A Walk into the Moon

I hope some of you grabbed your moon glasses and stepped outside to have a look at how that full moon lights up the world. Thirty thousand miles closer than usual and thirty percent brighter, tonight this lesser light has a chance to really shine. It graywashes the sky so that only a sprinkle of the brightest stars break through its glory. On the eastern horizon, the sky’s shade is bright enough to suggest pre-dawn blue.

I couldn’t resist; I walked in it. When I struck out, a hint of twilight still lay in a long, dark blue and pale yellow bar resting along the western vista. Already, the moon was brilliant. The cool wind blowing seemed to ride the strong light. I headed out, flashlighless, along a dirt road that runs into the desert, skirting an empty pasture, every bump and rut in the road clear enough that my stride came easily. Darkness — such as it is tonight — dropped down quickly, but as it did, the landscape grew brighter. The juniper shadows still presented something of a challenge to my nerves, but overall I felt comfortable and at home.

As I walked south, then sharply rounded the pasture’s corner to head west, my eye learned to manage the sharp, dark shadows hanging about the sage and other large plants. At one point, a twig snapped — not the clatter of something falling, but the crack of wood giving way to weight. I stopped and looked but could see nothing. Soon after, a soft rumble of running hooves. Deer. I listened, looked again — I couldn’t see, only hear. The crackle of brush, and a blacktail jackrabbit scooted out of the snakeweed just a few feet ahead. This animal I could see — a softly lit rabbit form with long ears and a wide, dark eye. It loped away.

I turned back and walked east, into the moon. Moonlight coated the dry, cold earth with soft silver leaf. I saw my tracks quite clearly then noticed next to them a set of running canine tracks — probably a coyote. Every time I looked at the moon, I lost my night vision and blinked into the shadows till it returned. Instead of heading back the way I came, I decided to see how it was climbing a slight hill with a few rocky rough spots in it. I felt a little nervous about going up into the junipers, but my wonder at what it would look like up there overcame my hesitation. As I started up the hill, I heard something I’d been hoping to hear — a coyote, yip-yowling to the south. It was answered by a pair or trio of coyotes ninety degrees off and about a mile west, then a third set of voices, more distance, to the north. I listened to them say their say, then they quieted and I walked on.

The trail up the hill turned out to be an easy stroll, rocks and all, the moon had been generous with every possible reflective surface. At the top of the hill, I turned north toward the gravel pit and walked along that trail for a while, pausing from time to time to do the safe thing and look behind me. Every once in a while, I heard the coyotes yapping comedically as they teased the local dogs. By this time the landscape was . . . I wouldn’t say “ablaze,” because the moon suggests ice rather than fire. Maybe “aglaze” would work. The world was slick with moonlight.

I approached the gravel pit at the end of the trail with apprehension. Even during the day, the gravel pit gives me the creeps. At night, ghosted over with moonlight — it reminds me of that scene from Thunderheart where the Val Kilmer character finds “Maggie” murdered, half-buried in the dirt, coyotes prowling around her remains. Partly, this results from the pit’s informal use as an dumping grounds for animal carcasses. The bones and hides of elk and deer, poached or shot legally, as well as domestic animals who have died for whatever reasons, wind up at this gravel pit where the scavengers work them apart. And indeed, tonight I stepped over a swatch of deer hide and bones and, further along, the top half of a deer skull. The dirt around them is so bright I easily made out the grisly particulars.

I found the dirt road from the gravel pit the most brightly lit yet, with my black shadow leaning out far ahead. At the bottom of the dirt road, the cattle guard’s bars shone clear and bright. I sorted out my steps and crossed them and hit the asphalt road. I thought, as I headed home, “It’s not going to get dark tonight.” We don’t really have blocks here, but at what would be about two blocks’ distance from where I walked, I saw something white in my back yard. After a moment, I realized it was our propane tank, glowing away.

What fun. Get out there. Or at least, open your door and step outside for a minute of wonder.

24 comments for “A Walk into the Moon

  1. Ardis, the night sky is, indeed, a so not-us place. I left the northern Utah valleys because that haze and light pollution cut me and my family off from easy access to darkness and nighttime vistas. I wanted my kids to see with their own eyes that, as I’ve put it elsewhere, all these places exist where other things happen than happen here.

    I’ve written on light pollution here.

    I’m profoundly grateful to have an excellent view of the night skies again. And to be able to take moonlight walks? God has smiled on me.

    I should add that loss of a decent view of the Milky Way affects our arts and our beliefs, for some in subtle ways, for others in clearly profound ways.

  2. #2 Merkat — You have plenty other things to wonder about right now, then.

    Best to you.

  3. This summer, we had a family reunion up at Aspen Grove, the BYU family camp up Provo Canyon. I realized sometime in the early summer that we were going to be at the camp right during the height of the Perseid meteor shower. I told the kids and cousins about it, and while I wasn’t able to round up the big troop I’d hoped for, I did manage to wake up and bring two of my daughters with me as we left the main camp and moved out to a mostly empty field (there were others who had the same idea we did) where we could look up into the inky blackness and count shooting star after shooting star. It was an awesome experience, and took me back to a camping experience with my family long ago, when I was perhaps 15 years old, and we’d made the treck down to Mesa Verde National Park. I’d never seen so deeply into space with the naked eye before; I’m glad I was able to give my kids, for that one night anyway up Provo Canyon anyway, a similar experience. Incidentally, I definitely agree with you, Patricia, in regards to the Milky Way. To look up and realize you’re staring cross-wise into a celestial body infinitely larger than any you could ever imagine on earth is astonishing. So astonishing that our everyday language doesn’t really have the words to describe it; I tried to explain in simple terms to my 10 and 7 year-olds what that pale, glimmering band hovering over the distant sky was, and utterly failed. They simply couldn’t grasp it.

  4. Last evening the sun set in the west behind Mt. Taylor and the moon rose huge over the Manzanos as I drove past my father’s twilit cottonwoods.

    Thanks for this lovely post, PGK.

  5. #5 Russell:

    Do you think that seeing natural wonders like the Milky Way influences childrens’ spirituality? Or yours?

    Personally, I think the loss of natural vistas, like an exceptionally moonlit landscape and a darksky view of the Milky Way, and the loss of human feelings of connection to these and other great fountainheads of wonder, handicaps spirituality and artistic inspiration. And probably other areas of human health, mental and physical. If nothing else, anything that prevents our making such important connections might at the very least exascerbate feelings of being isolated or turned aside.

  6. #6 Adam:

    Cottonwoods + light of any sort = something spectacular. Add wind, and you’ve got creatures of unique beauty and voice.

    Thanks for commenting.

  7. Patricia,

    You’ve a gift for natural history writing. I’ve enjoyed full moon nights in the desert and in winter forests. Since moving to Washington from Utah 14 years ago, I’ve had to put up with light pollution and cramped vistas from all the tall cedars and firs. Whenever I get the chance to return to Utah, I feel refreshed by seeing horizons, distant hills, and the shadows of clouds on the mountains. I envy you for your new home in the desert. Great stuff.

  8. This morning’s meditation:

    I sit alone in the darkness of my bedroom, shins to the mat beneath me, pelvis grounded to heels, the bodyweight pressing the tops of my feet into the floor. My eyes are dry from the sleep, so I open and close them several times, then settle them closed. Thoughts arise, capture my mind, then gracefully, the mind sees the thought, and is freed. I become aware of light inside my eyelids. It’s too early for dawn, and I’m facing west, not east.

    I crack open an eye to find the moon has emerged from behind the dry-leaf obstruction posed by the ash tree outside my window and into the broken leaf-and-sky space. My eyes remain open, watching her descend mosaically behind the leaves toward the horizon. The sky behind her lightens, opposite the dawn.

  9. This reminds me of when I went on a scouting trip as a young teenager. We went canoeing up the Colorado River on the California, Arizona border. (And when I say up, I mean upstream – as in against the current! Ugh!) Anyway, one night, after we set up camp, I wandered away as I usually do. We were in a little bay shaped area, which was settled right next to some hills, with deep cuts in them from rainfall. I looked up at the sky as I went up the hill. I have never felt so small next to the grandness of God’s handiwork. I still count that as one of my favorite moments of my youth. Thanks for the reminder.

  10. Wonderful post, Patricia.

    I had a similar experience last night. I had a night class in Portland and drove home up the Columbia Gorge on the Washington side. There is a turn-off just a few miles from my home called Cape Horn. I pulled off the road, exited my car and watched the moon as it reflected off the Columbia River. The river far below, the mountians, the trees, Beacon Rock (off in the distance) were all “aglaze” (I love that term). I watched a barge glide through the water, lights glowing even in the bright moonlight. It was almost a spiritual experience. I offered a prayer of thanks for being in this place in this time in my life.

    Thank you, Patricia, for putting our experience in words much better than I could.

  11. #9 Kevinf:

    Of course, coming to live in this better place involved taking risks and making choices, some of which we’re still struggling with.

    Maybe because I grew up steeped in nature before I converted to the church, I am unhappy when I’m separated for very long from a clear view of the creation.

  12. #10 gf:

    Your comment provokes a reflective state. Very nice.

    Thanks for adding it here.

  13. # 11 Jacob M: I looked up at the sky as I went up the hill. I have never felt so small next to the grandness of God’s handiwork. I still count that as one of my favorite moments of my youth. Thanks for the reminder.

    Makes me think we need less bloggersnackers and more bloggertreks. For the sake of improving perspective, at the very least.

  14. # 12 Darrell: Thank you, Patricia, for putting our experience in words much better than I could.

    Actually, I think you did a very nice job. Thanks for posting your experience here.

    It was almost a spiritual experience. I offered a prayer of thanks for being in this place in this time in my life.

    What makes the difference for you? It sounds like it was a spiritual experience, since you offered a prayer of thanks. Could you explain what more could have happened that would have produced a fully-formed spiritual experience for you?

  15. I definately understated the experience. You are right it was spiritual, I should not have used the word “almost.” Perhaps I was comparing it to some of the experiences that I have had in the temple. However, more than once, as I have hiked through these woods and mountains and among waterfalls, I have felt as close to God as within the walls of the temple.

  16. This morning I went out for a walk and I was caught short by the sight of the full moon still hanging low in the sky. The sky was turning blue, but the moon was so big and so yellow. It looked beautiful over the hills here in Seattle that are dotted with orange trees (and houses). Even though I didn’t get to walk in the moonlight, I love the sight of the moon hanging up there in the sky.

  17. # 19 FoxyJ:

    I love that through some fortunate design we ended up with a moon in the sky, too. I sometimes envy Saturn’s multiple moons with cool names like “Hyperion.” Funny that we invested so much into naming other plants’ moons but just call our moon “the Moon.”

    I love the fluctuating degrees of triangulation the moon, earth, and sun engage in. That’s so cool.

  18. Living away from the arid West, moisture blocks the stars from me more than light pollution. Even the lights of Las Vegas glowing on the horizon a dozen miles away in my youth impeded little compared with the sky that delivers a boot-drenching dew every morning that I live under now. Last month’s full-moon rose orange and beautiful, though, and my children enjoyed it quite a bit too.

    Oddly, my most intimate experience with the moon was technological. I started from Las Vegas to Provo one winter night in a pick-up with recurring electrical problems. As was often my preference, instead of Interstate 15, I took US 93 up to US 6 to enjoy the solitude of those two-lane highways, definitely worth a couple hours extra driving. Around Alamo, the alternator partially failed, the headlights dimmed, and I worried that if I stopped the engine it might not start again. I turned off the headlights, and a mostly full moon provided my view of the road for the next several hours. How I loved the moon that night!

  19. # 21 John Mansfield:

    I tried this last night. I shut off the headlights as I drove home along our dark road. Made me nervous at first and I kept turning the lights off and on. Then I committed myself, turned them off and drove. Interesting effect, and seeing was fairly easy, though I don’t have the night vision I used to. Just as I was getting into driving sans headlights, I saw the lights of an approaching car and turned my lights back on so as not to take anybody unawares. But it was a fun experiment.

    Bold move on your part, taking remote, two-lane highways in a pickup known to experience electrical problems!

  20. re #’s 16, 17, and 18:

    Darrell, could you please contact me? I would like to ask permission to quote your comments here in another Times and Seasons post I’m writing.

    Your e-mail bounces mine back. My Times and Seasons e-mail doesn’t seem to be working, either, but you can reach me through my A Motley Vision e-mail address: patricia at motleyvision dot org.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

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