8 – A LITTLE MOONSHINE WITH LEMON
‘Ye Gods, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus…!’
There is a bright moon, so that even the vines make a shadow, and the Mediterranean has a broad white shimmer between its dimness. By the shore, the lights of the old houses twinkle quietly, and out of the wall of the headland advances the glare of a locomotive’s lamps. It is a feast day, St Catherine’s Day, and the men are all sitting round the little tables, down below, drinking wine or vermouth.
And what about the ranch, the little ranch in New Mexico? The time is different there: but I too have drunk my glass to St Catherine, so I can’t be bothered to reckon. I consider that there, too, the moon is in the south-east, standing, as it were, over Santa Fé, beyond the bend of those mountains of Picoris.
Sono io! say the Italians. I am I! Which sounds simpler than it is.
Because which I am I, after all, now that I have drunk a glass also to St Catherine, and the moon shines over the sea, and my thoughts, just because they are fleetingly occupied by the moon on the Mediterranean, and ringing with the last farewell: Dunque, Signore! di nuovo!–must needs follow the moon-track south-west, to the great South-west, where the ranch is.
They say: in vino veritas. Bah! They say so much! But in the wine of St Catherine, my little ranch, and the three horses down among the timber. Or if it has snowed, the horses are gone away, and it is snow, and the moon shines on the alfalfa slope, between the pines, and the cabins are blind. There is nobody there. Everything shut up. Only the big pine tree in front of the house, standing still and unconcerned, alive.
Perhaps when I have a Weh at all, my Heimweh is for the tree in front of the house, the overshadowing tree whose green top one never looks at. But on the trunk one hangs the various odds and ends of iron things. It is so near. One goes out of the door, and the tree-trunk is there, like a guardian angel.
The tree-trunk, and the long work table, and the fence! Then beyond, since it is night, and the moon shines, for me at least, away beyond is a light, at Taos, or at Ranchos de Taos. Here, the castle of Noli is on the western skyline. But there, no doubt it has snowed, since even here the wind is cold. There it has snowed, and the nearly full moon blazes wolf-like, as here it never blazes; risen like a were-wolf over the mountains. So there is a faint hoar shagginess of pine trees, away at the foot of the alfalfa field, and a grey gleam of snow in the night, on the level desert, and a ruddy point of human light, in Ranchos de Taos.
And beyond, you see them even if you don’t see them, the circling mountains, since there is a moon.
So, one hurries indoors, and throws more logs on the fire.
One doesn’t either. One hears Giovanni calling from below, to say good-night! He is going down to the village for a spell. Vado giù Signor Lorenzo! Buona notte!
And the Mediterranean whispers in the distance, a sound like in a shell. And save that somebody is whistling, the night is very bright and still. The Mediterranean, so eternally young, the very symbol of youth! And Italy, so reputedly old, yet for ever so child-like and naïve! Never, never for a moment able to comprehend the wonderful, hoary age of America, the continent of the afterwards.
I wonder if I am here, or if I am just going to bed at the ranch. Perhaps looking in Montgomery Ward’s catalogue for something for Christmas, and drinking moonshine and hot water, since it is cold. Go out and look if the chickens are shut up warm: if the horses are in sight: if Susan, the black cow, has gone to her nest among the trees, for the night. Cows don’t eat much at night. But Susan will wander in the moon. The moon makes her uneasy. And the horses stamp around the cabins.
In a cold like this, the stars snap like distant coyotes, beyond the moon. And you’ll see the shadow of actual coyotes, going across the alfalfa field. And the pine trees make little noises, sudden and stealthy, as if they were walking about. And the place heaves with ghosts. That place, the ranch, heaves with ghosts. But when one has got used to one’s own home-ghosts, be they never so many, and so potent, they are like one’s own family, but nearer than the blood. It is the ghosts one misses most, the ghosts there, of the Rocky Mountains, that never go beyond the timber and that linger, like the animals, round the water-spring. I know them, they know me: we go well together. But they reproach me for going away. They are resentful too.
Perhaps the snow is in tufts on the greasewood bushes. Perhaps the blue jay falls in a blue metallic cloud out of the pine trees in front of the house, at dawn, in the terrific cold, when the dangerous light comes watchful over the mountains, and touches the desert far-off, far-off, beyond the Rio Grande.
And I, I give it up. There is a choice of vermouth, Marsala, red wine or white. At the ranch, tonight, because it is cold, I should have moonshine, not very good moonshine, but still warming: with hot water and lemon, and sugar, and a bit of cinnamon from one of those little red Schilling’s tins. And I should light my little stove in the bedroom, and let it roar a bit, sucking the wind. Then dark to bed, with all the ghosts of the ranch cosily round me, and sleep till the very coldness of my emerged nose wakes me. Waking, I shall look at once through the glass panels of the bedroom door, and see the trunk of the great pine tree, like a person on guard, and a low star just coming over the mountain, very brilliant, like someone swinging an electric lantern.
Si vedrà la primavera.
Fiorann’ i mandorlini—
Ah, well, let it be vermouth, since there’s no moonshine with lemon and cinnamon. Supposing I called Giovanni, and told him I wanted:
‘Un poco di chiar’ di luna, con canella e limone…‘