Here in the communities between Orlando and Cocoa Beach, we know what the moon means to dreamers and doers, to putting men and women in orbit and reaching for the stars.
So it’s no surprise to find a moonlight hike a regular offering of the Central Florida Chapter of the Florida Trail Association, when in early December, the moon draws its closest to Earth during the perigee of its erratic orbit.
Having found out about it at Thursday’s chapter meeting, I thought – what fun! Now I’ve done night hikes before, under a full moon, in crazy places like along the Suwannee River and along the top of the dike during the Big O Hike. But Friday’s hike was way different.
Call it the pace. Call it the friends. Call it the amazing effect of clear skies and full moon shining down so strongly on us that it cast moonshadows, our reflected beings gray against grayer on a footpath we could follow clearly through the pine flatwoods.
Jon Phipps has led this hike for many years, surprising and delighting participants at the ease in which we could slip through the woods with nary a headlamp, or flashlight, a necessity.
Walking over a mile to the Econlockhatchee River, we crossed the historic wooden bridge (now rebuilt since my last visit) over Curry Ford, sweeping lights across the cypress swamp in search of alligators.
I now know why Gothic novels work so well in the South, seeing Spanish moss and the needles of cypress trees illuminated under the brilliance of the moon.
Jon stopped us and talked of “blue ice,” sweeping a headlamp across the grasslands around us in this vast palmetto prairie.
It took a little while for us all to catch on, but he was spotlighting wolf spiders and other arachnids – much like you’d spotlight a gator – looking for the tiny jewels of glowing eyes in the grass.
In some places, hundreds glistened back. Don’t sit down in the grass in the dark…
Reaching the campsite, a well-outfitted location under the live oaks with fire ring, benches, and picnic tables, it was time to build a fire, make s’mores, and swap trail stories amid the primal glow of the flickering firelight.
The moon continued to rise, piercing the highest branches of the live oaks to flood our circle of friends with a wash of silvery light. Relaxing, laughing, sharing the way that hikers do.
Another flicker rose from the edge of the fire-lit and moon-washed circle, of ladies who pulled out their iPhones, the flicker of screens on their faces.
Modern technology meets ancient rituals, firelight under the moonbeams. Our evening drew to a close.
Around us on the return loop, the preserve had been burned just a week before, the air tinged with woodsmoke, the footpath crispy along the edges.
But we were in the dark, face-first following the moon, so the toasty palmettos around us were just a shadowy landscape, the stuff of dreams.