How much attention do you pay to the moon? If you’re like me (until recently), it’s not much. And I suspect that I’m not alone in our modern world. Not that I’ve never looked at the moon before, of course, but to me the moon has always been more of a novelty than a part of my life, a neat thing to go out and see at night or an oddity to notice at midday. To me as a child, the moon seemed somehow to belong to the past, to older generations, something my grandfather would call us about excitedly in the evenings: “Lex, have you seen the moon tonight? Oh, it’s beautiful - you’ve got to go out and see it.” And my sister and I would dutifully go out and look at it, but we looked because we love our grandpa, not because the moon was particularly interesting to us. I am not naturally inclined - nor have I ever had much real opportunity - to be an observer of the changes in “nature,”except perhaps for counting the first flowering of tulip trees with my mother each spring (as a child, I didn’t even like going outside.). But since I came here to northern New Mexico this has been changing - I can’t help noticing more things because of how much time I spend outside - and one of the most impressive things I’ve been noticing is the moon.
In short, I’d never seen much moonlight, thought much about moonlight, or realized how important moonlight could be before I moved here. Firstly, the nights here are really dark. The number of stars that you can see here, to me, a suburban girl, is simply staggering. The same familiar constellations are visible here, of course, but they have so many more stars in them, around them. Secondly, the nights here are really, really dark. We have so few lights around us that on a clear summer night we can see a thick band of luminescence my husband tells me is the Milky Way. The Milky Way! Who would have thought that you can actually see a part of it from earth?! Did I mention that it’s really dark here at night?
At least, it’s really dark here on nights with no moon, or a late-rising moon. But when the moon is out, it astounds me how much you can see, how bright the world still is, even after the sun has set. During the summer, when my husband and I make a pre-bed tour of the premises to shut up the doors of the chicken houses and say goodnight to all the various groups of animals, we often do so without a flashlight or a headlamp, able to avoid ditches and electric fence because it’s so bright out. The pigs, too, take advantage of the extra light outside in summer, particularly on warm nights, to catch up on the digging they were unable to do during the heat of the day. It makes me smile to see them out and about at 10 o’clock at night, just doing their thing in the moonlight.
But winter moonlight, winter moonlight is something else. I don’t know about “lustre of midday” exactly, but the reflection of the moon on freshly fallen snow brings a whole new dimension to moon-brightness for me. When I go out to close up the chicken houses and turn off their lights now in the winter, I look forward to the nights when I can do it without a mechanical light, relying on the bright rays of the moon and the reflection on the snow to light my path. When the moon is small, late-rising or absent, I notice it, and I miss its glowing company on my nightly peregrinations. My headlamp is effective, but a poor substitute for the moon’s silver-bathing glow.
My favorite moon-time, thought, is the bright morning moon high overhead around five in the morning, deep in midwinter when the sun in still a few hours from showing her face. (Yes, I had been getting up at this time to go out to the chicken houses to turn on their lights until just a few weeks ago when we finally installed a timer to our solar chicken light setup - a mixed blessing.) Then the temperature is usually at its lowest for the day and the snow on the ground sparkles in the light. The air looks like it’s full of glitter, too - the ice crystals in the air reflecting the bright light of the moon. This sparkling time, in spite of the cold, is my favorite time to look at the moon. It’s usually high overhead at this hour, or perhaps nearing the western horizon and it looks so big, so close to the earth. I usually stop to look at it for a moment, to marvel at the sunlight reflecting off this massive hunk of rock shining down on me.
And that’s the point, really. I have gone from being someone who might look at the moon if it were pointed out to me to someone who looks at the moon. Someone who notices the moon. No, I’m not versed in the technical aspects of its phases, whether it’s a waning gibbous or a waxing crescent (though the WeatherUnderground app on my phone will tell me if I ask it), but I’m now aware of when it’s there, how it’s changed since yesterday, and when it’s gone, and I like the steady, regular rhythm of its comings and goings. It makes me feel a little closer, a little more in-tune, if you will, with the big world of Nature that often feels so foreign to me, a little closer to this planet that I live on. Just by looking up into the sky at night.