trek to the moon

the advance scouts had gone out the night before. had gone out into the moonless pitch black.
well past bedtime in my book. in fact, i was in bed with a book when they called up the stairs, let me know they were off to the lake to see what they could see.
they came home to someone asleep on her book. i woke up to the scouting report that the moon was on late shift, the moon rose as they stood there. and it was a sight i needed to see. we needed to see, they decreed.
so it would be. the whole family, all day, planned for the moon rise there on the beach, over the lake, at the end of the way-too-short summer.
the little one, as always, was in charge of provisions. you never know how long the moon might keep you waiting. you might stir a hunger there on the cool night sand. so he packed us a bag–pepperidge farm cookies, cheese nips and animal crackers.
he thought of everything, the supply chief. there were flashlights in several sizes. and a basketball whistle. “in case we get lost,” came his perfectly sound explanation. he had seen my raised eyebrow, the look on my face that he must see quite often, in the lag before comprehension. sometimes us mamas are slow. so very slow. we need the most rudimentary tutorials. maybe a primer would help.
we’d checked the back page of the paper, the weather page, the one that narrowly loses to the sports page, when it comes to pages fought over. the moon, we were told, would be up at 10:02. we penciled it onto the calendar.
that morning, the morning of the trek to the moon, we happened to be out on the road, taking a drive across town. the little one looked out of his window, noticed the moon. still hanging. in broad daylight. it was 11 o’clock in the morning, and that moon was basically loitering, way up in the sky, barely moving.
“it’s probably setting,” said the back-seat astronomer, matter of factly, as if he’d been up all through the night reading moon books, brushing up on facts that would astound and amaze you.
“the moon always has to go slow,” he explained, “or it will crash into a plane or a astroid,” (psst, that’s how he said it, minus one of the syllables). “the big rock in space,” he added, probably realizing that he knew more about asteroids that anyone else in the car. this was remedial moon class.
all day long, that moon child kept close track of the time. he did not want to miss what the moon scouts had assured would be well worth the missed bedtime. (mostly i think he was thrilled to have a scientific excuse to stay out of bed, to wiggle his toes in the beach instead of under the sheets.)
since everyone else was hauling a camera, he too thought he needed one. a zoom one. so we got one, one of those cardboard toss-away ones. don’t want to thwart a budding moon scientist.
problem was, when we got to the beach at close to the appointed hour, close to the moon rise, all roads were closed. decidedly, emphatically blocked. we had to park on the shadowy side of some very thick trees, and trek in.
hey, no one said trips to the moon came easy.
only, the little one froze. remembered the profusion of skunks that have been clouding these parts all through the summer. seriously considered sitting out this here moon show.
“wish i brought my light saber,” he said after i finally convinced him to unlock the door and please take my hand. barely two yards later, he stopped in mid-step. “i just saw a bat. it was soaring,” he whispered, and shot out his arms to make like a very big bat.
this trip to the moon, i suddenly realized, could take all night. we might get there by sunrise.
as we crossed onto the sands, just where the dune grass and cottonwoods give way to the thin strip of sand that gives way to the lake, he thought he smelled wolf.
i gave up. mostly surrendered. plunked down to the sand right then and there. decided this here–what with the skunks and the bat and the wolf–was the most perfect place to watch for the moon rise.
by the way, i was skeptical. it was blacker than black there on the beach. except for the parking lot lights off in the distance, and a few twinkling stars, there was no speck of light. certainly not out on the horizon, where the black of the night melted right into the black of the lake.
i was sure this was some ruse to get me and the reluctant sleeper out of our nice comfy beds. for all i knew, the clouds, once again, would get in the way of a celestial show. and within minutes, we’d pack it all up, take home our cameras, have nothing to show. not a moon beam. not a twinkle.
but then, with utterly no drum roll, no CNN crawler spelling it out at the pit of the screen, there, out in the distance, a tiny red spot. then a buoy of red. then a sail. then a spinnaker all puffed with wind.
it was the red moon and it rose. bigger and bigger, higher and higher. it turned orange. then yellow. then white by the time it was drooling all over the water. a buttery trail from the sky to the rippling waters, straight to the beach, where it lapped in and out.
we all leapt. we cheered and we pointed.
we stood there quite taken by watching the moon rise. by feeling ourselves and our place on the planet shrink smaller and smaller. the bigger the moon got, the more we were humbled.
it’s not every night that you stop to watch the world as it works. this was no headline-stealing spectacle. no lunar eclipse. no once-in-a-zillion years sky show. this was your basic, every night, spectacular moon rise.
only, we stood there together. only, we watched. each one of us, in his and her very own way, we took in its story. we took in its power, its glory. the unshakable truth that there on the brink of the globe, night after night, there is a chunk of the heavens. and it glows.
it gives no warning, no warm-up. it goes from black to red spot to the thing that lights up the night. it hoists itself up out of the water. or whatever’s beyond. is that where God lives? is the moon hanging with God, before the show comes? are they whispering off in the wings?
i think that’s why maybe we got so quiet, watching the moon rise. you kind of think maybe you’re out there where God is. you half expect to turn and see some other footprint there in the sand. or feel a hand on your shoulder.
you kind of get goosebumps thinking these things.
i could only imagine the power that long, long ago those who kept watch of the moon felt, when the night turned from black to red ember to full-throttle glow.
we stayed and we watched till the moon perched quite high in the night sky. we gathered our cameras, and even our uneaten cookies. no one was hungry. someone was tired.
to stand at the edge of the planet, in the deep of a cool summer’s night. to take in the moon rise with the ones who you love. to think that maybe you’re out there where God walks at night.
seems like a mighty fine end to the summer of ‘007.

how will you mark the end? the end of the season that brings us the great gift of toes in the sand and moons without sweaters? have you watched the moon rise lately? not hang up there, tucked by the stars, but actually hoisting itself up out of the water, off the horizon? unlike the sun, which sends maidens of light to precede it, the moon comes all alone. no entourage in a moon rise. just the pure shining thing all by its lonesome. it’s part of what makes it so breathtaking. there it is, out of nowhere and nothing. a night light, keeping us out of the dark. hope you catch one, sometime soon….