I’m forever entranced by natural phenomena, starting with that early kid-fascination with the magic way the world breathed and grew. I liked earth sciences and would come back from recess with my pockets stuffed with rocks. The interest remained on some level, and, as a college freshman at a loss for any other ideas, I declared a major in geology. I liked the first class but got a D, more interested in the story part of the histories and less interested in carbon dating and half-lives. I moved on to an environmental science class, less connected to the science part than the what-will-life-be-like-if-we-don’t-fix-things part. Those questions launched my first attempt at a novel, and I still turn to the natural and supernatural to pull me into the next fictional wormhole.
So when most of North America experienced a total lunar eclipse, I waited in the frigid night. This wasn’t just any eclipse, but a Super Blood Wolf Moon, so named because the moon appeared larger being at perigee, its closest point to Earth, and for its blood-red color and for the particular month that gives nicknames to each moon. Things look different during an eclipse. The moon took on a three-dimensional, shadowy quality, a pseudoMars. A thin crescent of dim whiteness remained at the top, creating the illusion of a polar cap. For horror writers, maybe a bloody glowing eyeball. I set my phone alarm and stood outside at increments to avoid freezing to death, each time seeing the narrowing white crescent reflected in the windshield of a car.
Things also looked different this week when the polar vortex descended upon the Midwest and people experienced life in temperatures with a windchill of 50-degrees-below-zero. I missed it, this time around, having escaped to the south—but remembered enough -40-plus events to describe it to a friend who grew up in the south. She asked how cold it had to get before things started shutting down—well, this cold. In Wisconsin, snow days are somewhat hard to come by—we’re set up to deal with it, for the most part—but it happens maybe once or twice a year. Doors close more rarely because of the cold, but this week, even the post office said ‘nope.’ Even bars closed. Life gets lived more internally, both in metaphor and reality, and ‘outside’ becomes a new kind of entity, a nemesis, a temporary apocalypse. For years, this week will become the weather by which all weather is measured.
It’s great stuff for setting a mood in writing, for creating place. A force that strong will inevitably reach its cold hand somewhere in a story, as will the blood-red moon, comets and meteor showers, earthquakes and volcanoes. I still gather those rocks and stuff them in my pockets.