The end of the year is the traditional season to take stock of your life: what better way than to do so by moonlight, connected to a much older cycle of time than the one we usually live by. I did this in 2009, when the full moon fell on New Year’s Eve. As it was the second full moon of December it was what is known as a Blue Moon; it was also the date of a partial lunar eclipse. I climbed a Welsh hillside in the snow to see it. This is what happened.
On New Year’s Eve the moon rises at three in the afternoon. As the sun is setting at five o’clock a small group of us climb Stonewall Hill, high above the Welsh Marches. Driving conditions are treacherous, with snow banked up on either side of the narrow lane and frequent patches of black ice where the thaw in the weak sunshine of afternoon has frozen once again. An Arctic wind is blowing as we leave the shelter of our cars; grey snow clouds are stacked up on the horizon. In the east, the moon’s presence is announced by an ominous apricot light, cast downward as if from behind a veil, a pale answer to the sunset over the Black Mountains to the west. However, the cloud is moving, bringing the promise of a clear night. It is too cold to linger, the group agrees. Two of us resolve to return in an hour…
By six o’clock we are back; all residual glow from the sun has left the sky in the west and it has grown colder. The occasional distant lights from farms folded into the surrounding hills merely serve to demonstrate how sparsely populated this place is. My companion is a photographer by trade and is carrying a camera and tripod. We crunch through crisp snow up on to the brow of the hill. The moon has emerged, softened only by a faint haze of ice particles that give it a rainbow aura. In the snowfields our tracks are text in the pages of a book – except they are not the colour of print. Moonlight is captured in the depression made by each footstep; they glow brighter than the grey-white of their surroundings, visually reversing like the dark marks in a photographic negative so that they appear to float above the surface of the snow. My friend is fiddling with his camera, battling with frozen fingers, the eye pressed to his viewfinder weeping from the cold. He tells me that he has set the focus of the camera to infinity, which seems appropriate, as a lunar drama is unfolding in the sky above us. The moon should be at its fullest shortly after seven o’clock, yet tonight there is a partial eclipse. For an hour or so the moon will move into the earth’s umbral shadow and we are ideally positioned to see it. On cue, the thumbprint of the earth’s presence appears like a smudge of grey mascara at the moon’s lower edge; a mystery that would be inexplicable to anyone around the world unaware of what is happening.
The last full moon of 2012 falls on 28 December. If it’s a clear night, why not make time to step outside and recharge your lunar batteries?
This is an edited excerpt from James Attlee’s book Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight. He will be leading a Moonlight Retreat to Voewood House on the North Norfolk coast from 22 to 24 February 2013. For information and to book click here.