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.