Blue Moon, Keep On Shining

Major dilemma:  Too much to say about last weekend’s blue moon and too few column inches in which to say it.

Maybe I should use my allotted space to define what a “blue moon” is.  The term originally referred to the thirteenth full moon that occurred in a calendar year. Because approximately two out of every three years have only twelve full moons, an extra moon has always been considered something special.  But that definition was turned on its head in 1946 by an article in “Sky & Telescope” magazine.  It referred to a full moon that appears in a month that’s already had one as a “blue moon,” which is how the term is commonly understood today.

Nobody’s quite sure, however, why that extra moon is called blue, since it’s exactly the same color as any other moon.

Until our blue moon last month, there hadn’t been one since December 2009.  There won’t be another until July 2015.  And for an extra-exciting bit of trivia, get this.  The year 2018 will boast two blue moons—one in January and one in March, made possible by the fact that poor little February won’t have a full moon at all.

But perhaps a better use of these column inches would be to talk about one of my very favorite songs of all time—“Blue Moon of Kentucky.”  Written by bluegrass legend Bill Monroe in 1946 and recorded and released the following year by his Bluegrass Boys—which included Monroe as vocalist, Lester Flatt on guitar and Earl Scruggs on banjo—it’s ranked by Country Music Television at # 11 in its list of 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music.

I adore Monroe’s version of the song.  But it can’t hold a candle to what Elvis Presley did with “Blue Moon” in 1954.  Chosen for the flip side of Elvis’s first ever commercial recording—“That’s All Right”—it became an instant hit.  And it still sends chills up and down my spine every time I hear it.

To experience it for yourself, log onto youtube.  You’ll find several options; I recommend the clip of Elvis performing both songs at the Louisiana Hayride.

Or I could forgo writing about astronomy or music and write, instead, about one of my favorite animals.  Mules.  Which, because they’re the offspring of two different species—a horse and a donkey—with different numbers of chromosomes, are almost always sterile.  No instance of a male mule siring a foal has ever been substantiated.  And only about 60 cases of a mule mare giving birth (after being bred to a horse or donkey) have been documented in all of recorded history.

The odds of such a thing happening are, in fact, one in a million.  But back in 1984, a mule in Nebraska beat those odds by giving birth to a healthy live foal.  The baby’s name?  Blue Moon!

Maybe it would be best to leave all that stuff out of the column entirely and to simply write about how I celebrated the blue moon of 2012.  Several friends gathered at El Tequila Restaurant, located in the parking lot just below the Alpine Inn on Highway 70, to enjoy a Mexican dinner—accompanied, not coincidentally, by Blue Moon beer–while we waited for the moon to come up over the mountains.  Except there was a problem.  A big one.  Hurricane Isaac had sent heavy clouds our way.

While we waited and hoped for the sky to clear, the conversation turned to the recent death Neil Armstrong.  We talked about where we were and how we felt when he walked on the moon.  Then somebody pointed out that Armstrong’s memorial service had been held earlier that day.  The very day of the only blue moon in almost three years.  Could anything be cooler than that?

Actually, yes.  As we raised frosty mugs to toast the first lunar landing, the clouds parted to reveal a moon so breathtakingly clear and bright that you’d almost swear you could see the American flag Neil Armstrong planted there forty-three years ago.

(September 9, 2012)

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