“Fly me to the moon
And let me play among the stars.
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars.”
My hike to the moon panned out perfectly, I feel like I won the lottery. I arrived just as everyone else cleared out so the trails were all mine. A woman approached me on a bike in the descending gloom with a confused expression on her face. Then she smiled and asked, “Full moon?” I said, “That’s right!” and we laughed. I’m still amazed there weren’t throngs gathered up there for the spectacle.
The sun had already taken a header into the western hills but the meadowlarks were still finishing up their twilight performance. Butterflies disappeared and soft, pale moths quietly took the stage. Frogs cleared their throats for a show that would bring down the house in a few hours. Buzzards made a final figure eight and slipped out of sight. All of nature seemed to be laying down and closing it’s eyes.
I hiked up the escarpment (that one basalt bulge with the lone tree on top) that separates the many braided biking trails from the main hiking route and claimed the flat, mossy summit in the name of leisurely adventure. The breeze was still warm and dried my shirt for me as I sat listening to the final songbird overture.
I felt giddy and impatient, like a child waiting at dusk for the fireworks to begin. My eyes scanned the horizon constantly, back and forth, back and forth, and then…
I toyed with the buttons on my point and shoot, experimenting with factory settings and ISO’s at a frantic pace as the celebrity raced past the paparazzi….
Ironically, I settled on the “Fireworks” scene selection and an ISO of 3200; my tiny, lightweight Olympus Stylus has obvious limitations at nightfall (and I forgot my bendy tripod–Doh!) Needless to say, my large and ungainly DSLR is coming out of hibernation in the future for nights like this.
I totally forgot about the Columbia River until the man in the moon gently reminded me….
An unexpected thrill was seeing the Doug Firs on the far shore magnified and projected onto the moving silvery screen. One of many delightful surprises to come.
The next was a barge, all done up colorful like a Vegas showgirl. She slipped into the spotlight for a dance….
…then silently left the floor.
I desperately wanted a sleeping bag right then and there to justify not moving, but intuition convinced me to stir while desire urged me to stay. By now, the short grass steppe of Coyote Wall was awash with such radiance, it still blows my mind that my camera wouldn’t pick up my shadow for even one photograph.
I only resorted to the headlamp for a short section coming down from my perch, a place where large, tricky rocks hid in naughty patches of grass. Once on the trail, that lunar light show was almost too bright. I turned the bill of my cap to shade my eyes from it as if it were the sun.
And I noticed something as I moved through the night. While my eyes were operating in Night Vision on half power, other senses had turned their dials all the way to the right. A leaf turned and I heard every millimeter of its movement. I walked through a whiff of sage and it smelled like a sage factory. I was astounded by the pungency of rock, lichen, soil, and moss. Wildflowers smelled like open bottles of perfume. A raptor made one gentle squeak somewhere below me and my impulse was to tell him to keep it down. Crickets pulsed like a boom box. Every time a train went by, I thought my sternum would shake loose of my chest.
When I came to that turn near the waterfall, I minced over to the edge and sat down on a rock. The frogs, I swear, were singing in harmony. Normally sensitive and shy, they never detected my presence over the roar of the water and sang verse after verse of some sort of amphibious “Love Me Tender.” While I sat, something cream-colored blew by and it took me several seconds to work out that an owl had just helped itself to something furry and unfortunate. I wish I could’ve tracked where he landed. Or she.
I strolled the old, paved road back as slowly as possible, drawing out this amazing night as long as I could. The pillars of Coyote Wall rose imposingly above me in a weird cosmic light that made me feel like I was on another planet. The glowing line of their summit terminated abruptly at a jet black night pricked with stars. I located Sagittarius and felt validated.
Maybe it was the heightened-sense thing but there is a place you can stand along that road near the rock fall where something preternatural happens to sound. If you stand just right, the roar of cars and trucks is suddenly slammed closed. It’s as if there is an acoustic black hole: you hear them coming, you hear them pass, then Thump!–eerie silence. No Doppler Effect, no sound trailing off into the distance, no nothing. Like they were vaporized. Very cool.
Moon’s gonna be full again tonight. I’ll be comatose, but let me know how it goes.
“It’s a marvelous night for a moon dance….”