Wolf Moon and Winter's Coldest Night

Reading and photographs by Robert Towe

From my nature journal, January 7, 10 p.m: It’s 8 degrees. A freezing windy night of deadly cold. On the north side of the house one of the windows whistles in the gusts of high wind. Beyond the walls the big woods roar like the sea, a wild shore moaning and lashing with storm. I put on a heavy coat, wool hat and gloves, and step out into the sharp cold darkness to get a last armload of firewood and a big chunk of coal to last the night. For several minutes I stand under the sky, relishing the pure arctic air rushing across the dark land. A few fine snow crystals tickle my warm face. In the woods the large oaks toss and groan with torment, like loneliness wailing a long homeless night-song of old sorrows.

Over the eastern woods a big low moon is running through snow clouds racing down from the north. Native tribes called this the “Wolf Moon”, when packs of wolves howled with sharp pangs of hunger into the year’s fiercest cold. Just to the left of the moon, bright Jupiter sparkles and glimmers, gleaming and dimming through the fast smoke of clouds. As if sketched by a thin brush with black ink, silhouettes of birch limbs click and clatter against the stark white moon. In the tall bamboo thicket behind the woodshed, torrents of Canadian air pour through the shivering leaves with the music of an icy waterfall crashing deep in the mountains. A stream of blue smoke tears out of the chimney and vanishes in moonlit threads blown off to the south.

On the other side of the house the wind chimes are clanging like sea bells in a black ocean breaking on night rocks. I wonder how the wild birds are doing---cardinals, wrens, towhees, finches and chickadees---bright wings that fluttered and gorged at the feeders all afternoon in the hazy frozen sun. I still can hear the thin whistling of winter sparrows singing in dead weeds while a high river of wind scoured snow through the big trees. Soon after sundown, the last birds retreated deep into the evergreen thickets to roost.

Later, January 8, 4 a.m. 3 degrees. I go downstairs to stoke the cast-iron woodstove. Standing awhile at the big window, I look out at the shadowy blue moonlit land. The sky has mostly cleared. High in the west, the winter stars sparkle through black trees still howling with wind. The great Lion of late winter has climbed high into the eastern sky. The dark walls and floor of the warm room flicker with orange flames, crackling and muttering in the stove. Such raw frigid nights kindle the fire of an intense love for the given seasons of life, burning warm and deep on the winter hearth of the human soul.