to the moon


[Tweddle/Treat Farms, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: evening hike with James, 8:45p-10:30p]

I rarely plan a hike in advance. When we both have an ache to be outside and a serendipitous moment of free time, we go. I think through the list of options (always limited by the available time) and choose our adventure based on what I hope we’ll get to see there.

However, this hike was inspired years ago after our first visit to the Tweddle/Treat Farms. The presence of so much history coupled with the surrounding natural beauty put me in mind of a nighttime visit. I imagined a moonlit walk through fallow fields. A mysterious, shadowy walk through the woods on the old road connecting the farmhouses.

Somehow, that hike never happened. Too cloudy. No moon. No time. Each time we’d return for a hike — usually on the way back to the car — I’d remark that we really should come here for that moonlight visit I’ve always imagined. Yes, we really should. We should do that this year… sometime.

Last night, “sometime” finally arrived: a Thursday evening free of errands and appointments. A calm evening with no clouds was forecast. Can we? Should we? Let’s go!

And so, after dinner and dishes, we made an appointment to meet with the sunset at the WNW horizon at 8:45ish where at least a day’s worth of to-do’s, distractions, and unknowables would be exchanged for a fistful of colors, a blanket of stars, and a silver dollar moon.

As we headed up the trail in the gathering darkness, daylight seemed to be holding on somehow, resisting night’s advances. Meanwhile, our conversation was a tad grumbly, filled with litanies of recent complaints reaching even as far as our vegetable garden’s performance. Finally, a silence fell over us and we heaved a long, exasperated sigh for the twin misfortunes of great ambition and elusive free time.

We reached the Treat Farm just as the sun dipped below the surrounding duneland leaving the landscape bathed in peachy, soft light which warmed the greens and blues in the old apple orchard. Mostly killing time, we walked among the old trees, marveling at their tenacity — bearing fruit though nearly hollowed out by time and the elements. There’s a metaphor in there (aside from low-hanging fruit), but I’m betting time holds the key to the words of wisdom these trees offer.

Seeing deer-forged trails through waves of tall grass, we followed in their wake, pausing to admire the pastel sweet peas and the lone pear tree with its sensuous green bells hanging elegantly down. It seemed these pears longed to be admired and perhaps lovingly harvested again. Grasping one in my right hand, it was tempting.

We circled round the still proud farmhouse with its darkened, silent rooms. I climbed the steps, stood on the front porch, and immediately felt the silence of the old house overhead like hands outstretched, cupping the air, catching the scattered words of our mundane conversation. Do old houses miss the sound of idle chatter? Do its floorboards creak in nostalgia for brief reminders of us? I certainly like to think so.

Then, feeling the deep silence of the house seeping perhaps a little too deeply inside us, we headed down the hill to meet the trail to the dunes. We were greeted by an owl silently gliding from her perch in the old pasture to take shelter in the anonymity of the forest. In that strange light of the departed day, black-eyed susans glowed nearly iridescent, giving off sunlight they’d absorbed throughout the long summer day.

At last, we arrived at the steep bluff overlooking the lake. There we found the final remnants of sunset — a blaze of innumerable, inseparable shades of orange, gold, and blue. This was our destination and we had dutifully arrived with predictable punctuality… and yet part of the mission was to wait. Wait here. Wait for the sun to completely disappear. Wait for the stars to silently appear, one-by-one. Wait for the blue above to deepen as the blue below to recedes into shimmering white noise enveloped by darkness.

Waiting for the earth to rotate is like any other task of waiting. We busied ourselves admiring the wild apples precariously perched along the bluff. We sat on the cool sand and stared at the horizon to watch the colors shift in the rapidly changing light. We walked carefully out onto the dune to admire clusters of early asters and the bright white trunks of birches all glowing star-like in the scant remaining light.

And then, because it had been so richly rewarding, we waited a bit more. Along the shoreline far below, distant campfires sprang to life like twinkling orange stars at water’s edge. We saw the big dipper and speculated on the identities of astronomical clusters we thought surely must be named (and pledged to look them up later).

A quick glance at the time and we knew it was time to head back to meet the real guest of honor. Carefully, we tread through the lush darkness of the forest, giggling at the inherent spookiness of it. And then, in the clearing ahead, the full Sturgeon Moon blazed from atop the eastern tree line. Here she was: the guest of honor I’d been waiting years to meet.

Her glow was so bright it stung our eyes as it cast silvery glowing streams of mist over the surrounding pasture. We marveled at our shadows as we walked in the strange beauty of it all.

Nearing a familiar turn in the trail, the owl returned to fly circles near our heads — ever closer but completely silent. We saw her silhouette cross the glowing silver of the moon before retreating to her post in the shadows.

As we walked past the white-washed farmhouse glowing brightly atop the hill in the moonlight, I half-expected to see a glow within it — perhaps a single lamplight near one of the windows — but was partially relieved that I did not. The old outbuildings were like magnets of darkness, drawing in the surrounding shadows while bouncing our voices eerily back to us.

The moonlight gracefully dappled the trail back to the car, but at intervals disappeared behind hills leaving us in complete darkness. We were both a bit afraid… and so we kept talking, each of us in turn like a nervous duet whose carefully notated lines allowed no breaks for silence.

Turning the final bend, the forest canopy opened up and moonlight poured in more brightly than ever. We quit our hurried pace and stood at last in dumb silence. For a moment, I tried considering what it was we had been so unspeakably afraid of. The shadow to my left which seemed to occupy three-dimensional space quickly reminded me some thoughts are better left unspoken.

Then, surrounded by the confines of our car and guided by the familiar road home, we drove along and watched as the moon danced about in the tops of trees. Later that night, in the stupor of half-consciousness, I noticed a wide silver beam of moonlight had drifted across the bed. I smiled and happily returned to my dreams.

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