Our Bushland Diary

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

au clair de lune

ON Saturday 19th March, Perth was graced with one of the largest full moons to arise for quite a few years.  This event is called a supermoon, and is a natural phenomenon caused by the elliptical orbit of the moon around the earth.

Just on sunset, I had an urge to go for a walk and see this phenomenon from a good vantage point in nearby bushland.  It was an opportunity to test a few hypotheses about walking around in the bush at night, in particular, orientation and vision.   On this occasion, I wasn't interested in trying to see owls, possums, echidnas, spiders or other nocturnal animals.  Full moon is not usually a good time to go looking for animals.  Most sensible nocturnal animals don't make an appearance - it's probably too easy for predators to locate prey.

I took a waterbottle, a first aid kit, a headtorch, and a spare torch, just in case.  No need for a hat or even a camera, and that felt strange at first because I usually take them with me everywhere.  As I left suburbia and walked along a wide sandy track towards my favourite banksia woodland, the huge disc of moon, hanging above the hills to the east, lit up the landscape like a floodlight.  

I had my headtorch turned off at this stage.  After a few minutes of listening and watching, I walked off the track and into the woodland, deliberately choosing an area that was familiar.  

By daylight, this is the sort of thing one would see in such an area.  (This photo is NOT from my walk, but an example from nearby bushland, with two friends in it for scale.)

an easy walk in daylight
At first, it was so difficult to focus on the shrubs and trees around me, I felt like I was walking through grey cotton-wool.  By moonlight, I lose my sense of colour.  All was shades of grey, except for the sky which was a beautiful rich grey-blue dotted with a few bright stars.  Light grey patches of sand glimmered and became my stepping stones.  

Once in a while, I turned the headtorch on, to check if I was about to trip over a log or walk into a spider web, which in retrospect is ridiculous because these things don't bother me during the day (being relatively rare...)  I found that turning the headtorch on was detrimental to my sight for the following few minutes, so I stopped using it.

Here's what it's like being out in the bush on a moonlit night - same photo as above, doctored with imaging software.

walking in the moonlight looks like this to me - click on the photo to enlarge it
The most surprising thing was how easy it was to navigate.  When I'm out in the bush (in daylight), I use the sun for orientation - morning is east, afternoon is west, and make allowances for the slight difference in angle at noon from one season to the next.  I discovered that I can do the same with the moon.  

As well as having the lunar guide, there are stars.  On the night I was out, the Southern Cross was approximately to the south, and the constellation of Orion was approximately to the north.   To top it off, I could still hear the noise of suburbia in the distance.  How could one get lost with all those signposts on a clear night?

Walking in bushland on a moonlit night would be a great experience to share with people.

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