining without question on my childhood home.

After four days of advanced yoga teacher training, a three and a half hour drive home, and the compression of stepping into Monday after not having a weekend to reset, I was afraid I wouldn’t get to see the supermoon. I was concerned there would be clouds spreading along the eastern horizon as it rose; I was fairly certain I would be driving west at moonrise; I was feeling jealous of the reports of its luster and beauty that people were sharing online and in person.

I was, in fact, driving west at moonrise. I had taken my second trip east in just a few days’ time to Seventeen’s college home—Monday’s trip was to deliver the altered suit we had shopped for the week before. Seventeen quite suddenly needed a new suit (his first) in the middle of the semester because he was selected to go on a school-sponsored trek to meet Warren Buffett at the end of this week. To say he’s excited is an understatement: “Everyone else is thinking about Thanksgiving,” he told me after we enjoyed afternoon tea at the local coffee shop, “all I’m thinking about is meeting Warren Buffett.” Meeting Warren Buffett is Seventeen’s super-hero-moon.


My Super-Seventeen in his new threads. If you’d like a picture of or more information about the supermoon, visit

So taking three hours at the end of a long teaching day immediately following four days of yoga immersion to deliver the required suit felt just right. I turned for home in a fiery sunset of orange and deep pink, the stubble of harvested fields stretching out, a surprising amount of green lingering along the roadside thanks to our temperate fall. The electronic road signs flashed warnings about watching for deer—it’s mating season or the rut and the deer tend to lose their heads and run in every direction. As the sky grew dim and the glare from oncoming lights made it hard to see, I thought about that and drove alert, watching. I did see some deer, but they were deep in the fields foraging for corn dropped by the harvesters.

I was all the way back in the lights of Des Moines when I saw it in my rearview mirror. The moon rose, huge and plum-colored, a giant orb. There were indeed clouds, but they were wispy and only heightened the effect. Just at the right moment my route turned south and the moon was on my left, where I could glance between it and the road, marveling. In no time it was up, the plum wash dripping off of it, replaced by a peach sheen. Ten minutes later I pulled into the high school parking lot, turned my car to face east, and watched it ascend, growing more and more luminous.

Fourteen came bouncing out of play rehearsal to the car and we admired the moon together on the drive home. It hung right over our house when we drove up the hill, but from inside it was impossible to see. Ninety-Two was looking for it. She has recently adapted to using her walker, tricked out with a wire basket and a bag, stabilizing her as she roves around the house. But to see the moon just then, she had to abandon the walker, hold on to my arm, navigate two tenuous steps into the three-season room we call the East House, and work her way cautiously across the floor. We were rewarded for our efforts by the now silvery orb that seemed to be playing among the dark, leafless tree branches. On the unheated porch we stood close-by, admiring it’s beauty.

“How do you know when you’ve seen the moon?” My mother asked me.

I think of some of the marvelous things that I’ve seen—Michelangelo’s David in Florence, the Eiffel Tower, the birth of my two babies, the Washington monuments at night, the sun setting over the Pacific, the Redwoods, kittens exploring the grass, a room full of people exploring their practice—there are so many and somehow this supermoon feels like one of them, a confirmation that the natural cycles and order of things continue in spite of a series of events and happenings that left me feeling shredded over the past two weeks (and for the record here, I am referencing not only the election, but also teaching yoga in the wake of the shooting of two police officers here in my community and several personal muddles I am trying to untangle). I don’t want to stop watching the moon, but I need to return my mother to the safety of her walker, to attend to dinner, to write a check for the monthly water bill due the next day. We reluctantly turn, thinking our moon time is over.

Overnight the supermoon and I have several more encounters—it’s shining its light into my bathroom skylight as I brush my teeth and sending light across my bed in the wee hours when Katy comes to purr and celebrate the unlikely event that we’re both awake. And then it’s still up when I take Fourteen to meet her morning bus—it’s a pale orb now, with the sunlight fast arriving in the east and the moon still big in the west. There’s a lake near my house. I drive there to take a last look. Just as I pull in, a great blue heron comes skimming over the water and lands on the shore not twenty feet away. I look at the heron looking at the moon. Together we watch three mallard ducks swim parallel to the shore, their gentle wake rippling the moon’s reflection in the water. A few fluffy clouds reflect the pink of the sunrise—these, too, are a part of the tableau the heron and I regard. The great bird bends its knees a little and lifts off, flying after the ducks. A Midwestern seagull cuts across the sky and I wonder, as I always do when I see them, if it even knows about oceans or if lakes are enough water for the bird I associate with beaches and salt.

It’s time to go home where my morning tea is waiting and I smile then. I am no longer envious of my friends who have taken and posted pictures or comments about this moon on social media. I don’t need to purchase a supermoon tee shirt or even snap a photograph, although I have tried with my inferior phone camera to capture an image. I have enjoyed an entire night of moments with the supermoon, and as these words begin lining up in my imagination, I know that I can write about what happened. For me, it is in capturing the experience in words, in telling my story, that I know I have indeed seen the moon.

Thank you for witnessing with me. As ever and always, Rxo




Unca Paul

For this blog there is no question; there are memories …

“It’s hot in here,” Eleven–Twelve-in-Four-Days mentions as we get into the car after an errand on one of the first really warm days in May.

“Yes,” I reply, waiting to turn the key and feeling the heat soak deep into my joints, “isn’t it wonderful?”

“Naoooow,” she draws out and shifts the vowel sounds, “let’s go, Mama, start the car!”

I welcome the heat, but we are off and running as usual, so I rev the engine and turn up the A/C.

I love getting into a sun-baked car, I always have, but never more than after my Uncle Paul stopped by for a visit on his way from a consulting gig in Florida. Uncle Paul, my father’s younger brother, was a doctor and a research scientist specializing in the heating and cooling of our bodies. He literally wrote the book on human calorimeters, the machine by which we can measure how the human body heats and cools and burns energy. He invented a space suit that doesn’t require pressurization and is still undergoing development and applied the technology to cool people living with MS. He conducted research in sleep studies, changing the understanding of how we sleep and why.

The army put Uncle Paul through med school, and after he finished his tour of duty and associated research stints, he and his bride settled in Yellow Springs, OH, where they raised their family and Paul opened his lab, Webb Associates, in 1959. They welcomed me to their home there, putting me up on my many long drives between Iowa and the East Coast, their house just about the half-way point.

In the mid-eighties Uncle Paul closed his lab to travel and work and teach worldwide, and my mother fearlessly picked up the table and chairs from the lab and drove our ancient pickup to my college apartment in Virginia. The chairs didn’t match each other, but they were designed for a work group to sit together for some time, and I hosted many wonderful dinner parties where people gathered around my table and lingered in those chairs.

The warm car information arrived with him after one of his consulting trips. I collected Uncle Paul from the airport, a DC stop-over on his way to the next gig. His tall frame folded neatly into the passenger seat, he told me about the work he had been doing.

An hour north of Tampa, FL, there’s a state park where natural springs feed a pool so deep no one has ever been to the bottom. In the forties, an enterprising mayor submerged a theater six feet below the surface so that dry viewers could watch a live mermaid show. The mermaids would swim through the water reaching out for oxygen hoses, performing their stories for captivated audiences. When my Uncle Paul was called in to consult, this unusual roadside attraction was having a terrible time keeping its mermaids healthy. Four or five shows a day left them bitterly chilled and since performances need performers, the management hoped my uncle could offer them a solution.

He told me about interviewing one of the mermaids who said that the best moment of her day came after her shift when she got to her car that had been parked all day in the hot Florida sun. She would open the door as quickly as she could, hop in, and then slam the door to trap the heat. In the warmth of her car she would begin to reverse the deep-seated chill of working for hours under water.

Paul’s solution for the management was to build the mermaids a between-show hot tub such that the performers could bring their body temperatures back to normal. When I asked him if they would take his advice he shrugged, “I hope so.”

If there is anything I associate with my Uncle Paul, it’s warmth. He was the Uncle who came and took my college self to dinner at the fanciest French restaurant in Maryland, La MIche, complimenting me for dipping my bread in my wine. He was the Uncle who came to Spain during my father’s sabbatical there, and together we celebrated his fiftieth birthday. He was the Uncle who found me in the very back row of the chapel at my grandmother’s funeral and brought me to the front with the rest of the family I had never met. He was the Uncle who could belt out a patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan in a beautiful voice he honed all the way to the end of his life.

When I was very little, before I understood even a bit of the radical, intellectual mind of my Uncle, whom I called Unca, I used to sit on his lap and examine the moles and skin tags he had on his forehead. He never admonished me or even gently lifted me down; instead, he issued a kind of low chuckle that made his whole body shake. Sometime later he would have those blemishes removed, and while it might truly have improved his appearance not to mention eased a health risk for a man who spent several hours outdoors gardening and playing tennis each summer day, I missed them immensely.

Unca Paul Now, under the full June moon, I miss
Uncle Paul. I don’t know if he ever aspired
to go to the moon himself, but he certainly
intended for his space suit to make
traveling the universe easier. Each time I
saw him on earth, his warmth and big spirit
made my life easier, better. I am grateful to
have had him in this world.

 In loving memory, Rxo

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