As I rummage through the hat and glove box, looking for pairs, the teakettle whistles, reminding me to make hot chocolate for our thermos. My children are dressed in multiple layers of outdoor clothing and we’ve just finished eating a quick dinner because we want to make a fast getaway.
Tonight is special. The moon is full, and we’re going out for a walk to celebrate.
My husband Todd and I did not embrace the life philosophy that spending a boatload of money on entertainment or even education was necessary in order to have fun and learn. Many of the “funnest” things are free and the kids made some of their best growing-up memories right in the backyard, in our outdoor “neighborhood.” For many years, I’ve been a devotee of “full moon walks.”
We’ve walked by balmy summer moons in T-shirts with katydids singing and lightning bugs flashing in a multi-sensory display. We’ve walked under autumn moons and watched migrating geese as they became silhouettes against the silvery disk. We’ve walked under spring moons, felt the warming breeze on our skin and smelled the rich earth waking up in the night. But the best are the winter moons.
We walk on well-known trails and farm roads, where the path is clear and wide so there is little chance of a tree branch poking an eye out. We shoot for the actual night of the full moon. Then the moonrise is only minutes after the sunset.
A thin sliver of flaming orange pokes above the horizon. We all stand up and watch it rise, out of awe for the magic of the natural world and the chance to witness it.
The moon grows larger and turns into a brilliant orange ball. I explain to my kids that the moon makes no light of its own but acts as a mirror, reflecting the sun back to us long after it’s gone for the day. The moon is full when the orbit carries it directly opposite the sun. In this position, it receives the direct light of the sun across the full face, forming the distinctive full moon.
We pulled out binoculars so the kids could get a close-up look at the craters and valleys and mountains on the moon, the dark patches astronomers call plains and seas.
“Does the moon’s face change?” Bryce asked. I told him that the moon is rotating as it also rotates around the earth. The same side of the moon is always facing earth. We never see the other side– the dark side of the moon. My daughter remarked that the moon looks larger and closer when it first rises. I explain it’s mostly an optical illusion. Because it is so close to the horizon, the moon tricks our eyes into measuring it against nearby objects, and the buildings, hills, and trees create the impression of increased size.
When Bryce pulled out a red handkerchief, he is amazed that he can see color. I told him that without light, there is no color. But it doesn’t have to be light from the sun or light bulbs, it can also be the light of the moon.
As we stare at the constellations, a brilliant shooting star races across the sky. To see a shooting star in full moonlight means it has to be exceptionally bright. Right afterwards, a great horned owl calls in a nearby conifer forest. We cup our hands and attempt to call back.
I hold Bryce’s hand on the return hike because he grows tired and can’t concentrate on where to place his feet. He focuses on what’s overhead, not on the ground. “Look at the moon shadows, Mama!” he tells me. He lifts up his arms like a monster and yells back to his sister, “I’m taking a moonbeam bath!”
I started out going on full moon walks for myself, because I love it and I need these little doses of moonlight in order to stay happy and function in that “other” world. But I also do it for my children, so they would grow up to realize there is much magic in the natural world and that most of it is free.
Additional Reading and Resources
THE FAMIILY WALK-ABOUT: Immersing Ourselves in the Worlds of Others
Photo by R.L.