ERNEST Danchilla is the only man who ever promised me the moon and kept his promise. Ernest works full time as a cook and part time as a photographer. Engrossed in putting the finishing touches on his entrees, he usually trades his cooking for a camera only after it is dark outside. Not unnaturally this has led to an interest in night photography. Ernest's favorite photographic subject is the moon. He has certainly upstaged the planet Jupiter, which has only 16 moons (at last count). Ernest has 332 moons (at last count), all photographs. While his profession motivates him to take pictures of many other subjects, I've noticed that in his own home it's the moon pictures that he hangs on the wall.

This isn't just your typical case of shine on, harvest moon, either. Ernest has moons available in sizes from petite to jumbo and in as many shades as you'd find in a child's crayon box.

No primeval man was ever more aware of the moods, movements, and stages of the moon than Ernest. Which stands to reason. In the dark of night shadows the selection of photographic subjects is limited. Perhaps that's why the moon draws from Ernest the awe many reserve for a prima ballerina.

The literal meaning of the word photograph is ``written in light.'' Being a man of few words Ernest has written his tribute to the moon in light. His moons leap through the dark like a laser beam. If each of these pictures is worth a thousand words (a phrase he delights in quoting to writers), then I figure his love song to the moon has lyrics the length of ``War and Peace.''

Out of this monumental array of photographs Ernest offered me a gift of any moonshot I selected. I decided on a glossy black-and-white of tall pillars lit by a colossal moon.

Ernest was indignant. My moon wasn't the moon. It was a street lamp. Three weeks later he gave me a photograph of the real moon, not a street lamp. This moon was supposed to have been a lighthouse. If you're getting confused, so was I.

We were in San Francisco and I needed pictures of the Point Bonita lighthouse. Ernest, armed with several rolls of film, attended a tour of the lighthouse at my request. After we arrived, I noticed him unwrapping a favorite moon filter, but I was too involved in the tour to heed the warning.

On the phone two days later he told me he had gotten some great pictures. I asked him to pick out the 10 best shots of the lighthouse. ``Lighthouse?'' There was a long shuffle. ``Uh, I do have one picture of the lighthouse, sort of.''

Ernest had forgotten the lighthouse. The moon had been rising in the opposite direction and he had used all his film on the moon.

At first I was annoyed. The moon, I told him, can be photographed from anywhere on the planet earth. The lighthouse is a more local subject and I felt it deserved priority.

When the moon arrived and I laid it on the kitchen table, my exasperation evaporated. It was a full moon that had just risen, unnaturally large and the color of lilacs. Balancing on a rock in the bay, it filled the center of the Golden Gate Bridge, lilac against red gold. The rock it sat on turned out to be Alcatraz, so perhaps it is appropriate that this moon should be peering through bars (of the bridge). Certainly the photographs capture it forever.

Captured or not, the moon continues to be coy. When Ernest was trying to take pictures of a lighthouse, the moon had danced provocatively in lavender. But when he was completely prepared to take the lunar portrait, it refused to cooperate.

That happened the night of a lunar eclipse. We had both set our alarms and left home in the middle of the night to watch the moon surrender to the shadow of the world. The eclipse was supposed to be total in San Francisco. After taking only a handful of pictures, Ernest found out how total a total eclipse can be in San Francisco. The moon -- and everything else -- was suddenly eclipsed in that city's famous fog.

He was not annoyed. This quiet, nocturnal photographer, who will be watching tonight while most of us sleep, speaks from observation, not from optimism.

He says once in a blue moon always comes twice.

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