The Moon on the Breast of the New-Fallen Snow

By Bob Grindle

This evening grew dark with light-switch suddenness…and as I sit looking out the window into a gloomy, damp and chill Thanksgiving eve, I can almost hear the childhood refrain, “over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go…” playing somewhere in the back of my head; reminding me of a time when nothing, not even the raw, blustery and gray weather that is so common this time of year could spoil the welcoming and warming excitement of the holidays. It was a time when the comfort of people getting together, cooking and sharing food, enjoying the companionship of  telling the stories of how the year had unfolded and listening to each other’s plans for the coming year felt genuine and could fill a child’s head with a sense of enthusiasm for growing up. It was a time of hope.

As I get up from my nostalgic drift and head out to do evening chores, the lights in the barn offer a sort of warming promise despite the marrow-chilling rawness that late November is so good at. The oddly satisfying crunch of straw and shavings underfoot and the rich aroma and sound of animals eating timothy pellets make the barn feel deceptively warm despite the early and unseasonable cold. The texture of the moment is almost as filled with promise and hope and a satisfying sense of “all is well” as the memories of growing up that I left back at the desk just moments ago.There is certain self-centeredness though, that can weave its way into our human recollections of the way things were…into the stories we recall or recalibrate. Perhaps our brain’s effort to clean up the frayed edges, replace the missing pages, or more, that have suffered the unrelenting wear and corrosive weathering of time.  

A loud but distant crack of a gunshot clears my head of idling memories. The sounds of hunter’s guns and members of the ‘Fin’ practicing at the range that echo across this narrow valley are mostly still now as the day wanes, and the narrow valley that snakes its way between Parrish and Beaver Hill to the south and Clark Hill to the north has quieted for the day. The time when our pond laden, brook laced, boggy, and gently undulating landscape through Haven & Hartford Railroad on its daily whistle-stop, milk-can and orchard basket pick-up and delivery schedule to Boston is long past. Instead, the Connecticut Airline Trail State Park is a Johnny-come-lately repurposing of the 19th century hand and machine hewn and blasted railroad bed, and is a welcome newcomer to the many hikers and bikers and horseback riders who frequent the trail.

As I walk back to the house darkness is at hand and the wind has picked up…late after-noon is feeling a bit like pre-winter. No matter the chill in the air, though, the sound of the wind singing through the towering stand of Norway spruce at the back of the garden chills the imagi-nation and cuts through human vanity, whispering that whether or not we understand it, our fate is intertwined with the world we live in and we ignore it at our peril. The night will be a clear one, and despite a few snowflakes in the air the nearly full Moon is at the eastern horizon and Jupiter announces the start of the show. The sky beckons

The skies of December are not known for being viewer friendly, with bluster and cold and occasional bursts of sudden winter snow, but with only a razor thin lunar crescent that will set early on the evening of December 13-14, this year’s Geminid meteor shower in the eastern sky should be the best of the year…a dark sky early and the promise of as many as a hundred meteors an hour. Plus, the Geminids start earlier than most. By 9 pm, Gemini has risen high enough in the east that meteors can be seen without having to stay up till 2 or 3 am on the 14th. The show really gets impressive though when Gemini is higher in the sky later at night, with brighter trails and longer tracks across the night. While you’re waiting for those shooting stars, enjoy looking for Orion to rise in the east and identifying Sirius—the “Dog Star”—just below and to the left of Orion’s left leg. 

For all of you who are inclined to a more traditional way of thinking of the skies of December, let’s look forward to the Full “Cold” Moon of Christmas Eve and Clement Clarke Moore’s class tale of Santa’s visit, “The Night Before Christmas:” ‘The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gave the luster of mid-day to objects below.’ Yep. Now all we will need is snow before a clearing sky and the fantasy comes to life. Enjoy the coming season. Be kind to all living creatures and to all a good-night. 

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