It was the night of the Hunter’s Moon, and the moon didn’t show up. For that matter, I nearly didn’t show up either, although the tide that eventually pulled me to the shore was emotional, rather than gravitational. More variable, though no less powerful, I think. In the end, hope won out.
Watching the full moon rise on the western shore of Lake Michigan had been a ritual, a touchstone, for my younger daughter and I during the first year and a half of the pandemic. She had moved in with me shortly after the world started shutting down in a panic of uncertainty in early 2020, bringing her job and a knowledge of how to use Zoom with her to navigate the demands of the new digital workplace from a bedroom closet.
My house—a small duplex, really—proved a tight squeeze for the two of us and my large dog, but the nearby lakeshore and some splendid hiking trails vastly expanded our living space during these stressful and anxious times. Both of us took nature breaks at least twice a day, weather permitting, finding peace and refuge amidst towering firs and birches, crashing waves, and meandering forest walks. She got fully into the water nearly every day, whereas I considered myself daring for getting my toes wet at the shoreline.
“Hey, it’s going to be a full moon tonight!” one of us would invariably say. “Shall we?”
And then the countdown would begin, as we kept an eye on the clock to give ourselves the requisite lead time of fifteen minutes to drive to the shore. In heat and cold, snow and ice and shifting sand, we found ourselves standing at the water line, or sitting on a favorite bench, trying to guess exactly where on the horizon the moon would begin to cast its golden glow. As the setting sun turned the skies pink and red behind us, we would sit and talk about nothing, or everything, or just how cosmically lucky we were to be able to be drenched in such awe-inspiring beauty that surrounded us and was within such easy reach.
And then, finally, there it was, a textured golden orb rising from the waves as night fell deeper, casting a path of silver on the darkening waves as it rose higher and higher into the night. They were magical moments to share with a daughter, moments of shared awe, and appreciation, and renewal, and magic of sorts.
But all good things must come to an end so that other good things may happen, and eventually my daughter found a living space much closer to some of her essentials, and moved out. I was happy for her, of course, even as I shed occasional tears as I helped her load up her car before leaving. But the approach of that first full moon after she left was packing a heck of an emotional wallop.
The day arrived, and I spent it in a funk, both because I had lost my moonrise-watching companion, and because the weather forecast had clouds and rain predicted throughout the afternoon and evening. I pouted, and dithered, and hesitated, and stalled. And then, closing in on that fifteen minute window, I caught a glimpse of a little blue sky above among the rain clouds, and grabbed the car keys, grudgingly muttering “why the hell not?” It is a mantra which has served me well over the years even though it lacked its usual devil may care cachet this time.
I parked the car and made my way down the cordwalk from the lot to the beach. The rain had literally stopped just a few minutes before, with the result that both the parking lot and the entire shoreline as far as I could see were entirely empty. The sand, damp and pocked with raindrops, showed no footsteps other than mine.
At first I simply sat on the usual bench in the sand, reflecting on the fact that I was here alone…not just on the beach at this moment but embarking on this next phase of my life as well. It was unsettling, as most new things are, and I took in the expanses around me, somberly, quietly. But sitting still is not my favorite thing to do, and eventually I pushed off from the bench, leaving my shoes and blanket behind.
The lake level had been dropping in recent months, and there were marvelous expanses of flat, wet sand and pools close to the water line as the shallow waves pushed across them and retreated. I rolled up my pants legs and walked in up to my knees, marveling at how warm both the water and the wind felt in mid-October.
On the flats, the surging sheets of water made mirrors that reflected the evening clouds. Channels cut crosswise by tiny streams of water flowing downstream resembled the cross cuts of Irish crystal in the fading light. I was enveloped by the sounds of water and wind and felt part of a much larger, seamless fabric whose patterns kept changing.
The time for the Hunter’s Moon to rise came and went as the earlier rain clouds marched eastward and covered the horizon, while swaths of cloudy skies converged on both ends of the shore. There would be no moonrise for me to celebrate…or to mourn…this time around.
But as I picked my way back across the sand in the fading light and gathered up my things, I was happy that I had gone out looking for the moon by myself. The astonishing beauty that I had found there in its absence was still somehow reassuring to me that this new chapter I was beginning to navigate would still have beauty, and surprises, and renewal, and grace. And as long as the world keeps turning, I know that there will be more full moons to remind me of my blessings.