It rained off and on all day. The sun went in and came out, the temperature rose and fell, over and over.
I had said I would be there. I had been urging others to come for weeks. A last-minute check of the Park website showed that the Moonlight Walk was still on and would be cancelled only for heavy rain.
As evening approached the wind came up and the sky finally cleared. It was still as bright as broad daylight at 6pm . . . I gazed at it. Moonlight hike? At 7? What had the Park people been thinking? What had I been thinking?
This evening is a boondoggle, I thought, driving dutifully south on 101, Mapquest notes in hand. It’s some sort of misprint. I won’t be able to find it. No one else will show up. It will be cancelled. The paths will be pure mud.
With just a little persistence and backtracking, I did find the park, on a small rural road west of Petaluma, toward the ocean, in the country. There are no signs for the park until you are right upon it. I pulled in. A cluster of people stood in a parking lot on the west side of a tall, broad, hill, partially wooded, as is typical of our county. The wind howled, the sun shone, the shadows lengthened. No other Full Moon cohorts were present .The Park Commissioner and a Ranger introduced themselves. There had been one small typo: The walk lasted not till 8 but till 9. Moonrise would occur at 8:48 and would be the climax, not the ambiance, of the walk. I shrugged. I like hiking and the people were interesting. Off we went, though I had immediate doubts about the number of layers I was wearing and my lack of hat and gloves.
On the south side of our hill we looked down into deep valleys and off into further rolling hills beyond hills, which once, thousands of years ago, were at the bottom of an ancient sea. One hill sported a farmhouse, with a controversial power-generating windmill. While it was still light, we enjoyed the deep crimson, conical clover blossom, and the many different sorts of oaks. The thick, writhing, Kraken-like branches of the Coast Live Oaks are like something reaching up out of a dream.
Brian came charging and puffing up the hill after us in shorts and a sweater. As it got dark, the Ranger talked cheerfully about the many sightings of the local mountain lion. There were, however, he assured us, no rattlesnakes. They need more consistent warmth. So do I, I thought. ( And I’m quite sure, once we were all back in our cars with the heaters on, that it took a long time for feeling to come back into Brian’s calves, though he would never admit it.)
We wound around the hill, sometimes, thankfully, dropping down behind it, out of the wind. Atypically, one stretch along the top was thickly enough wooded to form a sweet tangle, a fairy-tale wood. The Park Commissioner even asked us to turn back and look at it. “It’s my favorite,” he confessed. “Kind of like something out of Harry Potter . “ We went more cautiously as the light failed and we encountered stretches of both poison oak and mud. The powerful cold wind barreled up at us out of the sea. One hiker, navigating a slough-y bit in the near dark, cried out. He had missed his step and gotten a boot full of water. I recalled that I had not brought a flashlight on this outing.
The Ranger led us to an east-facing slope with a broad open view. The lights of Petaluma spread out at our feet, looking somehow very distant, like the stars that now, one by one, tentatively, began to emerge. Above and behind Petaluma bulked the long black expanse of Sonoma Mountain. If you looked at one spot on the mountain’s crest very steadily, you could imagine you saw a faint, a very faint, reddishness, just above the edge.
It was so slight I thought I must be imagining it. Shifting from foot to foot in the cold, we chatted and waited for moonrise. I suppressed the urge to leave, the urge to complain, and the urge to ask the others whether they weren’t very, very cold. Instead I looked back at my almost- red spot. I had to quiet down and focus to see it at all. Wanting to see it actually made it disappear. When my mind had become stiller, when I didn’t want to see a red glow, didn’t want the wind to stop, didn’t want to be back in the car, then I could see it.
After a while the subtle red grew more apparent. Funny, one never thinks about moonlight being anything but white. The rising full moon was indeed “red-fingered,” just as Sappho once said.