Thursday, February 08, 2007

Howling at the Moon

We had a full moon last week, the snow moon, and I was feeling a little crazy. There are those who might consider hiking through the woods alone at night in freezing weather to scramble up a dark, rocky trail ill-advised, if not a bit loony.

Because of the cold weather and my bothersome knee, I’ve been going to the gym in search of a low-impact way to get some exercise. I was there last Tuesday night trying out an elliptical trainer. Looking around me and watching all other gym rats pedaling, pumping, climbing and running to nowhere I was feeling rather like a rodent on a wheel myself. I knew a full moon was coming up and I knew a brisk walk through the winter woods at night would be less insane than pushing a damn machine. The full moon would be on Thursday, but the weather forecast called for clouds that night, so I made a date with Moose Hill for Wednesday night.

After preparing dinner so it would be waiting for me when I got home, I dressed head to toe in black. I did this mostly because most of my winter work-out wear happens to be black, but I also thought it would be cool to slip through the dark forest like a shadow, a Moose Hill ninja. I headed out the back door and walked down the street, taking care to warm up slowly. Soon enough, I was jogging through the cold 20-degree (F) air under a clear sky full of twinkling stars and a bright moon.

I extended my usual run to the top of Moose Hill Parkway to duck into the woods and find the Summit Trail. In a few minutes, after my eyes adjusted, a combination of the bright lunar illumination and a recent dusting of snow made visibility quite good and I had little trouble following the trail. This was a good thing because once the trail turned upward it gets rough since the erosion from generations of hikers has exposed many roots and rocks. There were also a few icy spots where water seeping from the rocks had frozen. Moose Hill summit itself has an elevation of only 534 feet and isn’t much more than a quarter-mile from the road, so the climb didn’t take long. I was soon standing on top, looking up to see the moonlight highlighting the crisscrossed steel frame of the fire tower. The clear light also made the contrails of a jet flying high overhead look like silver threads woven among the stars.

I worked my way back down the way I came up. At the bottom of the hill, where the summit trail meets the Moose Hill Loop, I paused to look at the moon once more since I was reluctant to leave the silent woods on such a beautiful night. I stared up at the moon and let the moonbeams filtering through the naked oaks strike my face, much the way I let the sun recharge my battery the week before. It was so quiet and I was so alone, I could hear the ringing in my ears. I think these potentially annoying high-pitched tones are there most of the time but, for the most part, I only notice when it’s very quiet.

The silence and moonlight transported me to a time over 30 years ago when I went on a solo hike in the Shawangunk mountains of southern New York. Most of the details of that long weekend have faded from memory, but the one thing that sticks with me is the way the ringing stopped. I saw few other hikers that weekend and when I set up my simple camp on a ridge top, I was completely alone. A strong evening thunderstorm blew through and I huddled in my sleeping bag, snug and dry under a light plastic tarp strung between some scrubby oaks. I felt peaceful and rested, and as night fell I listened to the damp quiet and noticed that the ringing had stopped.

My mind continued to wander as I studied the craters of the moon from Moose Hill and it eventually settled on the curried lentils and rice waiting for me on the stovetop. Just as I was getting ready to move, a great horned owl started hooting from the other side of the hill. I knew that we were entering owl breeding season and I now had another reason to visit these woods on another winter’s night.

I ran down the hill and back up the road to the center of town. It was Wednesday night, so I paused to chat with the Quakers. This tiny group of peaceful souls has been standing at the same busy intersection for an hour every Wednesday night ever since we invaded Iraq. If I happen to be out running on a Wednesday evening, I like to stop and let them know how much I admire their persistence. I like to think that by spending a few moments with them, standing there with their candles and signs, that I too may somehow become a little more thoughtful and peace-loving. I pray they have that effect on everyone.

I went home, turned the heat up a notch and had dinner. Perhaps it was lunacy that took me into the forest on that night, but maybe that kind of craziness is less an affliction than it is a cure.


At 12:31 AM, Blogger LauraHinNJ said...

So did you howl at the moon while you were up there Mojoman?

I hope so. ;-)

I was thinking that you should've had an encounter with an owl that night - glad to read that you did.

At 2:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You turned the heat up a degree??? It must have been the full moon to have you acting THAT crazy!!

At 8:06 AM, Blogger Endment said...

That wonderful moon!!!

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Lynne said...

I admire your writing style- I feel I've gone along with you on your trip.

Moose Hill Ninja- LOL!!

At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been looking all over for an official elevation for Moose Hill and can't find it listed anyplace. Highest list GIS elevation I can find is 466 feet. Would anyone know where to get an official number?

At 8:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been looking everywhere for an official elevation for Moose Hill, is 534 feet it? In searching, the highest GIS elevation I can find is 466 feet. If someone could point me in the right direction to locate an official posted elevation I would appeciate it.

I also wanted to mention that I have enjoyed reading these posts by Mojoman, its nice to read of folks who ejnjoy this area as much as I have for the last 15 years.

At 8:31 AM, Blogger MojoMan said...

Anonymous (Not the wise-cracking one!):

I got the elevation of 534' from the Mass. Audubon sanctuary map on the web site. (It might not be online any more, but you can probably pick one up at the visitor's center). If I ever find my USGS topo map, I'll double-check that.

At 7:46 PM, Blogger Lilly said...

Well, I wrote you a comment and the damned Googlemachine seems to have eaten it!

At the risk of being redundant (if my comment finds its way home), I just wanted to say that:

1) I feel like I know Moose Hill from your writing.

2) You're not crazy to run up a black and rocky hill in the frozen moonlight. You're human.


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