Active Outdoors: Full-moon fun in winter
Just so you know, there are going to be four full moons between now and the end of March. Why is that significant? Because a cold, clear night in winter, when the humidity is as low as it gets, is the best time to bundle up, get outdoors, and watch the moon rise. (Bonus points if you do it on cross-country skis, snowshoes or Nordic skates. Double bonus points if you camp out overnight.)
Tuesday, Dec. 17, is the "Cold Moon" (which makes no sense because it will probably be colder in January); Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, is the "Wolf Moon"; Friday, Feb. 14, is the "Snow Moon": Sunday, March 16, 2014, is supposedly the "Worm Moon." but in most of New England you'd have to call it the "Worms Still Buried Under Three Feet Of Snow Moon." Supposedly it was also called the Crow Moon, Crust Moon or Sap Moon.
The colder and clearer the night, the brighter the moon will be. Depending on a number of factors, it won't always appear huge, but it will be bright and sharp. You really need four chances because, believe it or not, the weather in New England doesn't always cooperate with moon-rise viewing. You can bet that at least one of the four full moon nights is going to be cloudy. And life will interfere with your plans for another night. So if you mark all four nights on your calendar now, you are more likely to get your chance.
Personally, I like the tops of mountains for full-moon viewing, but a frozen pond or even a big field will do. You have to get out before moonrise to give your eyes a chance to fully adjust to the gathering darkness. And, of course, if you hike or ski away from the road, be sure you've got a headlamp and extra batteries to get you back. You may not need it with the moon so bright (especially if there's snow), but it's better to have and not need than need and not have.
If you absolutely can't get out on the Dec. 17, but can this weekend or next, the Geminid meteor shower started on Thursday, Dec. 5, and will run until the 17th or so with the peak around the 12th or 13th. Just another reason to go out and play on the long nights of December. Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
Cold weather camping
If you haven't (yet) made the transition from summer camping to year-round camping, now, before the snow gets deep, is a great time to experiment. The only drawback to this time of year is that the nights are very long, but if you are active enough during the day, it's kind of wonderful to settle in for a long winter's nap.
The very best place to do your first cold-weather campout is in your own or a friend's backyard. Yes, it sounds a little silly, but you are probably going to make a mistake or two your first time out and being able to retreat quickly in the middle of the night if you need to (you probably won't) gives you a lot of peace of mind.
If your backyard is not conducive to camping, try a road-side tents site. Many state parks are open at this time of year and they are often empty. Having your car handy is almost as good as a house.
If you are going to leave the road behind, don't leave it too far. If you need it, I have a list of places where you can take your first steps into the winter wilderness, feel like you are a million miles from home, yet still be close to safety if you need to bail out in a hurry.
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