Tom Ross: A trip to make only once in a blue moon
When I learned that Saturday night would feature a blue moon rise, I got pretty excited and immediately made plans to organize my weekend around this celestial event. I’ll bet you did, too.
I thought it might be fun if we carried out a blue theme on Saturday night. I persuaded my wife and backpacking partner that we needed to be far from city lights when the blue moon rose. We pulled out the topographic maps and began looking for a lake in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness that we hadn’t already visited — preferably a blue lake.
We found one just off the Wyoming Trail north of Buffalo Pass that looked like a good bet. Situated on the east side of the Continental Divide, it promised the possibility of seeing the blue moon rise over North Park. And at an elevation of 9,860 feet, our campsite would be almost 3,000 feet closer to the blue moon than we would have been watching the moon come up from the deck on the back of our house in Steamboat Springs. We each pulled a blue backpack out of the garage, and I strapped a blue tent to my pack. We chose blue fleece turtlenecks to ward off the evening chill.
We packed our food bag with blue cheese to spread on our crackers and blueberries to put some zing in our morning oatmeal. We stopped at the beer depot on our way through town toward Buffalo Pass. You’re probably thinking my obvious choices were Pabst Blue Ribbon and Labatt’s Blue. But I have to confess I broke form here and selected pint cans of English ale and put one in each of the dog’s saddlebags. Buck is always happiest on the trail when his saddlebags are perfectly balanced, and I always oblige him by allowing him to carry my beverage cans.
We arrived at the lake by mid-afternoon, and the brook trout were rising to a hatch of mayflies by 4 p.m. I pulled my fly box out of the top lid of my backpack and selected a blue-winged olive imitation to tie on my tippet. Almost immediately, I got a strike.
The first brook trout I pulled from the water was a female, about 10 inches long. Her flanks were speckled with red dots ringed by blue halos. She looked me straight in the eye and said “Blue moon — get out of jail free card.”
“What!?” I replied incredulously. “Everyone knows brook trout can’t speak.” “Only once in a blue moon,” she shot back. “The rules say you have to let us go on the night of a blue moon. Otherwise, it’s bad luck.”
I decided to play along, kissed her lightly on the lips and released her gently into the lake. I caught almost a dozen more trout before dinner and every time it was nearly the same thing. I released them all, but I only kissed the prettiest ones.
I gave up fishing when my elbow got sore and went back to the campsite and a lovely dinner of beans and rice. We sat around a small campfire waiting for the blue moon to rise and suddenly a coyote began to sing the blues in only the way a coyote can. His moans and howls reverberated off the cliffs, and when I considered that the full moon hadn’t even risen over the Medicine Bow Range yet, I thought we might be in for a long night. A little searching on the Internet reveals that the term “blue moon” has been with us for about 400 years. The story has evolved during the centuries, but today we call the second full moon in a given month a blue moon. It’s an occurrence that takes place on average, once every 33 months. Because the lunar cycle is typically 29.5 days long, it stands to reason that every once in a great while, there will be two full moons within a month.
A blue moon can happen in any month but February, which is shorter than the lunar cycle. The last blue moon was observed in November 2001. A full moon already had risen on July 2, 2004, and Saturday night’s full moon on the last day of July, promised to be blue. Only it wasn’t. When the moon finally rose July 31 it was pale yellow, just like it was July 2.
I cursed a blue streak and crawled into my blue tent to go to sleep. But before I drifted off I thought of the lyrics to that old sixties doo-wop song by the The Marcels, and added a verse.
Feel free to sing out loud:
“Blue moon, you saw me standing alone
without a dream in my heart, without a trout on my plate
Blue moon, you don’t return ’til June 07
Another night at the lake, would be just like heaven.”
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