In a recent blog, Hibernation, I described the awesome brilliance of a moonless, clear, star-studded, winter night sky. This blog will focus on the opposite end of that nighttime light spectrum – a full moon on a clear night.
Have you ever seen moon shadows? I mean, actual moon shadows? It’s not even possible in a town or city due to the numerous streetlights and constantly moving vehicle lights. In the country, moon shadows are everywhere – a muted, eerier version of those made by the sun.
The light from a full moon has a softer, more surreal look to it than that from artificial, man-made lighting. There are no stark pockets of contrasting light and dark. There are no overlapping shadows from multiple light sources. It is all-encompassing and mystical – not quite day, but not quite night either.
Several years ago, meteorologists were all atwitter about the upcoming “Super Moon”, a closer, larger, brighter-than-normal full moon. On the night of the Super Moon, I went outside to test its brightness. By only the light of the moon, I was able to read my newspaper! Typical full moons are not as bright as that, but are still bright enough to disrupt the wildlife.
Coyotes howl, geese honk in warning at every movement from within the moon shadows, and deer roam in the moonlight. All the animals become restless – even my dogs. Especially my dogs.
Before I convey what happened on the night of the last full moon, you need to know a little bit about my dogs’ personalities.
Have you ever wondered what name your dog would give you? I know what mine would call me. Russell would call me “My Human”. And Fern would call me “Russell’s Human”. These names were established years ago, without incident, while they were still pups. I noticed that if I petted Russell first, Fern would stand back patiently and wait her turn. But if I petted Fern first, Russell would wedge himself between us – a subtle reminder to Fern of his ownership over this particular human. If I handed out treats, Russell always took his first, then Fern approached for hers. There has never been one growl, one snap, one single sign of aggression between them during their nine-plus years together. Their ownership agreement was reached quite amicably and peacefully.
At this point, you may begin to feel sympathetic towards Fern, as though she were a second-class dog citizen. No need. With ownership of a human, there is great responsibility, and Russell takes his responsibilities quite seriously.
On our return from a walk, even though I know that Russell would love to linger longer over some new scent he just discovered, or chase that rabbit he just saw running through the tall grass, he does not. Instead, he dutifully accompanies me back to the house. Not only does he stand and watch while I enter the garage door, he continues to stand guard until he hears the door to the utility room open and close. It is only then, knowing that I am safe within the inner sanctum, that he returns to his wanderings.
Fern, meanwhile, watches all this from a distance. When I make the turn towards the house with Russell right beside me, she feels no obligation to see me home, and continues to do her own thing without a care in the world, totally confident that “Russell’s got this.” She has been freed from the demands of human ownership by her vigilant brother.
The problem with this arrangement is that Fern also feels no distinct obligation to obey Russell’s Human. Let’s say, for example, that both dogs are exploring uncharted territory a quarter mile away early in the morning. I see them, and call them to the barn for the morning feeding. Hearing my voice, Russell will immediately perk up his head, say to himself “My Human needs me!” and take off running towards me at full speed.
Fern, however, will lift her head, watch Russell running towards me, say to herself once again, “Russell’s got this” and go back to sniffing for rabbits. Even if I call just her name, repeatedly, she will inevitably wander in fifteen to twenty minutes later, expecting breakfast long after I have finished my morning chores with the other animals.
The one thing, the one thing, that will get her running for home full-speed is the warning beep of our Ranger in reverse. Both dogs love rides in the Ranger. The Ranger never takes them to the vet. Like the tram at Disneyworld, the Ranger only takes them to exotic places filled with fun and adventure.
This brings me to the last full moon. At 12:30 a.m. I was awakened by Russell scratching at the door of the enclosed porch where they sleep, wanting outside. I got up and turned on the porch light. Both dogs were panting with anticipation, furiously wagging their tails, and desperately wanting out. I knew they had either heard or seen something through the windows that they felt required immediate investigation. But I was concerned about potential nighttime dangers, and so I told them, “No! Go back to bed!” and pointed at their bed. Reluctantly, they both obeyed. I turned off the light and went back to bed.
At 2:45 a.m., I was again awakened by scratches at the door. I debated about telling them to go back to bed again, but then I began to wonder if perhaps one of them might be feeling some stomach upset, or potty urges. I certainly didn’t want a mess to clean up the next morning. I got up, turned on the porch light and let them out. They immediately took off barking and running full-speed in the same direction.
I sighed and shook my head. That was no potty emergency.
I waited about five minutes to let them check out whatever it was that they deemed so urgent before I called them back into the house. Of course, Russell came immediately. I called again for Fern. Of course, she did not.
I waited another couple of minutes and called again. Still no Fern. Angry now, I said, “Fine! You want to stay outside? Then stay outside!” I turned off the porch light, patted Russell’s head and went back to bed.
I lay there for only about sixty seconds before I realized there was no way I could go back to sleep. Sleep would undoubtedly evade me until I knew that all my babies were safe, just as it had when I was the mother of rebellious teens.
I got up again and called her name into the moonlit night. Still no Fern. Then inspiration struck. I went to the garage, raised the garage door and backed the Ranger out onto the driveway. I kept the gear in reverse, sat in the motionless Ranger and waited. Just as I suspected, the high-pitched “Beep! Beep! Beep!” of the Ranger brought Fern racing through the moonlight. When I pulled the Ranger back into the garage and turned off the engine, Fern’s tail stopped wagging and her head visibly slumped from the realization that she had just been duped by Russell’s Human.
Later, as I lay in bed following the conclusion of that incident, I envisioned myself on our driveway in the light of a full moon, sitting silent and stationary in an obnoxiously beeping Ranger while wearing pajamas, slippers, and a fluffy robe. I chuckled.
Apparently, dogs are not the only creatures who succumb to Full Moon Fever.
Next Week: No Harm, No Fowl