Red Sun, Red Moon

red Moon
Amateur astronomer and astrophotographer Bill Funcheon captured this photo of the red Moon over New Jersey on July 20, 2021. Image via

Americans all across the country have been noticing (and posting photos) the strange colors in both the daytime and nighttime skies.

The Sun and the Moon have been a stronger orange or even blood red. Skies have been a hazy gray. I associate the latter with hot, humid weather and air pollution. grayed with haze.

The sky, Sun, and Moon can appear to have different colors for several reasons – mostly atmospheric. The current redness is caused by the ongoing wildfires on the West Coast. The Bootleg wildfire in Oregon is the biggest contributor this week

Here in Paradelle, thousands of miles from that fire, smoke from this extreme wildfire has arrived. The fire began on July 6. It has already burned 364,000 acres. The jetstream carries it eastward and the Northeast has seen it. Sometimes, I imagine I can smell it, though it might be something more local as the smoke is high in the atmosphere by now.

Firey sunset. The sun sets in the smoky sky
Image via Flickr

The red Sun is caused by smoke particles filling the atmosphere. The longer wavelengths of light appear red and scatter more due to the particles in the air. Seen through clean air molecules, shorter wavelengths of light, which appear to us as blue light, are more effectively scattered.

The Traveler

man and dog

I’m passing along my version of a very short story which you can find online in other versions.

A man and his dog were traveling a road and enjoying the mild winter day when it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead.

He remembered dying. He remembered that the dog had been dead for years. He wondered where the road was taking them.

They came to a fork in the road at the bottom of a hill and he saw that the way to the left led to a tall arch that glowed beautifully in the sunlight. He took that road and when he approached the hilltop arch the road before it appeared to be paved with gold. A magnificent gate in the arch looked like it was made of mother-of-pearl. As he and the dog got closer, he saw a man at a desk to the side of the gate.

“Excuse me, where are we?’ he asked the man at the desk.
‘This is Heaven, sir,” the man answered.
“Would you happen to have some water?’ the man asked.
“Of course, sir. Come in, and you can have some cold spring water.”

The gate began to open.

“The water is also for my friend,” the traveler said, gesturing toward his dog.
“I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t allow animals here.”

The man thought a moment and then turned back down the hill and at the fork took the other road. It was a long walk and the man and dog walked it slowly.

At the top of the hill was a dirt road leading through an open farm gate that looked as if it had never been closed. There was no fence. As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside, leaning against a tree and reading a book.

“Excuse me!’ he called to the man. ‘Do you have any water?”
‘Yes, there’s a pump over there. Come in.”
“How about my friend here?'”said the traveler and gestured to the dog.
“There is a bowl by the pump.”

They went through the gate, and next to an old-fashioned hand pump was a bowl. The traveler filled the bowl and took a drink and then set it down for his dog.

He turned to the man by the tree.

“What do you call this place?’ the traveler asked.
“This is Heaven,” he answered.
“That’s strange. The man down the road said that was Heaven.”
“The place with the gold road and pearly gates? That’s Hell.”
“Doesn’t it make you angry that they falsely use your name like that?” asked the traveler.
“No, we’re happy that they screen out the folks who would leave their friends behind.”

Pamela Colman-Smith’s Tarot

tarot cards
The Rider-Waite tarot deck probably should be known as the Coman-Smith deck

Pamela Colman-Smith created what would become the world’s most popular tarot deck. She was known to friends as “Pixie.” The illustrations were commissioned by occult scholar and author Arthur E. Waite, a fellow member of the British occult society the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, to illustrate a pack of tarot cards.

The deck was and still is often referred to as the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck. Waite included the publisher William Rider & Son in the naming.

Her distinctive gouache illustrations of cards such as The Magician, The Tower, and The Hanged Man helped people grasp the story behind a card spread.

I give her artistic credit and I have also seen the deck sold as the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) or Waite Smith (WS) deck giving Pixie her due.

Colman-Smith did 80 tarot paintings and wrote that it was “a big job for very little cash,” Waite had some specific visual ideas he wanted used concerning the astrological significance of some cards but Smith had a lot of freedom for most designs, especially with the Minor Arcana or pip cards.

If you’re not a tarot card user, here are some basics. These are 56 numbered cards which are divided into suits — wands, cups, swords and pentacles. Colman-Smith’s deck was new in being a fully illustrated set with even the Minor Arcana illustrated. It is thought that she based some designs on the earliest surviving tarot deck. That deck is the Sola Busca which dates to the early 1490s and which she would have seen in the British Museum.

I don’t know if Pixie used her cards but she did not have a happy future. She died in poverty in 1951 and her artwork was auctioned off to cover her debts. Her death certificate listed her occupation not as an artist but as “Spinster of Independent Means.” With no money for a headstone, she was buried in an unmarked grave.

sketch for glass
Sketch for Glass,” watercolor and ink on paper


View some of Colman-Smith’s art at

Moon card
Moon card

The Scorpion Full Moon

Scorpius has over ten stars with planets in its constellation, as well as four Messier objects. The most famous star within the constellation is called Antares.

The constellation Scorpius the Scorpion has had the Moon moving through it earlier this week, The Moon was closest to Antares, the Heart of the Scorpion, on July 19. Antares and the Scorpion’s Tail are relatively low in the sky from latitudes like those in the northern U.S. or Canada.

Antares is a red supergiant and really twinkles and that may even be more evident after the Moon goes full. It is the 16th brightest star in the sky. Antares is about 10,000 times more luminous than our Sun and it is 12 million years old.


This month is generally called the Buck Moon. On my walk today, I passed two bucks munching away at greens in the park. This Full Moon marks a time when the antlers of male deer (bucks) are in full growth mode. They shed and regrow their antlers each year and so they have larger and more impressive antlers as they age.

I also saw some evidence from the waterfowl at the park that confirms this being the Feather Moulting Moon (Cree tribe). The Salmon Moon was a name the Tlingit people used and my son is in Alaska this week salmon fishing because this is when they return to northwestern fishing waters.

Depending on your location, the Moon was full at 10:37 a.m. today but it isn’t full until 2:37 a.m. on July 24 in other locations. Not that you’ll notice the difference.

I don’t want to ignore the Southern Hemisphere where it is the Wolf Moon, Old Moon or Ice Moon – none of which make my sense to northern me unless it’s because I wolfed down my dinner with a well-iced drink and I’m feeling kind of old.

King Arthur Will Return

Arthur and the Lady of the Lake
Tapestry of Arthur and the Lady of the Lake

I was fascinated by books and movies about the legend of King Arthur as a boy and it has continued into adult life. In college, I took a course on the Arthurian legends and we read Le Morte D’Arthur in its 15th-century Middle English.

Sir Thomas Malory’s prose tales of King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table were compiled and modified from French and English sources to make a complete story of Arthur’s life. Malory wrote it while in prison.

One thing that Professor Kellogg told us was that Arthur’s story has been reinterpreted many times in the centuries since Malory. Each interpretation and reimagining of the legend reflects the time the new author lived in and Arthur is seen in a different way, reflecting the time of the reinterpretation. Since there was a 19th-century revival of the legend, Malory has been the principal source.

For example, the love triangle of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot has been portrayed in ways so that each of them is to blame. Arthur is at fault. Arthur is a fool. Arthur is loyal to his friend and wife.

Le Morte d’Arthur (The Death of Arthur) was first published in 1485 at the end of the medieval English era. William Caxton published it and changed its title from Malory’s The Whole Book of King Arthur and of His Noble Knights of the Round Table (or actually The Hoole Book of Kyng Arthur and of His Noble Knyghtes of The Rounde Table).

In 1934, the Winchester Manuscript was discovered and that is an earlier version than Caxton’s. Like Shakespeare and other old texts, there are many different editions that show different spellings and grammar and changes to the plot.

I reread the book recently. It was the first time I had read it since college. I read the new version by Gerald Davis of Le Morte D’Arthur
which draws on both the Caxton and Winchester manuscripts.  But the key elements of the story remain.

This is not a 21st Century “reinterpretation” but it is a version written for modern readers. The love triangle that forms when King Arthur’s wife, Queen Guinevere, has an affair with Sir Lancelot. This double betrayal breaks Arthur’s heart but it also starts a civil war and ultimately leads to the end of King Arthur’s kingdom.

My rereading is now overlaid with the many movies, TV programs and other books I have read since college about Arthur. When I read about young Arthur I see the Disney cartoon Arthur of The Sword in the Stone that I saw in 1963 and also the Arthur in the source book by T.H. White, The Once and Future King,  which is very good and not cartoonish or a children’s book.

movie poster

White’s young boy Arthur is tutored by a wizard named Merlyn in preparation for a future he can’t imagine where he will be a king with the greatest knights sworn to chivalrous values, a beautiful queen and he would unite a country as Arthur, King of the Britons.

Arthur is the once and future King because the legend is that he will return when England needs him. Versions of the legend during the period of WWII see him as returning in some form to save England.

Malory writing in mid-15th Century was viewing Arthur saw a change in society that included the end of knighthood. He also would have one of the first books printed in England and reach new readers.

In 1509, Henry VIII, wanted to revive an idealized age of knighthood. He had the Winchester round table of Edward III painted over so that he was on now top as the new Arthur.

During the early 19th Century, Romanticism, Gothic Revival, and medievalism developed, and chivalry was appealing. Alfred Tennyson rewrote the Arthur’s story for the Victorian era in Idylls of the King. His Arthur was the ideal of manhood but he fails because he is human.

My wife brought home The Mists of Avalon in 1982. That novel reimagines the story from a feminist perspective.

Excalibur Arthur

I watched the film Excalibur multiple times with my young sons who loved that Arthur and Merlin. The love triangle kind of passed over them. The film, directed by John Boorman, takes a mythological and allegorical approach to the story.  Arthur is the Wounded King who can only be healed (along with his kingdom) by the Holy Grail. It is the cycle of birth, life, decay, and restoration.

There is some of that in the 1991 film, The Fisher King, starring Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams. (It is one of my favorite Robin Williams’ performances.)

The Wounded King’s realm becomes a wasteland as does the Fisher (or Sinner) King. It is not Arthur or Lancelot who find the Grail, because both of them are flawed and unworthy. They are healed by Perceval.

John Boorman remarked that the Christian symbolism of the Grail is what “my story is about: the coming of Christian man and the disappearance of the old religions which are represented by Merlin. The forces of superstition and magic are swallowed up into the unconscious.”

In retelling the legend of Arthur, writers have acted like Malory and included elements from other stories. Boorman has the sword Excalibur between the sleeping Queen and Lancelet which comes from the tales of Tristan and Iseult. Perceval not only gets the Grail to Arthur but also returns Excalibur to the Lady in the Lake (rather than Bedivere as in Malory) and the characters of Morgause and Morgan Le Fay are made one character.

How would a 21st Century view of King Arthur be viewed? Would it address democracy, manipulation of the story presented to the public, deception, healing, loyalty…? What other stories might be mixed in with the Arthurian legends?


The Moon Hoax of 1835

Yesterday, I wrote about how our Moon is wobbling and it is affecting coastal flooding. It might have sounded like a hoax, but it is true. However, there was a big Moon hoax that started on August 25, 1835. The Sun newspaper in New York City printed a series of articles describing scientific findings about the Moon. They said the information came from the Edinburgh Journal of Science. The information was recounted by Dr. Andrew Grant, a colleague of the famous astronomer Sir John Herschel.

The articles described the flora and fauna of the moon, the beings that lived there and the temples where they lived. Those lunar folks were said to “average four feet in height, were covered, except on the face, with short and glossy copper-colored hair, and had wings composed of a thin membrane, without hair, lying snugly on their backs.”  All of this information was seen by an observatory at the Cape of Good Hope.

Of course, it was all a lie. No Dr. Grant, no observatory, no beings. But people believed this. Surprising? Well, people believed Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast about a hundred years later and thought aliens had landed in New Jersey. You don’t expect to read satire or find hoaxes in a newspaper or hear them on radio. People today sometimes see a tweet or link to a story from the satiric The Onion and react or pass it on as true.

Copies of the The Sun sold out and the series was getting reprinted all over the country and the world. The man behind all this was Richard Adams Locke, an editor at The Sun.  He claimed for a while that he hadn’t intended for anyone to believe the tales and that when he wanted to go public with the hoax  but the owner of the paper wouldn’t do it and it was many years before this ridiculous fake news was fully debunked. I suspect people had sopped believing it long before that, but who knows for sure.Edgar Allen Poe claimed the idea was plagiarized from a satire he’d written just a few weeks earlier about a man who made his way to the moon by hot air balloon.

You can listen to a two-part podcast about the Moon hoax here

Part 2