Friday, January 25, 2013
Full Wolf Moon
Saturday the 26th is the full moon for January, and named the Wolf Moon--legend has it that hungry wolves could be heard howling very close to towns and villages in the month of January, when humans and wolves lived close to one another.
This moon is also referred to as "the moon that does not invite thaw".
Poetic! And the warmer you are, snug in your home, I suppose the more poetic that sounds.
Here in South Central Pennsylvania, it may also be a fine evening to go moon gazing. We are getting a dusting of snow now, which will act as wonderful reflection for moon shadows. As a child my brothers and I spent time outdoors on just these sorts of nights, sledding and skiing. Those were magical nights, and we felt as if we were a part of something vast and mysterious, which I suppose we were.
With fresh snow on the ground, it's also a chance to do some tracking, which was one of the things my husband and I did out in Zion National Park earlier in the month. I'm certainly not very good at tracking, but it's so much fun trying to solve the riddles of time and place.
Temperatures were warm enough to hike comfortably, fresh snow had fallen the first night we arrived, and the following morning brought brilliant, cold sunshine. Diamond crystals everywhere made the sandstone canyon colors outstandingly saturated. And just when you thought the colors couldn't get any more intense, we would round a bend and just stop in wonder!
We tracked bobcat, skunk or weasel (that one was tricky), ravens, ring-tailed cats, lots of mule deer, and then, finally, a mountain lion!
A small, deep, dry river bed meandering beside the road into Zion appeared like a commuter rail for all sorts of animals, whose tracks I could see even from the road. One afternoon we stopped so that I could climb around the canyon edge, and then try to find a way down.
Sure enough, there at the top edge, and leading up to a higher point beneath a scraggly pine tree, were big cat tracks.
Paws as big around as dessert plates, and soft around the edges. I thought the tracks were maybe a day or two old, but that was a guess.
The mountain lion appeared to have wandered a bit, dragging something as it went, just off to its side it seemed--was it a kill? No, there was no sign of blood or fur from a kill, and the dragging was uniformly indented. Everywhere the paws went the trail was sure to follow....
I went to stand beside the tree where the mountain lion had been, but I didn't stay long. This place was sacred. In what way I couldn't say, but the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Not my place to be there, leaving my own tracks and scent. I lingered just long enough for my husband to take a photo, then stepped down, relieved in some way. Even the tree seemed to ask me go.
We followed other tracks further into the dry river bed, and almost made it down to the bottom, which was in deep shades of purple at the late afternoon hour, the winter sun setting fast. The shadows were both intriguing and frightening. I kept edging further down while my husband kept edging further up. I had to laugh to myself: without his backtracking, I would have been much more cautious.
And to see a mountain lion during the day would be rare. Though she might be out and about at all hours, she stays far from humans, unless of course, the human is being considered for dinner.
Later, when I asked the cook who had been scrambling our eggs for the past few mornings, if these tracks could have been from a mountain lion, he just nodded. And then he said, "You can tell from the tail drag. That tail is about 2 to 21/2 feet long, and he drags it."
Ah, the tail drag. A tail as long a 2 1/2 feet long.
He made a big circle with both hands. "Tracks about this big, right? That's a lion."
Later in the evening, with the last smudge of daylight still clinging to the horizon, we watched as a huge herd of deer poured down a hill, heading for a copse of trees. They seemed to pour in like quick silver and we wondered how the trees could hold so many. But that was just the right place to be for the evening--not far from cabins where human presence might keep more elusive predators, like the mountain lion, at bay.