perigee

We were driving back from a day of skiing – my wife, my friend Trish, and I – and I looked over and saw the moon rising over the fields and low hills. It was reddish and large, and it rose perceptibly – in a matter of a few minutes it had cleared the horizon. It glowed, pregnant, like a big e: not an o, a blank face, but an e, first because it was bisected by the horizon, but afterward just because its face is not, after all, blank. And of course the moon always looks larger at the horizon, but tonight it had an even better reason for looking like a fat, tawny perogie: it was at its perigee.

Yes, the moon, the moon, the moon, the full full moon, is at a low point in its orbit – a point closer to the earth than usual. You see, our selenic satellite pursues an elliptical path in its peregrination: a Bosc pear, an egg. Imagine the earth at the back of your mouth, and the moon sometimes at your lips /p/ but sometimes at the tip of your tongue. Tonight it swings lower, lowering, closer: it appears fourteen percent wider and thirty percent brighter than average.

And as we looked at it, it was such a ruddy colour, paling only gradually as it rose: a blood moon, bloodthirsty like the one in Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding, or a warm one? Is it serious and noble – has it a peerage and prestige – or is it a parody? It’s not a blue moon, to leave you standing alone. And it is not cold and green; it is ripe at its perigee, appearing as a low-hanging fruit. It may be the focus of many a pagan liturgy; it could perhaps spawn a Persian peri in her imperfect pursuit of paradise. And so many songs have been written of it, perhaps to purge the urge, perhaps in pure ecstasy… And yet still it circles, now closer, now farther, planet of our planet for eternity (more or less).

Note that we are not saying it is at its nadir. Although nadir is commonly used to refer to a low point, it is celestially the point that is diametrically opposite the zenith – and hence under your feet. No, the opposite of perigee is apogee, and in both cases the gee is from Greek γῆ or γαῖα gaia, “earth”. The peri means “close” in this context – in others it often means “around”; we may say that the moon at its perigee is hanging around the earth. Yes, swing low at the sweet perigee, as I am being carried home.

One response to “perigee

  1. Pingback: sidereal | Sesquiotica

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