Moonburn

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, March 14, 2010

A full moon rises, about to clear the dark ridge of mountains and spill its watery light into the valley. I am tightening the laces of my skate boots, preparing for my first ever moonlight ski. In the cast iron kettle of life, this might be a stray corn kernel popping and flying out of the pot, something for me to catch in mid-air and pop into my mouth. Or it might be more, one never knows.

In slow motion, the moon releases itself into a deep-space sky. Balloon, glowing orb, solid mass: you seem both to hang and be anchored in the firmament. Honey moon, harvest moon, hunter’s moon, blue moon, wolf moon. Moon! Did I take your dominion over my female body for granted? Because suddenly, now, four decades later, untethered and with internal tides awash, I am desperate — however inexcusably late — for any relationship you can offer me.

And this progressive dinner on skis? It suddenly feels more like a rosary, one to be prayed in longing breaths as I shuffle and slide through the corridors of this wintry cathedral.

There is no cold like the cold of night. We funnel hot cider down our throats and then move quickly across the plain, poles instead of arms, sticks instead of feet. I can read the fine print on my skis, but by some trick, faces are completely indistinguishable, cloaked in moonshadow. Desaturated of color, the world wears halftones like soft fur.

At the soup station, I recognize the voice of my friend Angela, who is trying to describe the feeling of moonlight on her skin. In contrast to the sun’s fry-pan heat, the moth-wing gentleness of the Moon makes words clunky. She settles on simply basking, and adjusts the angle of her face until her cheeks are edged in glimmer. “There,” she says, her drawl slow, “That’s better.”

But what I’d like to know is this: which vitamins are being synthesized by the Moon’s ephemerae? Which of our vestigial senses are being sharpened? A fifth-and-a-half sense? A sense that deciphers in-betweenscapes and clarifies the milky light of consciousness? Maybe the Moon is a metaphorical can-opener that opens cans of real live metaphors.

Angela is talking about Alaska now, the northern lights and their pulsating geometric shapes and the way she felt in the face of bigger things splayed across the sky there. Her words hypnotize me, and I begin to drift, drift away from the group, my skis moving faster and faster until I am alone in the wide valley, flying down the glistening track, just two layers of clothes between me and the Moon-drenched wind. Moonlight grazes my forehead, cheekbones, and the bridge of my nose. I want to swallow the Moon whole, a big bright pill that will tell me who I am, illuminate me from the inside out.

Finally, at the end of one of the far loops, I am utterly alone, with only the sound of my skis breaking the silence. My short breaths, created and extinguished by the cold, puff into space then disappear. Billions of stars and the enveloping void press down upon me.

Along the banks of the half-frozen river, my skis eventually come to a halt on their own. I look around, like a stranger in a foreign land. How can we pretend a pot of soup on a gas burner tames this place, makes it ours? That this is merely another wing in a man-made mansion? To the denizens of the valley — the coyote, the bear, the elk, the white rabbit — we are mere interlopers, stealing, slicing through their habitat, caught in a sliver of visible spectrum somewhere between dark night and white snow. Who are we, anyway?

I stop at a diamond-dusted willow bush, catch my breath, and have this thought: could I, too, be just a reflection of something blindingly bright? It would be nice to think so.

Twenty minutes later, I am encased in a metal container with wheels, igniting fossil fuels with a metal extension of my finger called a key, propelling myself along a pitted black corridor lined in yellow stripes to a door that leads to another door that leads to a chair where I’ll sit and use a bright lamp and the left half of my brain read about the Moon some more, to try to decipher what cannot be deciphered by letters lined up into words.

On the drive home, while hands and feet throb back to life, I shovel a frozen brownie, snatched in haste from the dessert station, into my mouth. It is sublimation, pure and simple, this chocolate syrup oozing down my throat. But it will have to do.

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