The habit developed slowly, as all habits do, and morphed over the years into something more like a ritual: On the night of the full moon, just before bed, I walk out on the deck to tilt my head, stretch my neck and gaze. Once every 28 days or so, I reach out with my eyes for a touchstone, a reminder that some things remain true.
Last night I stepped out onto the damp wood planks barefoot, felt the pads of my feet immediately grow chilled, and, with a slight shudder, tightened the sash on the fuzzy pink bathrobe. I took a few steps to center myself on the platform and turned toward the southeast. There it was.
I have compared a full moon to many things over the years — a poker chip being a favorite — all of them being round and clean-edged. This moon, viewed through uncorrected nearsightedness, was anything but. Its perimeter changed with every blink, curving back and forth, its volume waxing and waning like a lung. I decided it looked like nothing so much as a poaching egg.
Satisfied with the souvenir of a perfect image, I allowed myself a sigh of contentment. But I wasn't content. The ritual of the full moon involves not just locating it, affixing it squarely in the firmament over Sandhill. It involves words. It requires that I speak to the moon, that I acknowledge its faithfulness in appearing once again. And this time there were no words.
In the branch behind the house a sound rose up. It did not startle me; I am accustomed to the night sounds of farm and field. But it did surprise me. It was the sound of frogs. An amphibian basso profundo echoing out from the boggy edges of the pond. The sound that I can't ever remember hearing in February, the sound that usually accompanies the mild breezes of April or maybe a warm March.
My head tilted toward what was a rising chorus — now with baritones and tenors joining in. The branch that had been completely silent when I walked outside was now pulsing with voices, sound waves surging like an advancing army past the leafless branches and into the navy blue sky.
My own voice still silent, I went back inside where thin strips of moonlight fell through the cracks in the blinds across a bed in which I would eventually sleep.
I woke up early. The moon had moved to the other side of the house, was pasted in one of the panes of the bay window in the kitchen and it reminded me that I'd left things unfinished. There are only so many full moons in a lifetime, I once wrote, and now I'd squandered one.
Regret is rarely useful. I know that. And, yet, sometimes I find myself determined to wrestle with it until my hip is out of joint and I can forever walk with a limp as punishment. And I might have done that this time but for the sudden realization that the words don't always have to be my own.
Standing there on the deck, feeling nothing except my toes going numb, I had assumed that the only words worth offering were the ones that I could mint. And that if the vein had gone dry then I must be silent. But the compline offered up by the frogs enveloped every creature under the moon — the deer leaving valentine-shaped footprints in the soft sand of the driveway, the owl perched in the crook of the burned-out pine tree and the barefoot woman with arms crossed tightly across her heart. The reverberative chant without translation was all the offering of gratitude, all the acknowledgment of grandeur, all the demonstration of grace that any life could hope.