Tonight, I had such a strange feeling come over me that something was wrong, something that felt terribly like a premonition of danger. Have you ever had that?
Well, I reckon it would be a pretty safe bet that somewhere in the world, there are many terrible things happening tonight. But I've just had the strangest experience.
Mr CJ and I were out and about, and planning to go get some takeaway for dinner. But then suddenly, I started to feel bad - an anxious, dreading, foreboding kind of bad. It was such a profound, unusually keen sense of immediate disaster. It was just not 'like me' - I'm not generally prone to paranoid tendencies. I insisted that we go home immediately and check on the house. We got home and the house was fine. I called my mum and my best friend - they were both fine, relative to their circumstances. I turned on the news to see if there's been a terrorist attack or an earthquake. I checked my blog list for any indication of bad news. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Still, I reckon I'm going to wonder for the rest of life what happened, somewhere, on this night that was so very wrong.
So we went back out to finish our shopping at one of those extremely convenient open-til-midnight supermarkets. On the way back home I saw the moon, and somehow it's all gotten stranger.
It was what we often call a Bushfire Moon here in Australia. It's entirely likely that there is a bushfire somewhere around - we do have plenty of them this time of year. The moonlight is filtered through a smokey atmosphere and turns bright orange, or sometimes even quite red. We saw it when it was just rising, low on the horizon, and it's absolutely enormous - apparently about ten times bigger than the moon usually looks in this phase, at that position. Yes, it was very striking. And then I remembered something. I remembered the last time I'd seen a moon just like that.
It was December, 1999. I was living in Zuerich, near a mountain called the Uetliberg. I would often go walking in the foothills of the Uetli, revelling in my first experiences with living among snow. This night, I had gone on such a walk quite late at night. Now in those days I was young and fearless, and I walked alone anywhere I wanted to go, through all hours of the night and in all sorts of undesirable locations. So as I headed up the hills through the snowy paths in the very near pitch black of night, I was a bit surprised to find myself feeling something odd - something creepy, nervous, spooky. I told myself that it was probably pretty normal to feel a bit spooky, given that I was wandering alone through a late-night, wintery forest. And I kept going, but the feeling increased. It started to affect my breathing and my heartbeat. It felt harder and harder to keep going forward. And then suddenly a thought occurred to me - maybe this wasn't just spookiness. Maybe this was my intuiton telling me that there was danger around. This thought hit me like a tonne of bricks, and I was suddenly very sure that for the first time in my life, I was close to real danger. I turned around and hurried back down the hill, walking as fast as could possibly be safe on a dark, snowy downhill slope. Soon I turned a bend and just ahead, I could see a tiny red light. My heart was almost pounding right out my chest. I slowed down to a regular walking pace, and as I came closer I could see that the red light was the glow of a lit cigarette. Soon I could make out the silhouette of the man who was smoking that cigarette, and the dog that sat at his feet, attached to his master by a lead. In the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, a man just standing on the path, smoking a cigarette. This is it, I thought, this is the thing that everyone was warning me about, the stranger in the night who would do something terrible to me. It was one of the greatest moments of terror I've ever felt in the world. But somehow I just kept walking past at a regular walking pace. I even managed to say "Grueze" when I got close to him. He said "Grueze" back. Even though we were only a few metres apart by now, it was so dark that I still couldn't see any more of him than a silhouette, and the red point of his cigarette. I kept walking - and nothing happened. He just stood there, smoking his cigarette. Once I was around the next bend I broke into a run until I got to the point where I could see buildings and fences and civilisation was real again.
There was one more surprise in store for me. As the forest gave way to open sky, I could see the moon on the horizon. I remember thinking that I didn't know that they could get Bushfire Moons here in Switzerland. There certainly couldn't be any bushfires around - it was the middle of winter. But it was beautiful. It was huge and bright, dark orange. It was a waning gibbous moon - the same phase the moon is in tonight. I saw it soon after moonrise - in the same position, relative to the horizon, as the moon I saw tonight.
Twice in my life now, I've had this urgent conviction that something must be very wrong. And just a few moments after getting to the point where I was sure that was no longer any immediate problem, I saw the same moon.
I don't know what to make of it. But I know I'll never forget it.