THIS sleeping car is too warm for sleeping. I've been tossing about all night, unable to get comfortable. Just as I'm about to drop off, the boy in the bunk above starts coughing or the water fountain by the toilets goes ``blip, blip.'' It's four in the morning. Still dark outside. I wonder if it's any cooler up in the observation car? Much cooler. And darker. The sky above the glass dome is filled with tiny, distant stars. The mountains slip by in silent shadow. Up ahead, the engine throbs reassuringly as it pulls us down through the river valley, steady and sure on its tracks. Wrapped in that intimate sense of quiet contemplation one often experiences sitting up on a train at night, I doze off.
Suddenly, I am drawn all unwillingly back upwards by a strange brightness coming from above. What is this? Is there no quiet resting place anywhere tonight? My eyes open.
There, high above the train, hangs the moon, full and ripe, beckoning there in the black night like a street lamp in a darkened alley.
I sit up and look around. The river valley has worked itself down into a gorge, flattening the mountains and exposing the moon. Everything now is full of moon - the sky, the hills, the trees. There are moon shadows in the crevices in the rock walls. Pieces of moon are floating in the river below the tracks.
The night is alive with shifting shapes and shadows. Trees, telephone poles, a snowplow on a siding - things before unseen - rise, loom large, then dissolve into nothingness. Rocks drift above the river's surface. A railway shack goes sailing by, like a ghostly galleon in a sea of tumbleweeds. Nothing is anchored. Everything is moving about dreamlike in the dim, half-light.
Then, as the train winds down close to the river's edge, the moon itself begins to move.
At first, it is a subtle thing, a slight shifting of position above the hills, something you would hardly notice. But then, as we twist and turn our way down the narrow river corridor, the moon picks up tempo. Swaying in perfect counterpoint to the bends in the railway tracks, it traces great, silver arcs about the sky, circling left, circling right, swinging its bright lantern around with careless abandon. Now it is above the hills. Now half-sunken in the trees. Now it disappears as we enter a tunnel, only to smite us full in the face as we emerge on the other side. Around and around the sky it goes, this capricious night gypsy, kicking stars and moon dust over the hilltops until I am quite dizzy with it all.
Magnificent illusion. That's what it is. The motion of the train on the tracks caught up and made glorious by that ``goddess'' of the night, shining up there in borrowed light. I'm quite in awe of the effect.
But then, is not the moon the mistress of illusion, the greatest source of beguilement since man first began to reason? By how many names do we know it - Diana, Cynthia, Phoebe, Astarte, to name a few. What other heavenly body excites the imagination so? Conjures up so many superstitions? Decorates so much folklore? Undergoes so many probings and proddings by man on earth and still emerges silent, serene, and with its charm and mystery still intact?
In legend, the moon is often the repository of all things broken and wasted on earth - lost dreams, broken vows, misspent time and talents. Up there you will find many an unspoken word, a forgotten promise, an idle moment, stored in precious vases or beneath layers of finest linen, against such time as the moon has need of them.
Perhaps my lost sleep of this night is there now, hanging on a silver hook, awaiting the moon's pleasure.
I don't mind. I don't really need it. I'm quite content to sit here watching as this magical night unfolds. Dawn will come soon enough, bringing with it the clean, sharp edges of reality. For the moment, I'll bury myself in the soft folds of illusion, and let that shining orb complete the dance.