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full moon

Under a Harvest Moon

#microadventure
 

I hope that most visitors to my blog are interested in the big adventures I write about. But I receive so many emails from people who yearn for adventure but do not have the time or freedom to go and walk across a desert.

That’s where microadventures come in. This one is tiny, even by the standard of microadventures.

Indeed, you could be forgiven for thinking that I planned to do nothing more than go for an evening stroll. And you’d be right – this post is about nothing more than that. Except for this point: that I actually went and did it.

There is no point in lamenting a lack of time for big adventures if you don’t even make time for heading out one evening and exploring close to home by the light of the full moon…

If you want to start incorporating microdventures into your life you need to change your perspective. You need to begin seeking out wildness and adventure close to home, even in seemingly familiar and humdrum places.

A great way to help this mind shift is by returning to somewhere you know very well, but this time at night. A full moon casts enough light to walk by and is a beautiful time to explore. The best moon of all is the harvest moon, the full moon closest to the autumn equinox in September. I find it sad how out-of-touch we can get with the natural world, particularly for those of us who live in towns and cities. Dates like the solstices and the equinoxes, as well as the monthly full moon, help prod me to pay more attention to the ebb and flow of the seasons.

The harvest moon is my second favourite kind of full moon. Yes, I really did just write that sentence. My favourite is the super moon. My second favourite is the harvest moon. This is because, for reasons requiring too much intellect for this website to explain, the harvest full moon always rises shortly after sunset. And it rises shortly after sunset every day for a few days afterwards. This means that if you set out on an early evening walk or cycle you can enjoy watching the moon rise. It is much more eye-catching when it is close to the horizon.

You don’t need to begin ambitiously when heading out after dark. In fact, the simpler you keep it, the more likely you are to actually do it. I decided to try something extremely simple for this little microadventure.

I would follow a railway line out of town. I’d use the railway line to guide me as I weaved my way across the countryside. I’d catch the last train home from a village station sometime around midnight.

A Harvest Moon Walk

I wanted to begin in a town in order to show myself just how different the open countryside feels at night compared to a town. Streetlights really suck the natural world from towns.

But even in the town, I still felt myself paying more attention to things than I would during daylight. Other senses come to the fore. I felt the warmth radiating from the engine of a recently parked car. A man passed, walking a dog, and I noticed the smell of his shampoo. Across the road I saw the glow of a cigarette and a mobile phone. I heard a toilet flushing and the distant low hum of the motorway. I smelled someone cooking dinner and then a train rushed past along the track I was trying to follow. I listened to its sound receding and then followed along in its wake.

I was taking photographs along the way. Taking photos at night takes a long time as you have to use a tripod and a long exposure. But I enjoyed how much this slowed my progress. Whenever I decided to take a picture I had to frame it then stand around for 30 seconds waiting for the exposure to finish.   A woman watched me from outside a pub. I didn’t notice her until she called out “Happy photography!” She had left her friends inside, stepped out for a cigarette, was enjoying the moon. I smiled back, “Happy smoking!”

A Harvest Moon Walk

The edge of town was particularly distinct in the darkness. The houses and the street lights ended. And in front of me was the blackness of an empty field. Clouds zipped quickly across the fat round moon which was by now about two hands’ breadths above the horizon.

A Harvest Moon Walk

I stepped into the dark field, crossing the boundary. I didn’t have a torch. The point of this walk was to embrace the night and enjoy the moonlight. I didn’t want an artificial torch. It took me a few moments to adjust to the darkness and the stillness. But as I walked along the margins of the ploughed field my eyes adjusted. Planes circled in the sky, sweeping slowly across the constellations.

The sky was much lighter than the land, and the trees at the edge of my field jutted, silhouetted, up into the orangey suburban sky. If I stood and stared at the moon for long enough I could actually see it moving, creeping up higher in the sky. I heard insects chirping in the verges. And I caught a glimpse of a rabbit sprinting by. What really surprised me though, was that I could hear the rabbit’s rapid footsteps.  I have never noticed that before.

A Harvest Moon Walk

Field after field I enjoyed the stillness more and more. I pledged to repeat this experience more often. It was a perfect antidote to my desk-bound day, blowing fresh air through my mind and flushing it all clean and fresh once more. It was a warm, breezy evening and I relished striding through the fields, crossing occasional roads and walking, unseen, past homes and farms.

I had ear-marked a station about 20 miles away from where I intended to catch the train home again. But I realised that I had been moving so slowly that I would never get that far. Taking photographs, and just standing and staring had taken up so much time.

A Harvest Moon Walk

Deliberate ambling is very unfamiliar to me but I was really enjoying it. At the next station I decided to call it a night and go home. I was amazed at how quick the return train journey was. I had walked such a miniscule distance! But it had been a really relaxing, enlightening way of getting a new perspective on a landscape whose over-familiarity often bores me. I strongly recommend you try it.

A Harvest Moon Walk

The dates of the next full moons are:

  • 19th October
  • 17th November
  • 17th December

Put a note in your calendar today…

Read Comments

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Comments

  1. If you pay attention, the little things are just as good. Sometimes better. Nice story and great pictures! Especially the second one with the cars.

    Reply
  2. Night hiking is wonderful, everything is different, senses other than your eyes come heavily into play, you notice there is no ‘pitch black’, everything is in greyscales, hundreds of shades. And at full moon, well, night hiking at full moon, oh my!

    Reply
  3. I went into a country park for a walk and stayed out later than I had planned. It was suddenly dark, scary and exciting.The moon was beautiful. A simple walk turned into a micro adventure. I felt completely different from when I started out on the walk.

    Reply
  4. Finally pecilled in my first wild camping bivi microadventure for the next full moon on 19th of October. All of the microadventure posts have been really inspiring but i just have a question regarding campfires – on all of your microadventures you light a fire, what are you thoughts on getting away with doing this when wild camping? I’d love to have one but concerned that it would make us far more conspicous and result in getting shot at or having dogs set opn us by angry farmers! Aside from keeping it small and sheltered, on a not flammable serface etc, do you have any tips?

    Reply
    • Good luck!
      Yes, fires are the greyest area of all of this.
      Leaving aside obvious issues such as burning down a maize field or getting spotted more easily, I advise only doing it where you won’t cause any damage. If possible remove the turf / leaf litter and then cover it well in the morning (after dousing it well).

      Assuming you are a good distance from houses / roads etc, not on private land where someone is likely to be very upset, and you are not going to start a forest fire, then I’d say go for it! Ring the area with big stones (not from a river) to protect the earth and keep it contained. And don’t forget marshmallows…

      Reply
  5. Aaron Posted

    The man with the dog? He does this every night.

    Reply
  6. Lewis Clark Posted

    Alastair,

    I have to thank you for sharing such a wonderful micro adventure idea. This past weekend, when we were blessed with a huge harvest moon, clear skies a warm temperatures, I took inspiration from this posting and set out on my own night hike – from my front door in west west London to Denahm, using the Chiltern Rail line as my lodestar. An amazing adventure in just four hours (allowing ample time to dawdle, saunter, gawp and generally drink everything in!)

    As you said, it’s not only a fun challenge to guide yourself to a destination in the dark, but also a real treat for the senses. At one moment, I could see up above me a bright, brilliant, full moon, arching slowly through the sky. No clouds to stop it from radiating a dreamy, silky white. On the far horizon – the insistent pulses of light from metropolis. The Shard and the Millennium Wheel were unmistakable, even from 20 odd miles away. Wembley arch lit up all greenlike. All around me – an immaculately manicured golfing green, bathed in the moon’s silky dream, trees radiating beauty. As I passed a reservoir – now a soft, fathomless indigo – birds clearly called to alert each other to my approach.

    Even during dusk suburbia took on an enchanted air unheard of– tower blocks silhouetted like monuments against the purple sky, with the ripples of escaping heat giving the scene an almost unreal, mirage like quality. Previously mundane smells now seemed vivid and exotic – the whiff of detergent from freshly laundered sheets in a back garden, pinewood wet from days before, a roast chicken cooking in the far distance, someone’s cigarette smoke wafting from far down the road.

    All this magic on the London-Bucks border! For next time I might just invest in a bivvy bag to get the full overnight experience!

    Thanks again for the inspiration. Please keep sharing your wonderful micro adventure motivations!

    Reply

 
 

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