The mooning of old farmers, and fall tradition

I hope everyone took a moment to step outside last night around sunset and, despite terrorists and West Nile mosquitoes, enjoy the spectacle of the Harvest Moon.

If not, you can still enjoy it tonight and for the next couple of evenings just after sunset thanks to the beautiful fall weather and clear skies we've been experiencing.

Harvest Moon, besides being a pretty good Neil Young tune, is the full moon nearest the fall equinox. It normally falls in September which is when the equinox occurs, but celestial clockwork and terrestrial calendars don't always line up, sometimes leaving the other 11 moons of the year out of sync.

Even though the Harvest Moon is arguably the best known of the year's full moons, each full moon of the year actually has a name. The names usually were given because of the occurrence's proximity to some event although I have yet to come up with an adequate explanation for why the full moon in March is called the "Worm Moon," according the Old Farmer's Almanac. I'm not even going to speculate on November's "Beaver Moon."

Actually, of the 12 moons of the year (a 13th in a year is a Blue Moon) only a few of the names actually seem appropriate. The rest sound more like they were made up by old farmers who spent way too much time watching woolly worms and whether cows faced south before sitting down to write their almanacs.

December, for instance, is the Cold Moon. I can buy that. Likewise February, the Snow Moon, and May, the Flower Moon. But January, the Wolf Moon? Did an old farmer editing his almanac look out his window one day in the dead of winter and see starving wolves devouring his neighbors and think, "Yeah. Wolf Moon. That works."

But what about August, the Sturgeon Moon? July, the Buck Moon? Or April, the Pink Moon? Was there an old farmers convention in San Francisco that month?

And why do we stick with such antiquated nomenclature? Maybe it's time we got some young farmers in here. Even so, I don't suppose there would be a huge groundswell of support for renaming the fall moon Keith Moon for the rock drummer who died in September. Or June, a big wedding month, for Rev. Sun Myung Moon, known for his propensity toward mass marriages.

But the Harvest Moon, even as romantic as it sounds, is outdated since it stems from an astronomical burp that once aided farmers.

The moon normally rises about 50 minutes later each night except around the time of the equinox. During the fall equinox in the Northern Hemisphere - that's us - the moon rises only about 30 minutes later each night.

There also is a pronounced "moon illusion" when the moon is low on the horizon that stems from visual cues in the foreground making the moon seem bigger although it's only actually grown by a couple of lunar modules and some golf balls in the past million years or so.

But the full moon at this time of year was a great advantage to farmers gathering their harvests in the past because it gave them a little extra light in the evenings. Trying to install headlights on a pair of oxen back then usually just resulted in running from a ticked-off ox. In the dark.

With the advent of big, air conditioned combine machines equipped with powerful headlights and wet bars, the Harvest Moon now serves that function in name only although I can think of at least one other endeavor where the extra light of the Harvest Moon might still come in handy.

Military maneuvers.

Marty Russell is senior reporter for the Daily Journal .

Recommended for you

comments powered by Disqus