The Moon and My Own Private Ghosts

My moon, today

It’s not easy finding the constant in life. You think—or at least you hope—it will be people, and sometimes, but rarely, a particular person, but that doesn’t always hold to be true. People change, they come and go, they die, they just die, and while that’s not unexpected or even unusual, it still creates that ripple, that slight adjustment which a constant helps steer you through.

The constants in life mean everything.

Today while out for a long walk to clear my head, to figure out where yet again I most likely screwed up, I looked up at the moon and understood there is my constant. The moon, yes, but all of it—the water and the marsh, the woods, the sounds of the rest, and all the rest included.

From the start it was always nature. When I was still in the single digits we moved to a house in walking distance to a state park, the Great South Bay, a river, and an arboretum. Even behind the houses before the highway, which anyway ended right there, were woods and a mysterious trail leading to “the creek.”

When we moved my constant came along. We lived on a river and I could canoe clear out to the Chesapeake right from my own yard. I’d ride my bike all over the city, but in particular along the boardwalk and clear back through a new state park to a smaller but beautiful different bay. It was always nature that saved me from loneliness, from anxiety, from the awkwardness of me.

It simply never changed. At college I never felt either mature enough or hip enough to engage much with others, except if separated by a mic, but the river—that river running along New York’s Southern Tier saved me more than a few times, and my hikes up to the Heart where Thomas Merton used to sit and write in his journal, or overnighters out in the National Park not far west.

And Niagara. Canada. And my go-to safety net, Letchworth State Park.

Bring on Arizona and the Sonoran Desert, the Catalinas, the canyons with waterfalls and paths. I’d head up to Kitt Peak and watch the stars, or up Mt Lemon and watch the snow just miles from friends in shorts. I was safe there.

In many ways I never matured. Some might say my constant is immaturity then. Okay, perhaps. I admit I am more interested in hiking through woods watching birds than I am just about anything else. I moved to New England and hiked Mt Wachusett most weekends; I lived on a reservoir and walked out to the Old Stone Church and sat for hours playing my guitar hoping no one could hear, praying someone would listen.


The trails at the small but memorable Pinchot State Park in Pennsylvania.

Here. Aerie, where hawks and eagles nest, and osprey teach their young to fly, and deer, opossums, fox and countless birds make themselves at home, because it is their home. I’m a guest.

Nature has no concerns. It is its own constant. It has no financial obligations; it does not have to ask anyone for help again and again; it does not answer to differing opinions or lie about its past. Nature does not judge, it does not question, or answer for that matter.

I know these trees, like I still know the ones Eddie and I climbed in Hechscher, like I still know the ones bending over like “girls throwing their hair over their heads to dry in the sun” along the Allegheny where my friend Joe and I used to wade for hours, dry fish on the rocks, and talk about wilderness and time.

Everyone above is gone. They’re just gone. But the nature of us is there, as well as nature itself. I wander for hours with my ghosts, talking about back then, talking about what’s next.

Today through the branches the half moon stood stark in the dark blue sky, and I swear not one other human could see it. Sure, you have a moon to admire in your world, but it’s not this one. Because this one knows Eddie and how he warned me one night when walking through the trails just after sunset to lookout for lunatics. I didn’t know what that was so I asked what a lunatic is and he said never mind. When I thought he had left to go home, I walked further past some grove and he jumped out and screamed, and I screamed, loud, and I called him crazy. And he laughed and said, “That’s a lunatic.”

My moon knows that story.

The trees here know about the time my dad and I sat on the porch and he couldn’t remember the names of some loved ones and he couldn’t see how sad I was. And they know about the time he let my son tie him up in a lasso and put a small cowboy hat on his head, and my father and my son laughed. That’s in the air; that’s out there, waiting for me to cut through the path on the west side of the property.

I have much on my mind, and a great deal of it I would rather not discuss with many people. And that’s not healthy—keeping it in like that. So I go outside and share it with the waiting trees and the ghosts I bring along. Certainly it is all internal monologue, but it’s always been that way, when Eddie and I wandered the woods singing Harry Chapin songs, or Karen and I canoed the Lynnhaven talking about how far the river reached to the south, through the marshes. I was always in conversation, connecting to the wilderness.

A friend of mine in Colon, Germany, but who is from Poland, calls me “the Man from the Country.”

“I was born in Brooklyn,” I told him.

He looked around when he was here and we walked to the river many years ago, and said, “This is not Brooklyn, Bob. This is a jungle. You live in a jungle.”

So it is. But it’s an honest jungle, with a river and a bay and a moon.

Nature lets me off the hook. Nature holds me responsible. It teaches me to be honest with myself and, in turn, with others. It teaches me to be quiet, to let others think what they want.

I have lived, lived very much “out loud” as it is fashionable to say. Oh, I have certainly lived. But it is in nature I am alive. There’s a difference. You know what I mean. There is a difference. You know exactly what I mean.

The Great South Bat at Hechscher State Park

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