The magic of moonglow
“Let’s sway, under
this moonlight, the
– David Bowie
I got up from the couch where I’d been watching television and walked into the kitchen to rinse out my popcorn bowl in the sink.
When I rounded the corner into the room, I was struck hard by the scene outside.
Everything – from the rooftops to the trees – was bathed in a thick and glossy, blue-white glow of sunlight reflected down to earth from the moon.
It was truly an amazing sight.
I walked quickly back into the living room and shut off the lamp, which was casting some of its light into the kitchen and dining room areas.
I wanted to see the full effect of the moonlight.
I slipped outside the back door into the chilly night air. It felt good to breathe in the crisp, cool atmosphere out there. It was quite refreshing.
The moon was rising in the eastern sky and its light was shining brightly and directly on our woodshed and across the widest part of our backyard.
I thought to myself that this is something only winter can do.
In no other season would the moon glow so brightly because the snow fallen everywhere helps to reflect the light back to everything all around.
This was especially true on this recent night because a recent storm had left all the trees flocked heavily with an icing of post-holiday snowfall.
So, what was happening was kind of like the mirrors in an old periscope or something where the light from the sun reflected off the moon to the earth, which was then reflected toward the moon and stars.
I was reminded of a paint-by-numbers oil painting I had as a kid, of a trophy buck in a woodland setting.
The paints and number scheme included with the set showed this to be a winter scene, with a variety of white, blues and grays pooled together to create the snow.
Even at that young age when I was doing paint by number, art was teaching me things about the natural world that I hadn’t really picked up on my own.
There was blue in the snow, and lots of it, especially in the shadows, grays, too.
Now, out in the moonglow, I felt as though I had somehow stepped into that painting and the big buck could walk into view at any second and I wouldn’t be surprised.
It felt magical, like the night was thick and electric.
The air was still with not even a whisper of the wind.
Sound seems like it would have been able to travel a long distance out here tonight, but I wasn’t hearing anything from near or far.
I’ve heard many people over the years suggest that bright moonlight nights curtail animal activity. However, there have been numerous occasions when I’ve experienced great wildlife encounters when I’ve said to myself, “Well, so much for that theory.”
I went back into the house.
My wife asked why I had flipped the lamp off in the living room. I told her it was so I could fully experience my moonlight bath out there back of the house.
I told her she should come to check it out. I don’t know if she did or not. She may have seen it when she went into the kitchen herself, but I didn’t hear about it.
It wasn’t too long afterward I had returned to the television and the couch that she had decided to go off to bed.
I remained in front of the television, enjoying the opportunity to try to relax.
I hadn’t been back in my seat for more than a few minutes when I caught a glimpse of a shadow through the frilly, white living room curtains in the shape of a deer head out in the front driveway.
I got up and headed back into the kitchen for a group of four apples sitting on the countertop that had been kept in the refrigerator past their eating prime.
I opened the front door and saw a doe and a yearling.
I greeted them with a hello.
The yearling headed down the driveway in a loping fashion. The doe was slow to follow.
When I asked them if they wanted an apple, the doe calmly turned around and started to walk back up the driveway toward me. I tossed the apples, one by one, and they landed on the driveway with a thud.
The doe was soon crunching one in her mouth. I could hear the chewing all the way up on the front porch landing. I grabbed a couple more apples from the crisper of the refrigerator and tossed them into the driveway.
I then flipped on the front lights outside so I could see the deer better.
They continued to munch the apples and didn’t care that I was there.
At the same time, I heard a weird kind of metallic scrape sound off to my right.
I turned over there to see a flying squirrel clinging to the side of a metal caged bird feeder. The squirrel then half-jumped, half-glided to the trunk of a maple tree nearby.
The tree has two suet cages on the trunk that the flying squirrels like to visit at night.
They often allow me to approach them to within just a couple of feet of the cages.
Tonight, after the squirrel had jumped to the tree, it quickly slinked back along the extent of a maple branch that held the caged bird feeder.
Flying squirrels are fast and slinky.
The bird feeder has a caged portion on the outside with a cylindrical tube feeder inside, filled with black-oil sunflower seeds inside. The cage is meant to discourage squirrels from finding and eating the bird food.
Gray squirrels for sure, red squirrels maybe, but flying squirrels – never.
The one I was watching slipped through the metal bars of the bird feeder like they weren’t even there.
After eating a few seeds, the squirrel slid through the metal bars of the cage just as easily as it had the first time and then it slinked back along the branch to the tree trunk.
There was another flying squirrel eating from one of the suet cages.
I turned the front lights out. The deer and the flying squirrels were still clearly visible from the front door out there in the moonlight.
I watched for another few minutes and then turned to come back inside.
I could spend a lot of time watching those squirrels.
They are so quick, and they come out of the darkness to all at once be visible and attached to the tree in front of me, within just a couple of seconds.
They also make a bunch of high-pitched squeaky noises, like bats, that are fairly easy to imitate. The squirrels do come closer when I kiss the back of my hand or make sounds imitating a mouse.
I had thought I might hear or see a great-horned owl, but not tonight.
Nonetheless, I had thoroughly enjoyed my time outdoors in the moonlight.
Experiencing something like that, even if it just lasts a few moments, can be on my mind for several days after the fact. So cool. It’s like a secret no one else knows about except for the flying squirrels and the deer.
It reminds me of what it was like to have to go back to school as a kid after a weekend of being out doing a bunch of fun stuff in the woods.
I’d daydream about the fishing I’d done over the past couple of days, the fort we were working on building or the fun we had building slush dams along the curb of the street in the springtime.
I knew it would be a few days before I could do those things again, but the memories of those good times worked to get me through many days of schoolhouse teaching.
As I get older, I am enjoying the passive pleasures of nature on a more regular basis.
Things like porch-sitting to watch the wildlife activity in the yard, sitting still by the riverbank with a fishing line in the water waiting for a fish to bite or lying in a hammock on a hot, summer day listening to all the sounds of the surrounding northern hardwood forests.
I’ll always have an urge to hike, explore, climb and walk, camp and fish and all kinds of other things, but there is so much to be said for just sitting and listening and watching and learning.
That’s something I can even do from inside the house with a good, screened window, a rocking chair and a pair of binoculars.
There are so many ways to take nature in.
I love and appreciate them all.
Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.