Tahoe Moonset

6/5/2006 1:30 a.m.

Tahoe. I can see the moon through the trees as I close the door to the cabin. It is a beautiful night, the sky is clear, the stars are out, the breeze just a whisper, the temperature a mild 45 degrees Fahrenheit, the moon is waxing just past half. Snap, crack, swish as I walk down the wood chip-lined driveway. Crunch, crunch, scuffle as I make my way down the familiar gravel road. The meadow is dark and quiet, shaded from the moon by a row of tall pine trees, and the insects and frogs have fallen asleep. The road ends and I’m walking on sand with sparse, ticklish grass running between my toes. The grass gives way to pure sand, cool, moist sand. It must have rained in the last few days. I pass a worn tetherball whose rope has been retied many times, only to be beaten and fray again. A stately, huge pine grows in the middle of the sand. I stop to smell its bark. Smells like home. Smells like Tahoe. The lake is calm. Not dead, not flat, but calm. The moon is one fist above the horizon. I have just over a half hour before it sets. The moon’s reflection in the lake extends all the way from the beach at my feet to the far shore. It is beginning to get a hint of gold color but the air is clear so it is not too much. I walk out onto the wooden pier to get a better view. The reflection undulates with a variety of frequencies as the chaotic waves from earlier in the day settle down. Wide waves give the reflection a bit of a meander as they move slowly toward the shore while the narrower, smaller, and faster waves superimpose a faster shimmer to the white reflection. The water is black. I take off my jacket and then my t-shirt and set them in a pile on the pier with my shoes. I put on my goggles and step into the water. It is cold. High-quality Sierran snowmelt, fresh from the spring runoff. I walk slowly in, alongside the pier. The water level is high this year. Higher than it has been for many years. I can remember when I was a kid (not really all that long ago) when my brother and I would build rafts out of branches we’d trimmed from the trees around the cabin and twine we found in coffee cans in the cabin and then we’d tow them up and down the length of the pier. It has been a long time since the water was that high. Just 5 months ago I could walk under the pier without too much trouble (hunched over of course). I walk farther into the lake. The sandy bottom is comforting. My goggles begin to fog so I pause for a moment to dunk them. The water is up to my chest now. I lean forward and the water gently catches my fall. It takes my breath away. I swim a few strokes toward the moon. The goggles make it blue. I turn back toward shore and dunk my head under. My blood is really pumping now to keep me warm. I keep swimming till my hands scoop up some of the well-sorted sand. I stand slowly and turn to face the moon while I towel off. The air is dry, speeding the process. I walk to the end of the pier and sit crouched under the railing so I have an unobstructed view and so I won’t fall in with my warm, dry clothes on. The moon is approaching the ridge. It is easy to tune out the background noise and just listen to the waves lapping up against the beach. A few geese call each other from afar. The moon touches a jagged little piece of the long, smooth ridge. It is golden now. It sinks quickly. I try not to blink it is so beautiful. Half gone and it exposes more of the ridgeline, in profile. It almost seems like I can pick out individual trees despite their distance from me across the lake. The reflection is like a bolt of golden silk fluttering in the wind. It narrows to a strip as the moon sinks further below the horizon. Finally it is a narrow as a thread and then disappears. But there is still a small point of light that lasts for a second before it too silently slips behind the Range of Light. With the bright light of the moon gone, my eyes adjust more fully to the millions of stars above. The Big Dipper hangs in front of me, right side up. I lay back and see a few shooting stars, making a wish on each of them. The Milky Way is so brilliant it appears to be a cloud. At 6250 feet above sea level, 1/3 of the obscuring atmosphere’s mass is below the lake’s elevation. I’m getting tired but I resist the temptation to fall asleep on the pier. I walk back towards the light of the warm cabin, stopping to admire the radiating tree shadows as I approach the door. I pause again before going inside to take a deep breath of the sweet-smelling mountain air. Sleep comes quickly.