Over the past week if you were fortunate enough to be outside after sunset and not get thoroughly eaten alive by vampiric winged creatures you may have observed the fiery red disc of the September “Harvest Moon.” Traditionally, the Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the Autumnal Equinox and more often than not it falls in the month of September. As the name implies it normally occurs during the peak agricultural harvest. It is also somewhat unique in that the time difference between moonrise on successive evenings around the equinox is shorter than usual (almost by half). Consequently, there is no long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise. This also applies to the October full moon which is often called the “Hunter’s Moon.”
Before the technological age of calendars, moon phases were used to track time including when to harvest crops and when to set trap-lines in preparation for the long winter ahead. Farmers in the Northern Hemisphere would look forward to the moonrise at this time of the year because it provided more evening light after sunset in which to engage in winter preparation activities.
Part of the Harvest Moon’s mystique is that it seems bigger and more colorful than other full moons. But, what appears to be a larger than normal size, is really just a trick of the eye as a result of the moon’s low-lying stature in the sky. The color is also just an illusion created by the atmospheric particles the light is being viewed through while the moon is lower on the horizon.
I always find the rise of the Harvest Moon somewhat bittersweet. On one hand I look forward to deep blue skies with warm afternoons which sometimes seem to instantaneously blend into chilled starlit nights and mist-filled morning meadows. I also revel in the smell of oak leaves as they rustle in the fall breeze or on the path under my feet. On the other hand, I become saddened by the disappearance of the flitting hummingbirds and the migrant birds I have become so accustom to. Silence now replaces the frequent vocalization of the predatory hawk and great blue heron, the song of the Eastern oriole and the squawk of the red-winged blackbird. This is when I acknowledge that too soon everything will again be buried under a cold blanket of snow. Even then I am still enamored by this time of year in New England and wouldn’t trade it for all of the sun and sand in the world. So, take into consideration the lyrics from folk/rock artist Neil Young and make some time to “go out and feel the night.”
But there’s a full moon risin’
Let’s go dancin’ in the light
We know where the music’s playin’
Let’s go out and feel the night.
– Harvest Moon by Neil Young