Thursday, September 23, 2010

Over the moon for equinox and Chinese festival

Last night, I stepped outside late for a breath of air. Great night for it: room temperature, a friendly breeze, the city seemed loose-limbed and comfy. I'd been sipping pu-erh while working. I was in tea mind.

The moon is something I try not to take for granted, and last night it wouldn't let me. The air must have been unusually clear, because even through the heart of Chicago's light pollution I've never seen such a crisp, bright round glow. With my naked eyes, I could make out more features than I'm used to. It hung proudly in the sky, just to the southeast, and shone forth the very definition of radiance. Arresting, tracks-halting, gasp-worthy. And directly below it, like a diamond pendant, hung Jupiter. Crown jewels laid out on indigo velvet.

I didn't know till this morning that what I was looking at had a slight astronomical significance. It was a "super harvest moon." Summer ended and autumn began shortly after I stepped outside, at 10:09 p.m. Central. A full moon, particularly a harvest moon, rarely occurs on the equinox — thus the "super" additive. The position helps make the moon brighter, bolder. (Some photos here.)

I was, however, aware that yesterday was the Mid-Autumn Festival on the Chinese lunar calendar — also called the Moon Festival. The central sweet treat offered in China and Vietnam for this festival is the mooncake, a round, fluted pastry filled with a lotus-seed paste (easy recipe here). I was served these once with gongfu, but at a much different time of year. Next year, I'll plan ahead, "super" or not.

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