Those fingers were there again when I went outside the other night, invisible as they reach from the sky but appearing on me and the soil to give us an eerie tickle.
The images of tree’s branches shadowed in an October night’s moonlight are ever-present this time of the year.
I knew it would be a restless night, with sleep interrupted by the moon’s brightness, the barking of farm dogs, the whiny cry of a resident screech owl and the yappy arguments of neighborhood coyotes.
It seems as though the moon can move the tree’s branches and limbs just enough to have those shadow-fingers tickle the critters into an all-night frenzy.
This time of the year, we talk much about spirits and goblins – and for some reason have developed a literature- and movie-induced national fascination with vampires and zombies. For some reason, our instincts are wired in ways that allows us only to concentrate on moving forward when it’s totally dark outside; but, on moonlit nights, makes us look over our shoulders to see what’s behind us.
Apparently, we don’t sweat – or in the critters’ cases bark, screech or yap – about what we can’t see in the darkness. What we see can’t hurt us. But we get plenty worried about what we can almost see floating around the shadow-fingers in the moonlight.
Or, it could be that the pursuers can so better see the pursued in those shadow-fingers cast by the moon, the fingers pointing to the pursuers’ innocent prey.
It’s so sad that natural evolution or society has wired instincts in most of us to be leery of those moonlit nights, or of the trees’ shadows. It would be so much better if we could realize that we’re safer in being able to actually see any danger. It would be so much better if we saw the trees’ shadow-fingers as dancers on our rural soil instead of as evil reaching out to do us harm.
When we push those instinctual fears aside, we can see our rural countryside as we seldom get to see it.
Folks got to see it that way more in the days when every township section in this part of the countryside was filled with farmers. Much of the land is still farmed these days, but the number of farmers working the land has dwindled.
Those farmers who still get to work the fields on fall nights get to see what so many more did 30 or 40 years ago. They got to see our rural world in that different light than we see it during the light of day.
To a person driving a tractor or a combine, that soft light of which we’re so fearful can be far more soothing than the daytime sun’s harsh rays. It’s relaxing to the driver and seems even to relax equipment that can inexplicably seem to run more smoothly at night.
Yes, that’s it: So much seems to run smoothly at night.
Our senses – admittedly likely sharpened by the instinctual fears – also run more smoothly on a moonlit October night than they do at other times.
The air we take in snaps our mind alive with a crisp freshness that foretells the coming of winter’s iciness with air that will slap us awake. It’s alive with the faint scents of the wood’s fermenting leaves and the sweetness of newly-combined corn and the richness of oak burning in a neighbor’s furnace.
From the fields we hear the faint scraping of leaves still clinging onto broken cornstalks left in a combine’s wake. And from another direction we hear dried oak leaves rattling from branches with the message that they intend to hang on for the duration of fall and most of winter.
We look down the valley to see the grassy shadows gently waving, bringing forth memories of early summer’s green lushness but the dim light hiding the reality of the grasses’ brownness, its stalks having long since discharged its season’s seeds.
In the sky, we see the handle of the Big Dipper starting to move its handle to — as many children are told — turn the dipper upside-down so water doesn’t collect and freeze during the coming days and months. If we’re lucky, we see the faint dancing of the northern lights and, if we’re extremely lucky we see the northern lights’ colors stretching brightly from the northern horizon and extending over our heads.
The soft night light also seems to slowly seep from the soil through our shoes and jackets, little needles of cold gently pricking our toes and souls to tell us to keep moving.
After stopping to see what the fall night’s moonlight brings to rural places such as our Eimon Ridge, it’s easy to see why families such as the Eimons chose these ridges and coulees to farm so many years ago.
Here, the shadow-fingers aren’t threatening; they’re inviting.
Here, we need not look over our shoulders in fear; the land, the creatures and the spirits will protect us.