What I’m mostly looking for these days are clues. Clues and cues, reminders that out there — out beyond the double glazing and the smartphone notifications — is the clockwork majesty of the universe. This helps to recalibrate me after thrashing around in the tiny struggles of the day-to-day, buzzing and frantic like a fly caught in a web. A full moon does this job very well.
I first notice it rising over there, out of the driver’s window above the other carriageway of the motorway. It dazzles and delights me so I point it out to the other passengers, but they just go ‘huh’ and bow their heads back to their screens.
One of my favourite things is to watch the moon rise through trees or over a ridge. It is so solid and so far away, but if you pause and pay attention for even five minutes you can see it moving against the black silhouettes.
The full moon reminds me to look differently at everyday things. In fact it forces me to, for even a bright night is darker than the day. I immerse myself in that disadvantage by going for a full moon walk without a torch.
I catch the train out of town, just one stop down the line, for I do not plan to go far. I usually run out this way, galloping, gasping and leaping, but I cannot move fast tonight. I tread hesitantly at first as I head away from the sodium glare of streetlights because my eyes are not yet adjusted to the night. Neither are my ears or nose, but I know that this too will come. This altered sensory perception is one of the reasons I enjoy these unambitious lunar forays. Even better this month, for it is the largest full moon of the year.
I stop to take a few photographs along the walk. When I run this route I have never taken a picture, never even paused to take a breath. Now, however, I enjoy photographing the mundane sights by the light of the moon. I decide to shoot each picture with a 30-second exposure. This sucks in so much moonlight that the resulting image looks like a weird, slightly-flat version of daytime. The photographs are nothing special, and nor are the paths I am walking. But each 30-second exposure forces me to stand still and wait. To become patient. To stare at the moon as it slips now behind a chilly veil of haze. To hear a shallow stream before I see it. To smell damp clay as I enter the fields at the darker edge of town.
Up in the fields I turn to look back at the streetlights and houses. I am the only person out in these fields tonight, out here in the universe. This thrills me, in a small way.
The next hour’s train rattles brightly by. A continual burr of traffic on all sides. A dozen stars and two dozen planes. (I check to make sure my phone is on Airplane mode.) The stars are outshone by London’s orange glow spreading across the horizon. A sudden impatient blast of car horn: the first of the night. It conjures up memories of distant places where the car horns are as incessant as the mosquitoes.
A few fields later, I stop again and stand still beneath a massive pylon. I have learned to ignore these stark, skeletal towers that march across all of dreary suburbia. But tonight I pay attention. I would prefer to be paying attention to the full moon’s ghostly marvels up a mountain, out at sea, or in a beechwood. Of course I would. But you’ve got to go with what you’ve got. I listen to the variety of the pylons’ unsettling fizzing and whirring. I feel the cold seeping through my coat: I underestimated the slowness of this excursion. I forgot to wear gloves. I am getting hungry. But I like that nobody knows where I am, and that I am out here tonight. Despite the sky’s polluted glow, the constant traffic noise, and the very unremarkable landscape I am crossing, I find myself grinning at the moon.
After a couple more miles I am amongst fields lined with gnarled and spiky hedgerows, all recently crew-cut into symmetrical neatness. I peer closely to make out the small gaps where stiles cross them. I look up at the outline of a rook’s nest, a bundle of twigs wedged high in a hawthorn’s bare February branches. The nest — home — sways unprotected in the wind. I shiver, hunker deeper down into my jacket, and walk a little quicker towards a warm pub.
On the outskirts of town I pass a house with spans of colourful fairy lights arcing down to a well-lit shed at the end of the garden. I hear and then I see a red-faced man standing in the shed, attempting some very bad scales on his trombone. I smile. A few minutes more in the darkness and I return back to the well-lit railway station where I launched off on this brief moon voyage — out into the dark, friendly void of the wild universe that awaits just out there beyond the double glazing and the smartphone notifications.