All Hail the Micro Moon!

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Last Night’s Moon by Will C. Fry via Flickr

On Thursday, March 5, 2015 the full moon will be present in Earth’s sky. This month’s full moon is a “micro moon”. While the term  “super moon” seems to be widely recognized, its inverse, the micro moon, is less well known. The micro moon occurs once each year, though not always in March. Micro moon refers to a full moon that occurs when the moon is at its farthest point in its orbit from the Earth (known as apogee). The super moon is the opposite – a full moon that occurs when the moon is closest to the Earth (known as perigee). The difference is noticeable to the human eye, though is takes a keen one. Every year the mini moon returns one month and eighteen days later than the previous year. So next year, the micro moon will occur on April 22nd, in 2017 on June 9th, and so on.

March’s full moon has a number of names ascribed to it by the various Native tribes of the Americas. One name is the Full Sap Moon. March’s warmer weather causes sap to begin to run once again in the trees in March. Many Native tribes harvested maple sap each spring, including Minnesota’s Anishnabeg (Ojibway). The March full moon is likewise known as the Sugar Moon, because most of the tribes that collected maple syrup boiled it down until it crystallized, becoming sugar, making it much easier to transport.

From a 1896 European observer:

The season of sugar making came when the first crow appeared. This happened about the beginning or middle of March, while there was yet snow on the ground. This period of the season was looked forward to with great interest, and, as among the Minnesota Ojibwa today, became a holiday for everybody. Each female head of a household had her own sugar hut, built in a locality abounding in maple trees which might or might not have been convenient to her camp, but which was the place always resorted to by her, and claimed by right of descent through her mother’s family and totem. (Prentice, 26)

The March full moon is also the Snow Crust Moon, so called because of the crusty nature of March’s snow – resulting from daylight snow melt, followed by the nighttime freeze. The Algonquins of New England called the March full moon the Full Worm Moon, because in March the ground would thaw and the worms would wiggle out once again.

To me, these names all signal a recognition of the changing seasons that occur at this time of year. While in the northern part of the country, snow is still on the ground and no green is yet in sight, life is returning to the barren winter landscape – the sap is flowing, the worms squirming, and the character of the snow is shifting. Here in Minnesota, with a high temperature of 13 degrees F today, it doesn’t feel much like spring. Walking in the woods, I don’t see much sign of it at all. I am sure that the people who walked this land long before I did were much keener observers of the natural world, though. The one obvious sign of spring is the increase in daylight, of course. Today, we received 11 hours and 21 minutes of daylight, a significant increase over the meager 8 hours and 46 minutes we received back in December on the winter solstice. What signs of spring are you seeing where you live? What would your local March full moon be called?

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