One of the reasons I love living where we do is the seasons. I know I like to joke about only having two seasons in Nevada—Winter and Road Construction, but the truth is we have four distinct seasons and I love all of them. It is fall now, and you can see the slashes of color up in the mountains. The other day, David and I drove up to Obsidian campground with the horse. He hiked. I rode. The color was spectacular. The aspens rise in rolling benches off of the floor of Molybdenite Creek and each bench seems to be a different shade of amazing. I had to simply stop the horse and stare at times (or risk riding into a low hanging branch). Down in the valleys, the leaves are just beginning to turn. A really good fall is one where we don’t get a huge windstorm until after we’ve had plenty of time to enjoy the color. My fingers are crossed (as always).
Another thing that happens to me in the fall—usually in early October is that I have to start going down to feed in the dark every morning. It is then that I am reminded how much I love the waning moon. It lights my morning excursions to the corrals as long as there are no clouds out. I have a game I play where I see how little I have to use my flashlight. For the week after the full moon, I rarely use it at all. I revel in the almost daylight and marvel at the strength of the shadow it casts. I use a small light in the hay barn, but navigate to feed through the corrals easily in the glow of moonlight. As the moon narrows below half in the second week, the light becomes dimmer and dimmer and I have to use my flashlight to get through the rough spots on the trail or risk breaking an ankle. Finally, it narrows to a mere sliver which amazingly still casts a shadow, but forces me to use my barn spotlights to get around the corrals as I feed. Even then, Annie who is out of range of the spotlight appears only as a dark shadow, hiccupping in her eagerness to be fed.
Once I finish feeding, I head back up to the house. My eyes have adjusted almost fully to the darkness by then and it is even easier to walk without light. It is a good thing the road is fairly smooth here as I am usually gazing at the stars as I walk back. Orion hangs high in the western sky, locked in eternal battle with Taurus, heralding the approaching advent of winter. Venus is there, too, perched over the mountains. Often, I will see the steady dim light of a satellite streaming past way overhead. Several times now, I am pretty sure I’ve seen the International Space Station go by. It was too bright and too low for a satellite, too steady and too fast for an airplane. And the Leonids! It is early, but they are beginning now. Some mornings I see only one or two quick streaks, but others, there will be 3, 4, even more meteorites dashing across the northern sky. Sometimes, I stop and try to take it all in. I try to pick out all of the stars in the Little Dipper, or even more challenging, all seven of the Pleiades. Even the dim glow of lights from Carson City and Reno are enough to make this difficult. I love to feel the chill eastern breeze on my face knowing that winter is coming soon.
The moon is gone now. I am forced to rely on artificial light for the next two weeks until it returns. The stargazing and the Meteor showers will get better, but it is not such a friendly place out there when the best I can do is poke at the darkness with my ineffectual flashlight beam, pushing it back in one direction while it closes in in another. It used to creep me out, walking around in the dark imagining mountain lions behind every tree, but now I merely embrace it as part of the cycle. We will repeat this cycle, the moon and I, waxing and waning, waxing and waning, as the winters themselves wax and wane throughout the cycle of our lives. Until one day, as I’m heading back from feeding, I will slowly realize that rather than my eyes adjusting, the light itself is softly returning. By then, Orion will be fading into the east, waving goodbye to me for another year.
The Moon’s the North Wind’s cooky.
He bites it, day by day,
Until there’s but a rim of scraps
That crumble all away.
The South Wind is a Baker.
He kneads clouds in his den,
And bakes a crisp new moon that…greedy