Our MeetUp group, Get Out Philadelphia Adventure, held a full moon hike at Tyler Arboretum, located in the western suburbs of the city. Gary, who participated in the hike in earlier years, graciously made all the arrangements for our MeetUp event and greeted us as we arrived.
The arboretum had its beginnings in 1681 when King Charles II granted William Penn a tract of land. Thomas Minshall, a fellow Quaker, purchased the land from Penn and established his homestead, while taking care to plant a variety of trees.
As I drove into the parking lot, the moon was just above the trees and shining brightly against the cloudless sky. A display of pumpkins and carved faces greeted me at the entrance. Seems right that a full moon in October must also have pumpkins scattered about.
We gathered in the barn for hot beverages and conversation and met our guides, Rachel Ndeto (on right) and Dick Cloud (on left).
Returning to Tyler Arboretum brought back memories of my childhood. My folks would often take my sister and I out to Tyler for a walk in the woods, which was always a special occasion. We would explore around the pond, the barn and the spring house, peeking in the windows of the stone structure.
Coincidently, I remembered that one of my Dad’s favorite songs was “By the Light of the Silv’ry Moon.”
By the light of the silvery moon
Your silvery beams will bring love’s dreams
We’ll be cuddlin’ soon
By the silvery moon
As we began our walk, Dick reminded us that it takes about ten minutes for our eyes to become accustomed to the low light. He suggested flashlights with green or red filters so that the moonlight would not be compromised. As I started walking past the barn, the ground appeared black and could see very little of what was beneath my feet. Only when the moonlight shone unobstructed, then the ground took on the look like a low-level floodlight as our long shadows followed us up the first hill.
Dick stopped along the way to tell us about the history of Tyler and of the plants. Walking through the nightscape, other senses became heightened. The night air made the scents of the forest strong; and when we passed a grove of katsura trees, the aroma of cotton candy drifted into the damp air. During the Fall, the heart-shaped leaves smell like burnt sugar. Further on the trail, we rubbed the leaves of the Spice Bush, a common understory shrub of eastern forests.
We passed through meadows, the moonlight accentuated the outline of the forest in the distance while dancing over the low grasses. The architecture of isolated trees, such as the dogwood, with its delicate sprawling limbs became vivid against the dark landscape.
Leaves on the trees and shrubs caught the light in delicate patterns. Soaring over 100 feet straight up, tulip poplars stood like sentinels above us, their black silhouettes rising against the moon’s beacon. I tried to concentrate on my footing as we moved along the trail, sometimes slipping on a rolling rock or tripping over a protruding stump, as the leaves rustled with the passing footsteps. Rachel said that logging had stopped in the area in the 1860s, so the poplars could be well-over 125 years old.
We hiked for just over three miles, the path narrowing and snaking along a hillside, then crossing Rocky Run stream several times, discovering Indian Rock and finally returning to the barn for refreshments.
Hiking in the moonlight inspires the spirit of adventure, wandering into the darkness with only reflected light as a guide. Moonlight presents a new way of looking at the forest that cannot be experienced in any other way. With the stars sparkling through the dark canopy of the trees overhead, the cool soothing air of the evening, all is still and quiet with nature on the moonlit night.