Big Moons Rising

So another “super moon” has come and gone. I managed to catch moon set on Sunday AM, and it was quite something. The enormous, golden moon hovered in the western sky, sliding behind thin stripes of blue cloud until it vanished behind cloud-mountains. Otherwise it hid behind overcast skies, until it appeared just in time to wash out the Persiads. Thpoil-thport.

Growing up, the big low moon went by the name “twenty-dollar gold piece moon.” The color, pale to medium gold, and the enormous size when it hung close to the horizon, gave it the name. I have seen a $20 gold piece, and there is a definite resemblance.

Just before Christmas in 2000, I drove from the Mid-midwest back to Texas. I’d intended to fly, but a combination of influenza and stress put an end to that. (It was one of those years when rural school districts closed because a third of the staff and half the students were out sick. Great fun, I lost 10 pounds in a week, and would just as soon not go through that again, thanks.) So I drove through snow-covered farm land and a few cities, dodged rush-hour in Kansas City, and took the Kansas Turnpike where it angles through an area called the Flint Hills down to Wichita, where I intended to spend the night.

The Turnpike cuts northeast-southwest. The Flint Hills, so named because of the rocks that poke out of the shallow soil and form low but rugged terrain, are ranch country. Farming is possible in a few flatter bottomlands with thicker soil, but most of that swath of Kansas and into Oklahoma is ranching, with a few tall-grass prairie nature preserves. The towns are more scattered than one would expect, and you can drive miles without seeing a house or coming to a town. Or even seeing trees, for that matter, because ranchers still burn the grass on regular occasions to keep down the brush and trees.

So, it is the night of the winter solstice, and a full moon. A super-moon, in fact, according to the voices on the radio. The snowpack had thinned a little, but I could still see snow in places through the tan fur of the dormant grass. As the sun set, the sky became pale and cold looking, but I couldn’t see any stars yet. Traffic remained light, with most of he big trucks staying on I-70 and I-35 that night.

And then the moon rose, an enormous white and silver moon that eased out of the hills behind me, wider than the Turnpike and cold. The sky seemed to turn just a little pastel around it, like the little flecks of color to the west where a few lingering bits of cloud clustered low on the horizon. I kept one eye on the rear-view mirror, watching the show, and one on the road ahead. The moon shrank as it rose, shifting from silver-grey-white to pure white, white as the snow, in a sky as blue as the night shadows on the snow.

I’ve seen other moonrises since then, from the ground and from the air, in the US and Europe. But that one lingers in my memory: the snow and grass, the roll of the hills, the empty roads, and the moon, beautiful, cold, shining, rising over the Flint Hills on the longest night of the year.