For three nights running, I lay on my side in bed at midnight, gazing out a small window at the moon, staring at me in what seemed like wonder.

Of course, it was the reverse really; I was wide-eyed at the full moon — blue moon, it turned out, the second full moon of the month. All that surfeit was getting to me, the night brimming with lumination, the moon as big as a stage light, the chill at last, finally, thankfully, lacing the night air with relief. With the merest effort I could imagine the moon an arctic landscape — frozen tundra all around, a lurch in the snow that would reveal the eyes of a hare or fox, a frigid wind blowing the length of the world to halt every living thing in its tracks. All that from cold imagination and the white, overpowering stillness of a late summer moon, consuming my attention and my sight.

On the first couple of nights, I was surprised to see it there, a repetition so aesthetically pleasing with the serrating trees a jagged black cut in the deep gray sky temporarily flooded with light enough to allow me to decipher forms in the darkness. But so trainable is the primate mind that by the third night I was already expecting the moon there, accustoming myself to its constancy, anticipating it unchanged — though it was slowly waning like a long, heaving tide, its edge appearing almost liquid as the month turned on its heels.

I felt a sort of internalized demand rise in me, an impatience that the night light overhead must help me through another round of insomnia, offer something to take my eyes and fretting from the clock face, round as a lunar countenance on the opposite wall. It is never wise to consider the moon constant, it is a metaphor of fickle love, but in spite of that knowledge I had felt it settle me to see something I had so quickly deemed routine — the moon on the move and its reflected light. For a few nights it had been suspended, recognizable and expected in the universe of my mind — the way the presence of a lover can be familiar as furniture in a room drenched in sleep.

So on the fourth night, when once again I was wide awake, drifting near the shores of sleep but tethered by consciousness to the physical world and senseless worry, I was jolted to find the moon had turned away and gone on without me. I could tell from the glimmer in the yard that it was out there somewhere, showing the way to some other creature than me or positioning itself, temporarily, light years nearer a star. But it was no longer in my frame of reference, caught in the oblong glass of the bedroom window.

It is always jarring to recall right down to the bone how easily and enduringly the smallest details of nature become personal for us, and how robbed we feel when they disappear.

I have been watching, as the fall settles in, how the Queen Anne’s lace curls from its doily shape into itself as though closing off from the season and huddling inward for what’s coming surely on: the cold, contemplative winter.

I have witnessed the defeat of the sedge and the grasses — though their heads are the color of dried blood toppling in the wind, their summer silvery green gone to brown. I have watched how the migrating monarchs flutter half-listlessly, half-lost, over the margins of the forest and the garden’s edge. Even the movement of a miracle — a butterfly that can carry itself thousands of miles on fragile wings the color of flames — even that seems not so much grace as imperative — the lepidoptera like the lunar — all the great circles and cycles of life spinning, secrets of change, in seasons carried along by commanding winds.

Everything here is going, and before long, gone.

How can I say how precious they are, the fleeting details of a thousand lives — the curl of the fallen birch bark, lying like a spilled vase in a surround of rotting leaves; the agitation of the flock of shorebirds bursting over the waters of the bay, flinging themselves one way and immediately reeling back, like the turning tide; the intense drumming of the insects worn down to diminuendo now, even in full daylight, without the timing of encroaching dusk.

These are stitches in the fabric of life weaving itself into a thousand natural forms — in a meadow, at the water’s edge, on a mountain outlook opening over the northern forests flecked with light.

The sky goes on forever; the birds and the stars promise it so. But the landscape and the sea, in all their shifting contours, wave upon wave, of sunflower or saltwater, bring eternity close rather than reminding us how far away it hangs, though behind the thinnest veil.

It all comes down to what we remember, and recalling, cherish. This is our world for a time, for a sweet, dear moment our window to the universe, in our wakening to adore.

North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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