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Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Flamborough Head in 1779, in which the Bonhomme Richard, under the command of John Paul Jones, defeated H.M.S. Serapis under the command of Captain Richard Pearson. Here is an account of the battle. The Serapis could both outsail and outgun the Richard.  Jones won the battle by getting close enough to lay his ship along side his opponent and then hang on like grim death. Unfortunately, it appears that Jones never actually uttered the expression of defiance now ascribed to him, although there is absolutely no doubt about the heroism of his tenacity.

Some time ago I read Evan Thomas’ biography of Jones. The impression I came away with was one of sadly wasted talent – Jones spent a great deal of the war on the beach, squabbling with various fellow officers and government officials. His action against the Serapis proved to be his one real moment to shine.

I still remember a ballad about the battle, although I don’t know much about its origins.  (It was among the selections on a record of purported Revolutionary War songs put out by National Geographic a good 35 or 40 years ago.)  It goes:

An American frigate, called Richard by name,
Mounting guns forty-four, from New York she came,
For a cruise in the channel of Old England’s fame,
With a noble commander, Paul Jones was his name.

We hadn’t sailed far when some ships we did spy,
A stout forty-four and a twenty likewise,
And forty bold shipping all laden with store,
And that convoy stood in for the old Yorkshire shore.

Then Paul Jones did speak and to his men did say,
“Let every man fight a good battle today.
We’ll take that bold convoy in the height of her pride,
Or the Richard shall flounder and sink in the tide.”

The battle rolled on until bold Pearson cried,
“Have you yet struck your colors? Then come along side!”
But so far from thinking that the battle was won,
Brave Paul Jones replied, “I have not yet begun!”

We fought them eight glasses, eight glasses so hot,
That seventy bold seamen lay dead on the spot.
The shot flew so hot that they couldn’t stand it long,
And the brave British colors came finally down.

As I remarked in the post below, I was looking forward last evening to seeing the rise of the Harvest Moon, one of my favorite heralds of Autumn, on the drive home.

Well, as it turned out, Mother Nature wasn’t all that interested in giving me such a view.  A band of thunderstorms rolled into the area late in the afternoon, and as evening descended, the sky was still full of piled and tattered clouds, albeit with large gaps above and to the west.  The colors of both sky and clouds, though, seemed somehow to be particularly brilliant – deep azure for the one and vibrant peach, gray and white for the other – and yet soft-edged and misty at the same time.  As I joked over at Facebook, it looked like something straight out of Maxfield Parrish, and I was only sorry not to see toga-clad nymphs along the road.

Well as it turns out, last evening’s sky was something out of the ordinary:

It’s the last day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, the beginning of the autumn season and it perfectly coincides with a full moon tonight. And it’s the first time in almost 20 years that the stars have aligned for an event like this. (We fully acknowledge that the moon is not a star but it’s not very often we get to use the phrase in such close context).

When the summer sun starts setting this evening, it will blend with the rising autumn moon to produce a unique “360-degree style” twilight. The two low-in-the-sky light sources mix together and illuminate the sky all around you, unlike the typical one-at-a-time approach you see when you drive home from work. And it’s from this extra twilight lighting that the Harvest Moon gained its place in the celestial calendar.

It’s only after reading this that I realized what I was looking at was cloud lit from both sides at the same time.  It was, I may say, quite majickal and more than made up for missing the moonrise itself.

Now, about those nymphs………


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September 2010