The Super Moon
November 13, 2016
On a whim I decided to go to North Point to photograph the full moon, which had not been this close to the earth since 1948. Because these so-called “super moons” are on a 14.5-year cycle I had already seen 4 in my lifetime.
All of them were memorable. One helped create the “New Inlet” in Chatham. Another occurred when I was studying monkeys on an island off Puerto Rico.
One day I decided to go into the interior of the island to see what the monkeys do at night. I had to climb up through a steep ravine enshrouded with gumbo-limbo trees but it was worth it. As soon as I entered the jungle I noticed how quiet everything was. We had been sleeping on the beach surrounded by the constant roar of the surf. For the first time all summer I was enveloped in pure silence.
I finally found the monkeys quietly grooming each other along an exposed ledge on the top of the volcanic island. But they were all facing the East. This was odd because the tropicbirds and boobies were staging raucous aerial duels against a Wagnerian sunset in the western sky behind us.
But suddenly the East started to glow and the moon rose over the distant villages of Puerto Rico. I felt like I was on another planet because the moon was so unnaturally large and it rose so rapidly this close to the equator.
The monkeys seemed to be equally enraptured with the spectacle. They were silhouetted against the moon and I had the distinct feeling that they had gathered on this exposed promontory in order to see the largest full moon of their lifetimes rise on this particular night. It sent chills down my spine it meant that the monkeys had a sense of time, which we associate with religion in human cultures.
But it actually didn’t seem so far fetched to think of early hominids understanding time and astronomy. I had been sleeping under the stars all summer and noticed that when I woke up in the middle of the night it had become second nature to estimate the time by which constellation was overhead and where the moon was in the sky. From there it would be a short hop for an ancient priest or even a smart monkey to develop a simple understanding of time.
But before I could enjoy Plum Island’s moonrise I had to enjoy the sunset. It was a warm autumn evening with a crystal clear sky and not a breath of wind. Only a few inch high waves lapped quietly against the shore.
The wing bar jutted almost a hundred feet into the Merrimack River. I could have walked its entire length without getting my feet wet. Usually this sandbar was completely underwater at low tide.
There were other sandbars that I had never seen along this shore and I was delighted to see three large rocks about 50 feet offshore. They were either erratic boulders from a long gone glacial drumlin or they had fallen off one of the trucks during one of the earlier jetty repairs.
Ethan Cohen and I had actually seen the boulders’ squarish shapes in our drone photos but we had dismissed them as something floating on the surface or an artifact of our camera’s optical system.
The far end of the beach revealed another surprise. The entire undercarriage of what looked like a large truck jutted almost three feet above the sand. This meant that at least four feet of sand had been washed off this section of the beach in the past few months. During the summer we could stand on the lower beach and almost touch a timber from the old Coast Guard Station sticking out of the rapidly eroding cliff. Now it was almost 18 feet above the lowered beach.
And of course the jetty didn’t disappoint. Enough sand had washed through the jetty during October’s King Tides to create a fringe of sand about 20 feet wide and several hundred feet long on the riverside of the jetty. Last year a similar fillet of sand had been 57 feet wide and 200 feet long, almost an acre of sand 4 feet deep. If the jetty continued to settle as much this year as during the last few years enough sand would start flowing through the jetty to reverse the erosion in front of the houses on Northern Reservation Terrace. We would have to see what would happen during the upcoming super moon induced king tide, which was only three days away.