On a standard October morning about an hour before sunrise, Dennis Roth set out on his daily walk from his home off Glade Drive.
The 63-year-old packed his flashlight, but he didn’t need it. The glow of the moon hovering in a clear night sky lit his way. Before long, Roth was sitting on a secluded bench off a path, a place he’s dubbed “the Sacred Grove.”
As always, his gaze drifted upward, his body sliding from a sitting position to laying face up. “I was looking up in the sky and for the first time I saw the moon in that environment,” said Roth, his blue eyes widening, contrasting with his white hair. “I found it the most hypnotic and entrancing sight I’d ever encountered.”
A feeling Roth likens to a meditative nirvana consumed him. “I really felt like I was entering a different world,” said Roth. “The self drops away.”
LATER THAT DAY, Roth described the experience to a friend, Bill Stark, an ex-patriot living in Thailand, as part of a regular email correspondence.
“My reactions to his emails were that they are pure genius and a consistent probe into a world we seem to not notice,” said Stark, a retired lecturer and writer. “I get usually daily contact about what is new in the Reston woods and a ditty or two about the stars.”
As time passed, Roth unwittingly amassed dozens of these emails chronicling and describing his morning walks. “I realized I had the material for a book,” said Roth, which, for the past several months, he has crafted together in book form.
This month, Fithian Press released Roth’s book, “Oozing the Moon: A Sky and Night Woods Guide to the Galaxy.”
The reason for the book is to “let people know there are alternative ways of looking at the sky and re-imagining old myths of the night sky,” said Roth, his arms and hands moving in rhythm with the inflection of his words. “I think they’ll be interested that these types of experiences are possible.”
Roth’s friends have long been interested in his ability to perceive what others might overlook or take for granted.
“He has a unique vision,” said Bob Tonkinson, who has known Roth since graduate school. “‘Oozing the Moon’ is an extension and refinement of his ability to activate perception in new and interesting ways.”
IT’S THE SECOND creative non-fiction book Roth has written. His first, “Rhythm Vision,” was published in 1986.
He’s quick to point out that his path to “Oozing” has not been linear. Just years after receiving his doctorate in anthropology from the University of Oregon in 1974, Roth took a position as a historian with the U.S. Forest Service.
From 1979-1989, Roth was the agency’s chief historian. He wrote numerous articles and book chapters on environmental conservation. In 1988, he authored “The Wilderness Movement.” After nearly 30 years of working for the federal government, he retired in January 2004.
But retirement for Roth has meant the pursuit of a new passion, also centered in nature, which he credits his 28 years living in Reston with his wife.
But Roth admits serendipity led him to a new teacher: assorted views of the night sky, the great cosmic ocean, as he calls it.
From there, Roth has since found countless spots in Reston’s natural wooded areas to hang upside down and swim unrestrained among “oozing celestial orbs.”
WITH SO MANY personal discoveries, from “music of the spheres” to the “space forest,” Roth sometimes finds it difficult to summarize his book.
Roth grabbed a jacket review done by Jules Cashford, author of “The Moon: Myth and Image,” who he barely knows, and read it.
“Hanging over backwards gives [Roth] an upside-down world which frees him from our habitual categories of perception and reveals an enchanted universe,” he said, reading Cashford’s account of his book.
Roth put the review down and smiled. “And, that’s what it does.”