On Friday evening I was just leaving Omak when out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed the first crescent of the almost-full moon rising in a notch in the mountains east of town. A pastel-purple sky gave way to cotton-candy clouds above. It looked like a mid-summer evening, but the air told a different story; it smelled like winter.
The sight was so breathtaking that I wanted to sound a siren, find the whistle at the mill, climb into a church belfry and yard on the ropes until the bells clanged, alerting everyone in town. Work should cease. Athletes on soccer pitches and football fields should take a knee. Movies should pause and everyone in the cinema should file out and watch this mundane lunar miracle unfold. Retirement homes should livestream the moon’s steady ascent. Choirs should set aside “Waterloo” and sing “Harvest Moon” while holding hands, preferably while wearing silver robes made of silk.
I pulled over to the side of the road and watched the moon rise. It was magnificent.
As I set out to drive back over the Loup, I kept spotting the moon in my rearview mirror. As I climbed, so did the moon, and as dusk descended the moon illuminated the treetops.
Meanwhile, in Maine, a manhunt for a mass murderer was in its final hours, a state left stunned in the aftermath. Parts of Acapulco were decimated by a surprise hurricane. Ukraine is preparing for a second winter of Russian attacks on critical infrastructure. And the death toll continues to rise in the Middle East.
When I was an Outward Bound instructor who spent many nights each year watching the moon rise from many different parts of the country, I’d often think of this poem (whose provenance I cannot identify, despite my best efforts with Google): “The clouds of sunset gather in the western sky/ and over the silent and silvery tan rises a jade moon./ Not often does life bring such beauty./ Where will I see the moon next year?”
In a world so troubled, it’s almost premature to wonder where I might see the moon next year — it seems to be more a question of what things will be like next month or next week. And yet regularly we are gifted these humbling moments of natural beauty. What can we do with them? Very little, I suppose, except to stop and observe, linger with our awe and wonder, and remind ourselves not to take them for granted.