Hard Frost and the Hunter's Moon

Text, reading and photographs by Robert Towe

From my nature journal, 7 p.m., October 18: The red fires of autumn sunset burn down. Cold dusk light deepens into shades of auburn, russet and gold. Fading like green September leaves, the chirping of crickets grows feeble in the withered grass.

Stillness. Not the slightest trace of wind this evening. The trees stand quiet. Temperature drops quickly in the crisp air. Not far above the treetops, a Vee of Canada Geese comes yelping and honking, heading down to roost on the river. Their graceful silhouetted flight recalls strokes of ancient calligraphy.

I catch dusky glimpses of an orange and black Towhee trilling from the shadowy woods. Few other birds are singing now. Summer birds have flown. The cold empty stillness makes his solitary presence sharply poignant, somehow more real.

The sharp smell of approaching frost pierces the air tonight. After months of musky warm leaves and perfumes of a thousand flowers, now cuts the certain stark clean smell of ice. Like a great white bear, a vast polar air mass comes walking down from the arctic tundra of northern Canada. And yet, in spite of the loss of warmth, and light, something thrills us each approaching winter---the low sun, longer shadows and fierce weathers, a time for reflection, for hunkering down.

The first sweet tangs of wood smoke season the chilled, darkening light. That fragrance, more than any other, kindles memories of autumns’ past fires, our distant beginnings. We breathe it in, relishing the smell of burning wood, and we wonder…. Deeper in the night, while we sleep and wander through dreams, crystals of the first frost will glisten the dark starlit land.

But now at twilight, the pale pumpkin-hued sky holds a silver sickle of moon low in the southwest. Circling far beyond our shallow notions of time, the time-less curved sliver of stone gleams above the cool shadowy earth. Centuries past, native tribes named this the Hunter’s Moon, as animals grew fat with summer for the coming winter. This was the time to hunt and kill, to smoke and dry the wild meat, to make furs for the cold months ahead.

In day’s last light, above and to my right---a solitary dove is perched silent on a leafless branch. His silhouette fills the empty curve of crescent moon. It is an exquisite moment. Into the dove’s cold silence and the crisp fallen leaves, another summer has gone.

October 19, 7 a.m., 28 degrees: Blue dawn light spangles through thin fog and painted trees. The frosty lawn steams. The year’s last flowers---goldenrods and asters---bristle white with heavy frost. The whole landscape shimmers with miniscule icy rainbows, crystals of water frozen in the night. Delicate spider webs, not normally visible during the day, are shining now, like jeweled strings.Glittering strands of tiny cut rubies, sapphires and diamonds sparkle in the autumn morning sun.