A SHORT ENCYCLOPEDIA OF LUNAR SEAS
1. The Moscow Sea (Mare Moscoviense)
Moscow is one of the most landlocked cities on Earth, but whatever disappears from it ends up in the Moscow Sea. The local inhabitants see a certain irony in that, and celebrate every new arrival. They cheered when the churches burned by Napoleon appeared and stood over the shallow waters of the sea, reflecting there along with the sparrows and the immigrants. They greeted the dead priests with coppers on their eyes, the hockey teams, the horse-drawn buggies. They are still waiting for the jackdaws, but the jackdaws are resilient, and they stay in their city.
Nowadays, if one looks into this shallow pool, one can still see the marching Red Armies, Belka and Strelka, and the Great October Revolution.
2. The Sea of Rains (Mare Imbrium)
The inhabitants of this sea are used to rain. It is a sea in name only, an empty basin long ago abandoned by water. But it rains every day. Sometimes, instead of water, flower petals fall from the sky; sometimes, it rains wooden horses and rubber duckies.
One rain everyone still remembers occurred a few years ago, when words fell from the sky. It did not stem for weeks, and the words filled the empty basin to overflowing. The inhabitants groaned and suffocated under the weight of accumulated regrets, promises, lies, report cards, great literature, pop songs, and shopping lists. They would surely perish unless something was done soon.
The council of the elders decided that they should drain the accumulated words, and in the course of their deliberations they realized that the words falling from the sky slowed down. So they decreed that it was the civic duty of every citizen to use up as many words as possible.
They bought telephones, and started telemarketing campaigns; they complained about their health and spun long tales for their children; they took to poetry.
Within days, the rain stopped; in the next month, the sea ran dry. Today, the inhabitants of this sea are mute, and the basin is empty—unless it rains nightingale songs or tiny blue iridescent fish.
3. The Sea of Clouds (Mare Nubium)
The Sea of Clouds is entirely contained by mountains, so high above the blue moon surface that the clouds fill the basin. Mermaids from all over the world make their yearly pilgrimage to this sea— they crawl over land, their tails trailing furrows in the blue dust, their br**sts and elbows scuffed on the flat lunar stones. They leave traces of pale mermaid blood, its smell tinged with copper.
They cross the extensive ice fields, and their scales shine with the hoarfrost under the fickle lights of Aurora Borealis. Their breath clouds the air, so much so that the natives rarely travel in the thick fog of mermaid breath, lest they be lost forever.
In the end, the mermaids come to the Sea of Clouds, so just for a day they can swim in the sky and think themselves birds.
4. The Sea of Crises (Mare Crisium)
This sea looks deceptively calm if viewed from the surface, but on the bottom, where only the greenest of sunrays can penetrate, there is a city. Red algae line the streets, undulating in the current, and green, yellow, and white snails stud the sidewalks.
Every day, war rages in the streets. When the sun rises, opposing armies march along the storefronts and the boarded-up vacation houses. They meet at the corner, and the battle begins. By sunset, very few are left standing, and even they fade as the sun disappears behind the horizon. The next morning, they will start again.
There is no Valhalla on the Moon.
5. The Sea of Fertility (Mare Fecunditatis)
It is widely believed that the properties of this sea were discovered by accident, when the fresh waters ran red with blood, and poor women had nowhere to do their laundry. Out of despair, they turned to the sea. The clothes washed there turned stiff from the salt, and the hands of the women turned raw from scrubbing, the salt eating away at their joints and skin. Whoever wore these clothes caked with salt and blood found themselves blessed with many children, and this is how the sea received its name. A less known part of this legend is that those who were blessed by the sea cannot love their children—the salt is too bitter, and the blood burns too deep. They don’t tell you this, because what parent would admit that their children are loathed monsters?
6. The Sea of Tranquility (Mare Tranquillitatis)
Those who live on the shores of the sea still remember the first moon landing. They remember two men clambering in their elaborate costumes, raising clouds of precious blue dust with every step. The natives stood dumbfounded, and then went to greet the visitors. But the Moon folk are difficult to see, even to their own kind, and the visitors ignored them, leaping with jubilation in the world where gravity was kind.
The natives laughed then, because the Earth men did not realize that if they only shed their heavy equipment, they could leap high enough to achieve nirvana.
7. The Sea of Moisture (Mare Humorum)
Everything rots in this climate. Even the precious stones and metals, brought for good luck, disintegrate in the damp air, leaving nothing but handfuls of soggy rust. But the plants love it. A single seed was brought by a basket merchant Eshlev as a gift to his young wife, and she planted it in a flowerpot.
The next morning, a green succulent stalk emerged; by the afternoon it had branched. The seedling gulped moisture from the air, and swelled with every passing minute. Its leaves unfurled like banners, and the stems pushed through every window and door and chimney. In a week’s time, the plant had engulfed the house, burying Eshlev and his dogs and baskets deep inside. His wife sat outside, looking at the green hill that used to be her home with dazed eyes, waiting for her plant to bloom.
8. The Sea of Ingenuity (Mare Ingenii)
There once was an old man who built robots out of driftwood, seashells, and straw. His robots were clever machines, although even their creator wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly how they worked. But worked they did, and when they were done with their chores, they went behind the old man’s house, and built inventions of their own. To the untrained eyes, their project appeared as one long wing, and people laughed at the robots, for everyone knows that the atmosphere of the Moon is not dense enough to support flight. Even birds have to walk here.
But the robots were not deterred, and their wing grew larger by the day. They polished its surface and inlaid it with mother-ofpearl. The wing was ready, and when the robots held it up to the rising sun, the wing shuddered and took off.
All the people watched in wonderment as the wing shone in the sun and carried off the robots, propelled by the strength of the sunrays. The robots worked in unison, tilting their sail this way and that way to navigate, but nobody knows where they went. Some say, Mars.
9. The Sea of Serenity (Mare Serenitatis)
Widows come to this sea to cry, and they keep it full, brimming with water that forms a noticeable convex surface in the weak gravity of the Moon. The widows come from all over, icicles in their unbraided hair, empty hands folded over their empty wombs. They sit on the shore and weep, until their eyes turn red, and their lips crack and their br**sts wither.
When they cannot cry any longer, they leave, their souls purged and as empty as their hands. Serenity is what is left when all the tears are cried out.
10. The Sea of Vapors (Mare Vaporum)
The steam of geysers and fonts of hot water conceals the outlines of this sea and the adjacent landmarks. No one is exactly sure what lies within the dense fog. But it is accepted as a likely speculation that the geysers are just a clever disguise, and that all the runaway children found a home there.
There are carnivals and circuses, trained elephants and tigers that do not bite, but eagerly lick every hand that offers them marzipans. There are merry-go-rounds, seesaws, fish tanks with the biggest fattest goldfish you have ever imagined, but no clowns. The witch’s oven is far too small to fit even a scrawniest child.
There is not a single adult on the Moon who did not contemplate running away to the Sea of Vapors, but the fog is too dense.
11. The Sea of the Known (Mare Cognitum)
If one were to sit on the shore of this sea and peer deep into its transparent waters, one would see that the bottom is covered with a multitude of marbles—red, yellow, green, powder-blue, and clear with a blue spiral inside, the best of all. The marbles shift constantly in the current, and arrange themselves in elaborate patterns. If one were to assign them a numerical or alphabetic value, one would soon realize that the patterns only speak of the things that are true.
One would spend day after day, enraptured over all the facts in the universe revealed in no particular order. One would learn that the diameter of Phobos is 22.2 kilometers, that the ducks have a special gland at the base of their tails to keep their feathers waterproof, that cobalt melts at 1495oC, and that in 1495 Russia invaded Sweden.
Then inevitably one would grow impatient and stare at the marbles, frowning. None of the facts the sea tells have anything to do with the Moon itself. One could spend eternity staring into the Sea of the Known, yet learn nothing about it.
12. The Eastern Sea (Mare Orientale)
The Yellow Emperor washes all of his animals in this sea.
They stare with their liquid eyes of every shade of jade, amber, and topaz, and their crested and maned heads bob obediently as the calm, warm waters lap at their sides. The salt stings a bit, but the Emperor likes his animals clean. They squint their eyes and dream of the days when they will be able to walk into the sea all by themselves, without whips and demanding clicks of human tongues.