Moon's magic glow and good books

November 20, 2009 

Folklore, stories and songs often use the moon as a metaphor, lesson or just a description: a pale moon rises, as dark as the moonless night, beneath a crescent moon, howling at the moon, witches and the moon, man in the moon, "Blue Moon," "Paper Moon," "Everyone's Gone to the Moon" and "Moon over Bourbon Street."

Even the Bee Gees got into the act with the four-line chorus of “We fly rings around the moon” in the song “Rings Around the Moon.”

Sorry, guys. We’ll leave that act to the astronauts and astronomical phenomenon.

Recently, I wandered out on the deck to see what was happening. My timing was excellent: There was a most impressive – and huge – ring around the moon.

In order to have a ring, sunlight reflecting off the moon bends through usually hexagonal columnar-shaped ice crystals in cirrus clouds 25,000 to 30,000 feet above the Earth.

Those clouds of ice crystals are also called diamond dust, and they can exist in any season.

Moon rings are almost always the same size – 22 degrees of the sky – because the typical ice crystals refract the light at a 22-degree angle, and most often seen during a full or near-full moon.

How much is 22 degrees? If you put your thumb on the horizon and reach out your little finger (yes, I know hands are different sizes but this is a rough estimate), you’re covering about 20 degrees of the sky.

But rings are not the only phenomenon connected to the moon. Here are a few others:

Corona: Although these are commonly (and mistakenly) called rings around the moon, they’re much smaller, a fuzzy blanket only a few degrees in diameter.

Moon pillars: Pale vertical shafts of light can appear above and below the moon as it rises or sets. Again, it involves ice crystals but ones that have a different axis than those creating halos. An axis is an imaginary line that helps define the face of a crystal.

Moon dogs: Refractions also can lead to moon dogs, bursts of light off the moon’s edges.

Moon (or lunar) rainbow or moon bow: These rare pale bows might not even be seen in this area (does anyone know?). It will be in the sky opposite the moon where rain is falling, and the moon will be low in the sky.


Consider Jo Whaley’s “The Theater of Insects” ($23, Chronicle Books) an art book of insects that melds science and photography. Her images bring us the beauty and intricacies, the colors and shapes, the ingenious structures that evolution has given us. Her self-designed sets provide the backdrop and help create a sense of motion rather than leaving the images in a static state.

The plates are beautiful and speak for themselves with only a Latin identification.

The writings of authors who isolate themselves in the wild for an extended time can be tedious, but this is not the case with Robert Kull’s “Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in the Extreme ($16, New World Library).

He delivers a well-written, extremely thoughtful narrative of a year alone (except for a cat) in the Patagonia wilderness.

“Solitude” goes far beyond the “I survived” theme into nature writing, philosophical musings about nature vs. technology and isolation vs. culture, and pages on meditation and mindfulness.

This has become my favorite into-the-wilderness nature book.

Columnist Sharon Wootton, co-author of “Off the Beaten Path Washington,” can be reached at 360-468-3964 or

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