Saturday, May 28, 2022

Remember the recent eclipse of the moon?

Written by Jim Heffernan for The Duluth News Tribune/05-28-22

Many readers might still recall the big moon eclipse of two weeks ago. Things are happening so fast lately — conquest, war, pestilence, monkeypox, Johnny Depp — it’s hard to keep up with stuff.

I dutifully watched the first half of the eclipse — the part where we lost the moon. I let nature or whatever take its course from there on in, confident as I hit the sack that the moon would be back in due time as I slept.


Watching eclipses can be a bit tedious, despite the wonder of it all, with the earth blocking the light of the sun on its surface, turning the silvery moon into a muddy dark orb. It takes quite a while for the earth’s shadow to make its way across the whole moon, as you might have noticed if you were watching.


I was bound and determined to watch it though, out on our patio in a comfortable lawn chair on a beautiful clear night, with a good cigar to draw on. There are certain times for a cigar, and a total eclipse of the moon is one. If you only smoke during eclipses it’s probably OK health wise.


Still and all, though, as significant an extraterrestrial event as an eclipse might be, let’s face it: They can be a little on the boring side. It’s kind of exciting when the shadow first comes up on what they call the moon’s penumbra, but then the show lags a bit. 


So as I watched, I found myself ruminating about many other things — “shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings, and why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings,” as the walrus puts it in Alice in Wonderland. Mainly, I thought about how the moon shows up in so many old songs, as the melodies coursed their way through my consciousness as earworms.


“By the light, of the silvery moon, I like to spoon, with my honey in June,” is an ancient number not in step with the hip hop generation. I don’t think they call couples’ billing and cooing “spooning” any more, not that billing and cooing is exactly common parlance today either. But you know what I mean.


Hey, get a load of that, I thought as the earth’s shadow took another bite out of the bright, full moon. Another melody came to mind that I hadn’t thought of in a long time:  “Fly me to the moon, and let me sing among the stars, let me see what spring is like on Jupiter or Mars…”

I’ve been thinking a lot about what this spring is like right here in Northern Minnesota. Maybe it’s better on Jupiter or Mars. Wouldn’t take much.


Oops, here’s another ditty that invaded my consciousness: “I see the moon, the moon sees me, down through the leaves of the old oak tree, please let the light that shines on me, shine on the one I love.” Does ANYBODY remember that? It was popular when I was a kid.


So much moon in music, so increasingly little of the moon’s still visible surface as I watched the shadow envelop fully half of the fading sphere, the rest still bright.


“Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon, the little dog laughed to see such a sight, and the dish ran away with the spoon.” Where’d that come from? It’s not even a song, but a Mother Goose nursery rhyme. But that Old Devil Moon kept coming up in so many ways as the earth’s shadow continued its journey across the moon, not a cow in sight.


There’s more. “Full moon, and empty arms,” the first line of lyrics of a pop song set to the main theme of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. That’s the music in the movie “The Seven Year Itch” when actor Tom Ewell is making whoopee with Marilyn Monroe as he romances her with the immortal line, “I’m going to take you into my arms, and I’m going to kiss you, very quickly and very, very hard.” Right then she falls off the piano bench.


Jeez, that’s a goofy thing to be thinking about as I watched the moon darken, becoming fainter and fainter. Besides, my cigar having long played out, I was getting a little hungry.


“When the moon hits your eye like a big-a pizza pie, that’s amore.” Thank you Dean Martin. Yeah, what’s not to love about pizza?


The moon is almost covered now, bringing to mind when, “The moon was yellow, and the night was young,” according to the lyrics to an old song nobody remembers. The lyric continues: “Beyond that Cupid fellow, behold the moon is yellow, and the night is young.” They don’t write song lyrics like that anymore.


But for me, the night was no longer young, and the moon was no longer yellow; just a dark ball barely visible with the naked eye — clearly not a good time to “dance with the girl with the hole in her stocking, dance by the light of the moon.” (Caution: Do not attempt during a lunar eclipse.)


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at

Saturday, May 14, 2022

A brief history of UMD grad rites...

UMD graduation 2006 
Written By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/5-14-22

I got caught in a big traffic backup last weekend en route to Duluth’s Canal Park area. What the heck could be going on, thought I, as I joined the mid-afternoon lineup of cars, most of which were headed to the DECC area.


Well, come to find out later, the caravan was headed to UMD commencement exercises at Amsoil Arena. I also learned later that some 2,500 seniors were receiving their diplomas. Lots of pomp, under the circumstances, with robes galore and regalia resplendent, I saw on the TV news that evening.


It prompted memories of my own less auspicious graduation from UMD many moons ago. Oops, not sure moons describes it. Ages is more like it; decades hits the nail on the head. Let’s say more than half a century.


It was a sunny, warm August afternoon in 1962 when I lined up outside what was then known as UMD’s Physical Education Building in a cap and gown to march into what is now Romano gym. The basketball court was fitted with rows of chairs for grads and guests, placed before a makeshift stage for dignitaries and some faculty.


I don’t know how many capped and gowned graduates there were that day, taking advantage of a smaller August ceremony rather than the traditional May or June commencement. Maybe a couple hundred.


As the lineup marched into the building to the usual musical accompaniment and rows converged, I ended up in the front row seated next to the faculty member who was in charge of arranging the whole ceremony. I noticed he was taking notes under the heading “Next Year’ and the first item was, “Don’t wear hush puppies.” Hush puppies in those ancient times were a brand of casual shoes.


I wonder now if my old biology teacher was there. He’s the faculty member I wrote about a couple of months ago who, when as a student I had questioned my “D” grade in zoology, had told me I was lucky to get that basement passing grade. In the column I called him Professor Frogstad not wanting to use his real name, even though it was so long ago I figured the professor would have lived out his days.


Well, he hasn’t. I will use his real name now —Dr. Blanchard Krogstad —because even though more than 60 years have passed, he saw the column. He e-mailed that he is now 100 years old, living in rural Minnesota. He didn’t mind my punning up his name, and I’m sure he didn’t remember me (I beat it to the English Department as soon as I could), but he indicated he appreciated the column and noted that over his many years of teaching he’d told numerous other students the same thing: Lucky to get a D.


Any educator who bends over backwards not to fail students is fine with me.


Meanwhile, back at my graduation ceremony lo those many years ago: My parents were there, of course, along with a host of other well wishers attached in various ways to my fellow grads. I don’t remember too much about the program. The usual stuff, I suppose, a speech or two and a procession of students walking across the stage to receive diplomas.


One thing about it all stood out. The Minneapolis campus-based president of the University of Minnesota — all campuses — at the time was O. Meredith Wilson — not the Meredith Willson (double L) who wrote the Broadway musical “The Music Man.”


The University’s President Wilson messaged that regrettably he could not attend our ceremony in Duluth but he sent his good wishes to the graduates. The message was related by one of the robed ceremony officials. The University’s President Wilson was mentioned several times, always simply as President Wilson this, President Wilson that.


So when it finally all came to an end, we marched back out and met our well-wishing family members and friends. My father seemed somewhat perplexed, though. He was a veteran of World War I and had served when a different President Wilson, Woodrow, was the wartime U.S. president.


All those references to President Wilson in the program made him wonder if all these brainy academicians knew what they were talking about.


“Don’t these people know who the president is?” he queried as we walked out of the building.


For the record, the U.S. president at the time was John F. Kennedy. We didn’t hear from him that day, but he spoke in that same UMD gym a little over a year later, a couple of months before he was assassinated.  Call it history.

Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at