“The Full Cold Moon; or the Full Long Nights Moon – December During this month the winter cold fastens its grip, and nights are at their longest and darkest. It is also sometimes called the Moon before Yule. The term Long Night Moon is a doubly appropriate name because the midwinter night is indeed long, and because the Moon is above the horizon for a long time.” (Farmer’s Almanac)
Walking into the woods, under the fading light of an overcast, late December sky, knowing that the last bits of light will be gone before your hike is finished, you trust that your eyes will adjust, and you’ll be able to find your way.
The volunteer leader of this moonlight hike reassures you that you will be safe in the dark forest and fields, despite the cloud cover, obscuring the “Full Cold Moon,” also known as “The Moon Before Yule.” Adapted from Native American terms, centuries ago, the December moon has many (fitting) names, including “The Long Night Moon” and “Snow Moon.”
Long, cold nights have been endured across much of North America. Ohio has seen gray clouds, stationary, in no hurry to go anywhere. But this is just a season, and this cold, dark, snowy season will pass. . . and this cold, dark, snowy season will come again.
“Those tribes of long ago kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon. Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred.” December will transition into January, and the “The Full Wolf Moon” will appear: “Amid bitter cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Native American villages.” (Space.com)
Despite the heaviness of winter in Ohio, whether buried under a blanket of snow or depressed by the dreariness of dark skies, this is no reason to stay cooped up inside. There are parks to explore, wildlife to discover, birdsongs to listen for, and trails that kind volunteers are willing to guide you along, as night descends.
The leader cautions the group not to use the flashlights on their smart phones while on the hike; many hikers mistakenly think that lighting their path in this way, with this intense, directional light, will help them see. But the bright light is a hindrance, causing your eyes to constrict, and making it harder to see anything past the reach of the flashlight’s beam.
Hikers are bundled up – hats, gloves, scarves and warm winter coats are in place. There’s no snow on the ground, but a wet chill is in the air. Rain the night before created muddy spots throughout the park, puddles, and brought a damp heaviness to the surrounding forest.
The hike, which begins and ends at the ranger station of Batelle Darby Metro Park, will take the group past wild deer and the sound of the wind passing through wild native grasses. First time visitors and veteran hikers will pause to admire a herd of bison, tended to by the staff of the Columbus Metro Parks system.
Our leader emphasizes that this is indeed a hike, despite the flat terrain and the convenience of a crushed limestone, multi-use trail. She plans to keep an aggressive pace, to ensure participants “get a workout.” She’s not kidding, and starts off with confidence and determination, at the head of the group. I’m unprepared and am internally lamenting that I should have walked a slow lap or two around the parking lot or done some stretches while we waited for the group to gather.
I’m surprised at the number of hands that are raised, when a question is put to the group: how many of you are at Batelle Darby Metro park for the first time? It puzzles and delights me, that so many in the group have chosen this cloudy, damp winter evening to explore the park anew. The park has so much to offer, and there no way to take it all in with just a single visit.
A visit to the nature center is an educational fieldtrip! The building features a Living Stream, which comes alive with native species gathered from the creek that runs through park property. Hands-on, interactive discovery centers are scattered around the building, and large groups are easily accommodated.
Batelle Darby is the largest park in the extensive urban (and suburban) park system. It is home to 12,000 species, many of which are on display in the park’s beautifully designed nature center, whether living, skinned and on display as pelts, or subjected to taxidermy.
Two miles in, at our turnaround point, our leader extols the many virtues of the park. She highlights the fact that it is the location of the final hike in the Metro Parks Annual Winter Hikes series, very well attended because the successful completion of all 13 hikes signals the achievement of a completed series, rewarded with a Metro Parks-branded hiking stick.
The eight bison, mentioned earlier, include one male and seven females. Rangers and Volunteers would love to see the herd grow, but someone needs to get “down to business,” after a year spent with his harem. We are treated a view of these amazing creatures. This is because of the close relationship between the Columbus Metro Parks and The Wilds, which offers unique safari-style adventures. (See The Wilds:
We are fortunate; we’d first passed the bison early in the hike, when there was enough light to really see them from a distance. As we continue north the light fades, darkening the skies further and further. Our eyes do adjust, but the bison are lost in the distance.
It is overcast, so there is no visible moon to light the path. We keep up our steady pace, though groups seem to break off, some anxious to return to their vehicles and others enjoying the peacefulness of the dark blanket of sky. In the distance we see the hazy light of downtown Columbus – a colorful backdrop for the dark silhouette of the trees.
As we walk, taking in the landscape and making light conversation about things we may not remember, there’s room for the mind to wander. I’m comfortable in this park; it’s familiar, and I’ve made many memories here:
I recall going on solo-walks, making my way slowly along hilly, forested trails, with a camera in hand, a lightness in my heart, and creativity alive inside me. The world looks so different from behind the camera.
Over a decade ago I rode my bike on this crushed limestone path, as a novice who knew very little about cycling, but used the multi-use trail as my training ground, preparing to ride 25 miles along the Michigan Lakeshore.
Memories flood back, of walking here with my dog. Sometimes we moved at a fast clip, pushing both of us to our physical limits. On other walks we meandered at a pace that allowed for olfactory exploration of every inch of the trail, so we didn’t get far – the dog had his nose shoved into every flower, every muddy puddle, every fallen tree limb, and every pile of poop along the trail.
This park is also the launching point for Tour de H2O, a yearly charity bike ride to raise funds for building wells in remote parts of Africa, where residents are forced to walk miles for clean water. An amazing community of cyclists comes together, raising funds and awareness. The park gives the event a “home.”
And, sometimes under the full moon, there have been group hikes. There have been many group hikes – big organized productions, complete with swag, and casual groups of friends, meeting on a whim. I’ve completed the 13 Metro Parks Winter Hikes.
I have my walking stick, branded to say “metro parks,” and it’s adorned with medallions. I’m committed to supporting the parks, in the light of day or under a full moon. But I want to do more!
Join me on my next adventure,
Columbus Metro Parks:https://www.metroparks.net/
Farmer’s Almanac: https://www.farmersalmanac.com/full-moon-names
Space.com (From Wolf Moons to Cold Moons): https://www.space.com/39238-full-moon-names.html
The Wilds: https://thewilds.columbuszoo.org/