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Carl Wernicke: Go Catch A Moonrise


  Some years ago it became clear to me that many people do not realize that the moon, just like the sun, rises and sets. For many of you this might sound questionable, but I can assure you that it is true.

The first time I encountered someone who professed to not realize that the moon rose and set, I thought I had found an outlier, someone who for some reason had missed this easily observable natural phenomenon.

But over several years I was surprised to meet a number of people who said that not only had they never watched a moonrise, they hadn’t realized that it did.

I’m not sure what they thought the moon did, but there it was. Maybe it’s due to how much time we spend indoors, on the TV or computer. I remember years ago walking the beach at night, practically alone, seeing the glow of televisions lighting the windows of houses lining the shore.

Now, it does seem true that when you live somewhere like Pensacola Beach, its natural beauty can become very normal. I suppose if you lived on the edge of the Grand Canyon there would come a day when you didn’t feel the need to gaze out at it every morning.

Or maybe it’s simply a function of our hectic lives; the way we absorb information is like drinking from a fire hose. It’s hard to notice anything else when you are being drenched. I’m sure our ancestors were intimately familiar with not just the rise and fall of the moon, but its phases of light and dark as well.

That said, it’s important to not let the constant presence of something extraordinary make it ordinary. You have to make an effort to realize that what you are looking at, or experiencing, or eating for that matter, is special.

So it is with moonrise.

If you have never made the effort to watch the moon rise off the horizon, I recommend that you look up when the full, or nearly full, moon next rises, and go watch it. Fortunately, thanks to the workings of the universe, a full moon always rises around sunset, making for excellent viewing.

From my experience the most spectacular place to watch the moonrise is along the Scenic Highway bluffs. The size of it is startling; magnified by the atmosphere, it looks even bigger than it is. The color can vary from red to orange to white or almost even blue. I have taken a number of people to the bluffs to watch moonrise with me, and never has anyone been less than amazed at the spectacle.

Pensacola Beach also makes for prime viewing; twice this summer my wife and I led a small group down to the shore for the event, with oohs and ahhs greeting the moon from its first bright sliver edging above the horizon to its rapid climb to fullness.

From long before we humans lit the night with artificial light, the moon has been the brightest beacon drawing hatching sea turtles away from death on land to the chance of life at sea. It still calls to us, as well.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.