Clear night sky offers full moon and more

Clear night sky offers full moon and more

Image Credit: John C. Lorson

The ride home from work a few nights back took much longer than anticipated. With the full Hunter’s Moon on the rise through a crystal clear October sky there was simply too much to miss by hurrying along. I stopped pedaling for a while and pulled off the path in the big sky stretch of the Holmes County Trail between Fredericksburg and Holmesville.

Here the path runs across a broad, flat valley bordered by the cut of Salt Creek running along the base of a steep ridgeline. The other side of the valley is fringed by a tall bank of forested hills. There doesn’t seem to be a street light, porch light or even lamplight in this section of trail, and most nights it is the darkest portion of my ride. Even on evenings when darkness eludes me because of a full moon the stretch still offers some of the best views of the heavens along my entire route.

This night the rising moon was bright enough to cast long crisp shadows from the trees along the trail and even offered enough illumination to read my wristwatch which told me that I had at least a few minutes to spare just staring up at the heavens.

With very low humidity and a weather pattern that for once hadn’t seeded the upper atmosphere with smoke from forest fires thousands of miles away, there was a lot to see. Humidity plays a surprisingly large roll in what you can and cannot see in the night sky. Water vapor, although clear, works to diffuse light and spread light pollution from ground sources as well as block out the light from the faintest stars and distant planets. Of course, if one is hoping to see such distant objects, he might chose to do so on a night when the moon isn’t blazing full.

The stars play bit parts on the backdrop of a full moon. Even though most of them are thousands of times larger and actually create their own light, the nearness of the moon and its ability to act as a giant vanity mirror for our own planet makes all the difference. It’s interesting to consider that far more folks get excited about a full moon than a new moon — the phase when the night sky is at its darkest, offering views of thousands of more celestial bodies. Nevertheless, being out on a full moon night has a magic all its own. Chasing the ability to “see in the dark” has long been a passion of mankind and the light of a full moon offers a unique opportunity to do so.

On such a night, once my eyes have adjusted to the half-light, I’ll sometimes roll slowly down the trail with my headlight shuttered hoping to surprise some of the creatures that would normally flee my approach well in advance. In this manner I’ve rolled up on opossum, fox, raccoon and countless deer. One time, as I approached a large black and white cat on the trail the saving grace of good sense nudged me into turning on my light about 10 yards out. The “cat” turned out to be a skunk and it was well aware of my approach and fully prepared to stand its ground. (A headwind might have offered another sensory clue as well, because once I had passed beyond the critter his identity was entirely evident.)

Speaking of varmints on the trail, a few weeks ago I wrote about the time I’d been taken to the pavement by a groundhog that had popped out from the rough right into the path of my bicycle in full daylight. Well, apparently, one of that famed woodchuck’s descendants must have gotten ahold of a copy of my work and decided to follow, quite literally, in grandpa’s footsteps one recent morning. The malicious marmot dashed into my path in almost exactly the same spot as that years-ago collision, but this time I got the better end of the deal. As luck and timing would have it, the super-sized rodent shot between my front and rear wheels and I “whomped” right over him with without missing a pedal stroke. The whistle pig was seemingly unharmed, but obviously indignant, trundling off into the weeds with a huff and leaving us both with a story to tell.

Remember, if you have comments on this column or questions about the natural world please write The Rail Trail Naturalist, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627 or email John at jlorson@alonovus.com. You can also follow along on Instagram @railtrailnaturalist.

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Moon through sumac_102221:

The light of the full, October, Hunter’s Moon, here fringed by a Staghorn sumac, offered a unique perspective on the nighttime landscape.