There is a hill near my home that I often climb at night. The noise of the city is a far-off murmur. In the hush of dark I share the cheerfulness of crickets and the confidence of owls. But it is the drama of the moonrise that I come to see. For that restores in me a quiet and clarity that the city spends too freely.
From this hill I have watched many moons rise. Each one had its own mood. There have been broad, confident harvest moons in autumn; shy, misty moons in spring; lonely, white winter moons rising into the utter silence of an ink-black sky and smoke-smudged orange moons over the dry fields of summer. Each, like fine music, excited my heart and then calmed my soul.
But we, who live indoors, have lost contact with the moon. The glare of street lights and the dust of pollution veil the night sky. Though men have walked on the moon, it grows less familiar. Few of us can say what time the moon will rise tonight.
Still, it tugs at our minds.
If we unexpectedly encounter the full moon, huge and yellow over the horizon, we are helpless but to stare back at its commanding presence. And the moon has gifts to bestow upon those who watch.
I learned about its gifts one July evening in the mountains. My car had mysteriously stalled, and I was stranded and alone. The sun had set, and I was watching what seemed to be the bright-orange glow of a forest fire beyond a ridge to the east. Suddenly, the ridge itself seemed to burst into flame. Then, the rising moon, huge and red and grotesquely misshapen by the dust and sweat of the summer atmosphere, loomed up out of the woods. Distorted thus by the hot breath of earth, the moon seemed ill-tempered and imperfect. Dogs at nearby farmhouse barked nervously, as if this strange light had wakened evil spirits in the weeds.
But as the moon lifted off the ridge it gathered firmness and authority. Its complexion changed from red, to orange, to gold, to impassive yellow. It seemed to draw light out of the darkening earth, for as it rose, the hills and valleys below grew dimmer. By the time the moon stood clear of the horizon, full-chested and round and of the colour of ivory, the valleys were deep shadows in the landscape. The dogs, reassured that this was the familiar moon, stopped barking. And all at once I felt a confidence and joy close to laughter.
The drama took an hour. Moonrise is slow and serried with subtleties. To watch it, we must slip into an older, more patient sense of time.
To watch the moon move inflexibly higher is to find an unusual stillness within ourselves. Our imaginations become aware of the vast distance of space, the immensity of the earth and the huge improbability of our own existence. We feel small but privileged.
Moonlight shows us none of life’s harder edges. Hillsides seem silken and silvery, the oceans still and blue in its light. In moonlight we become less calculating, more drawn to our feelings.