It was not the three-dimensional Milky Way I had witnessed in my youth, but enough of the light pollution was filtered out so that constellations and planets were clearly visible and the galaxy shimmered. Light from the unseen moon was beginning to ignite the tree line in our yard.
Over 750 moons have come and gone in my lifetime. I’ve seen relatively few of them considering roofs and clouds and sleep. And because we can’t look at the sun, I remember more about the moons than I do about the sunny days.
I was 20 years old when I saw an ocean for the first time. I was a passenger in a stolen van driven by an AWOL soldier carrying a credit card that belonged to someone else. Neither one of us knew exactly what we were doing or where we were going. We turned onto Ventura highway and suddenly we were at the end of the country and the Pacific Ocean sparkled into eternity.
I continued to hitchhike up the California coast camping out along the way, sometimes with other hitchhikers. One evening I was perched on a rock watching the sea fade into darkness as I listened to the dull thunder of the ocean collapsing on the shore.
When the full moon cleared the cliff behind me, the surf lit up like cream under a black light. As the waves curled and crashed, the breaking water shot down the beach like a white torpedo. It was magnificent. I felt something shift in me at that moment. It was like recognizing something I had never seen before and I understood I would forever see things differently. Years later I felt that same shift, in Nicaragua, when I held my son for the first time.
Some moons just stay with you, like one over a lake in northern Wisconsin whose diffused light was magnified at the same time its brilliance was muted by fog on a warm, windy night. And the pines shuffled.
On the Atlantic coastline I witnessed a large full moon illuminate a riled ocean with angry swells and breaking waves. The beach, the sea and everything in between seemed cast in pewter.
And more than once during a cold Wisconsin winter and untouched acres of snow, the bare branches of oak, maple, elm and bushes cast shadows so sharp and defined the intricate patterns would have made a weaver swoon.
There are images so beautiful and striking, you know you may never see them again. But their effect on your perception will never leave.
The world often seems dark, barbaric and brutal. It is a human condition caused and created by humans. And if all the gods and deities called upon to destroy perceived enemies actually do so, I suppose the world’s problems eventually will cease to exist.
In the meantime, the moon’s soft light will continue to garnish the land. The constellations and planets will appear where they always do. I’m still not sure of what I’m doing or where I’m going. But I think walking out from under my roof and looking up at the clear night sky is always a good direction to head.
Jim Black is a community columnist who lives in the village of Walworth.