Walk­ing with the Moon

Matt Gaw has a lu­nar ap­point­ment at Cove­hithe

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE -

The sun is go­ing down when I reach Cove­hithe beach, its last light gild­ing the tinny An­der­son shel­ters of the pig farm and caus­ing the clouds above the sandy, mar­ram grass-spiked bluffs to burn and blush. The sky it­self looks like it is split­ting, like an oil, or an ex­pen­sive vine­gar stored too long. The heavy sed­i­ments of the dark set­tle, while above it the colours shift from red through to pinks, yel­lows and white. In the high­est reaches of the at­mos­phere, where the sun still shines from beyond the earth’s curve, the sky is a brit­tle, icy blue. A plane is fly­ing al­most di­rectly up, its con­trail a thread that sews the colours to­gether as it jets from the new, ris­ing dark of night to the old light of day.

I check my watch and turn to­wards the sea. It is al­most time. She should be here any minute. Three tankers are mak­ing their way along the dark­en­ing sill of the hori­zon, the sound of their en­gines hid­den by the suck and slap of waves on shin­gle and the clam­our of seabirds ready­ing to roost be­hind me. I stand, wait­ing, zip­ping my coat against the gath­er­ing chill. And then, I see her. The moon. First a pale fin­ger­nail in the wash and oil-fug of the tankers and then slowly grow­ing, un­til this half­sunken mound of re­flec­tive light grad­u­ally tears away from the sea. Within min­utes the moon is up, hang­ing like a great, cratered kite. Al­though, tech­ni­cally, full moon is to­mor­row – when cloud and rain are due to cover the skies – to the naked eye this wax­ing gib­bous looks full. The seas, large basaltic plains formed by vol­canic ac­tiv­ity but once mis­taken for wa­ter, are all vis­i­ble. The eyes of the Sea of Show­ers and the Sea of Seren­ity. The nose of Seething Bay and the open­mouthed sur­prise of the Sea of Clouds and the Sea of Knowl­edge.

The whole face of the moon is pinched-pink, a re­sult of par­ti­cles in the at­mos­phere scat­ter­ing the light, but it looks as if she is blush­ing with the ef­fort of her steep climb. What was it that D H Lawrence wrote? “And who has seen the moon, who has not seen. Her rise from out the cham­ber of the deep, Flushed and grand and naked, as from the cham­ber.” With my out­stretched hand, I mea­sure the moon’s in­creas­ing height, watch­ing her creep from thumb-tip to knuckle. Thin clouds shut­ter the light, blunt the sharp­ness of her edges, un­til the earth hoists her higher, un­wind­ing wa­ter vapour like or­ange pith.

Un­til tonight, I’m not sure if I’ve seen the moon rise. In fact, most of my en­coun­ters have been by pure chance, glimpses while out walk­ing or camp­ing. A fin­ger­nail moon while putting out the bins, a milky first quar­ter while bel­low­ing for the cat. But for the last two months I have been con­sciously fol­low­ing the moon, chart­ing its changes and slow move­ments in my note­book. My draw­ings, crude sketches to mark the wax and wane, the cres­cent and the gib­bous, un­der­scored by wob­bling lines to rep­re­sent a daily path across the sky.

On the sur­face it could be

seen as a point­less act. After all, a quick in­ter­net search, will gen­er­ate more in­for­ma­tion about the moon’s path with greater speed and ac­cu­racy. But for me, it was about more than that, it was an ex­er­cise in re­con­nect­ing. About rediscovering the magic of moon’s cal­en­dar, be­com­ing more in tune to the earth’s turn and lean­ing in to­wards the or­bit of the sea­sons. I’ve been sur­prised by how nat­u­ral it has felt too, how ut­terly hu­man. As if each pen stroke, each cy­cle of the 29 marks that makes up the syn­odic month, echoed through the ages, was driven by the same im­pulse that saw our ear­li­est an­ces­tors nick bone, carve stone and paint on cave walls.

Even if our con­nec­tion to the moon has been largely lost, ob­scured by a fo­cus on the glare of day and dimmed by elec­tric­ity that means the moon is no longer a ‘par­ish lantern’ to guide us in the dark, its im­por­tance, both to us and to the nat­u­ral world re­mains in lan­guage. Words smoothed by tongue and teeth still tie the earth’s ce­les­tial sis­ter to us. The Wolf Moon of Jan­uary, when wolves, lupines, moon-beasts, would howl in hunger. The Snow Moon, The Worm Moon, when the casts of worms could be seen in the thawed earth. In spring and sum­mer, the nights are warmed by the Straw­berry Moon, the Rose Moon, the Hot Moon, the Thun­der Moon. I guess that’s an­other rea­son for com­ing here tonight. To­mor­row’s will be the Stur­geon Moon, a time when th­ese large fish could once be read­ily caught in the Amer­i­can great lakes. But im­por­tantly, it is the last full moon of sum­mer.

I walk south as the twi­lights suc­ceed each other, mov­ing from civil, to nau­ti­cal, to astro­nom­i­cal, the true be­gin­ning of night. The lights of South­wold, vis­i­ble be­hind the crum­bling jut of scal­loped, wave-chewed cliffs, flicker or­ange. Its light­house of­fer­ing a white, winked pulse. Higher in the sky I can see The Sum­mer Tri­an­gle of Deneb, Vega and Al­tair, point­ing to Mars, with Sat­urn and Jupiter to its right. There too is the loose W of Cas­siopeia, a dot-to-dot pere­grine locked in a per­pet­ual stoop to­wards earth. But I can hardly tear my eyes away from the moon. Now high, trav­el­ling to­wards the merid­ian, she is as pale as a pi­geon egg, bright­en­ing the land and cast­ing thick, inky shad­ows. On wa­ter the moon cre­ates an av­enue of light, a slick of moon­dust, shiv­er­ing with the waves from hori­zon to shore.

Feel­ing a sud­den urge to fol­low it, I strip and wade along the moon’s path, watch­ing the light gather and pool around my legs. The cold brown slap of the North Sea now moon-scalded and bright. I break into a ragged breast stroke, the tem­per­a­ture tight­en­ing my chest.

Au­tumn is close. I can feel it in the bone-chill of the wa­ter, in the soft­ness of the light. In the tidal breath of the moon.

Matt Gaw is edi­tor of the Suf­folk Wildlife Trust mag­a­zine. For more in­for­ma­tion about SWT events, in­clud­ing night walks, see suf­folk­wildlifetrust.org

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