This Labor Day weekend was the first I’d had off – really actually had to myself – for the first time since I was probably 4 years old. I’ve lived my life by the school year calendar, the first chilly morning hints of fall ushering in another year of backpacks, textbooks and new pairs of jeans. For all the years I worked in higher education, students returned to campus on that last unofficial weekend of summer, and my presence was always needed in some capacity or another.
This year, we got to finally enjoy our Labor Day weekend together. We went to the Finger Lakes region of New York, to watch our friends Ben and Cait get married. We were there for the whole weekend, a lakeside cabin with our own dock.
Despite the long drive, we felt ourselves growing calm and relaxed the closer we got, our stresses rolling away with the hillside country-scapes as we drove further into rural upstate New York – our worries and anxieties caught somewhere in the cornfields off route 5.
There was the goat farm and that amazing herbed chevre and feta. We met the goats that provided the milk for the very cheese we were eating. There was the cidery, whose fizzy concoctions gave my cheeks a rosy glow. There were wines made from baco noir grapes, with its smoky, almost pickled aromas and the gewurztraminer that tasted like apricot nectar. There were bites of chocolate fudge followed by sips of pinot noir. And there were cheese curds: squeaky chewy, salty cheese curds. We ate well that weekend.
The days were lazy, hunting for wineries or lounging in the lake, wearing our flip flops so as not to slice open our feet from the relentless zebra mussels.
And in the evenings: the moon. Her round face shining brightly down on us, gracing us with her second full face in a month.
On our second night there, we ate dinner with newish friends at our cabin, our meal consisting of ingredients bought within 10 miles of where we were staying. Over my husband’s shoulder, I saw brightness peeking through the trees, as though someone had turned on a spotlight through the cornflower twilight. Low and glowing, we stood and watched as the full moon rose over the trees, hanging like a white hole punched in the darkening sky.
As we walked down to the main lakehouse, we marveled at how bright it was outside, the moon casting its gaze to the water, a hovering swarm of light there on the waves. As the moon hung low in the inky sky, the moonlight cut a path along the lake surface like a chasm of silvery gold.
On our first night there, I ducked out to the second dock, about 50 yards from the dock by the lakehouse. I walked to the edge of this dock, the whisper of waves at the bank punctuated by crickets and bursts of laughter and conversation from the lakehouse. There, I carefully slipped off my sandals.
I turned to face the moon, now perched high in the night sky, stars desperately trying to peer through a thin veil of haze. I raised my hands to my heart, pressing my palms together. I inhaled deeply and closed my eyes, feeling the evening light on my face. I reached my arms up over my head and plunged into a swan dive on the exhale, moving my body into a series of moon salutations. As I returned to mountain pose, bringing my hands back to my heart, palms pressed together, I smiled before opening my eyes.
Everything in that moment felt right.
On the second night, when most of the wedding party was staying at the inn where the wedding took place, we pretty much had the lakehouse to ourselves. That evening, after we were sure most everyone else had gone to bed, we headed back to the lakehouse dock. There, I slipped out of my pajamas. Clad only in flip flops, I carefully waded out into the moonlight water as Larry sat on the dock.
The water was cool at first but warmed quickly as I swam out further. There was no haze tonight and the surreal brightness of the evening felt like some inverted daylight out there on the lake. After a half hour or so, I made my way back to the shore, stepping out of the water, bathed only in moonlight, like some mystical creature returning to the woods.
At the wedding, I found myself overcome with such emotion, my heart nearly bursting from joy, their love as thick and heady like honeysuckles or lilies. They made vows to each other, then turned to face their families who stood and made vows to support them. Then we, their friends – all of the guests, stood to face them as we as community vowed to love and support them. She read Billy Collins to him while he recited the Buddha.
We danced. And danced. And danced.
Drunk to the point of abandon but not regret, the world like cake batter: sweet, thick and slow-moving – delicious.
As the shuttle drove us back to the cabins, that long dark ride through rural nowhere, the moon always there like a bright pushpin in a sea of blackness, casting long shadows from the trees.
We left that beautiful region of New York and I felt like my heart was being pulled away from that place as we drove out of town. “I could live here for a whole summer and do nothing but write,” I told Larry. “Drink nothing but those delicious wines, eat that cheese – have a full belly and a happy heart.”
“That would be kind of hard to do with a baby,” he replied. And just as our worries had been left along the route in, we picked them up one by one on the ride back. We drove back home through valleys, voluptuous hills and mountains lining the highway like slumbering giantesses: reclining bodhisattvas made of earth, draped in verdant robes of black gum, possomwood and ash.
All those hours and miles home, I carried the blue moon in my heart.
Every time I closed my eyes, I could see her shining brightly, smiling back at me.
“I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and – somehow – the wine.”
– from Billy Collins’ Litany