The Full Buck Moon

The Full Buck Moon

This year, July is ushered in by a full moon. July’s full moon has a number of different names attached to it by the indigenous tribes of North America. American Indian moon names are typically descriptive of seasonal happenings that occur around the time of the full moon. So, the July full moon was known by some tribes as the Buck Moon, because in July male deer (bucks) began to regrow their antlers. The family and I actually spotted a couple of deer today while out walking in the woods, though they scampered back into the brush before I had a chance to see whether they had any small, velvetty antlers emerging from their noggins.

Look at this cutie.  Photo by Larry Smith via Flickr.
Look at this cutie.
Photo by Larry Smith via Flickr.

Another name attached to the July full moon is the Thunder Moon, as frequent thunderstorms appear at this time of year. Here in southern Minnesota, we receive on average 40 or more thunderstorms each year, many of them in July. While most tornadoes occur earlier in the spring here, July can bring thunderstorms which carry the risks of flash flooding and damage from straight line winds. For example, on July 23, 1987 Minneapolis received a whopping 9.15 inches of rain in just six hours, setting a state record for one-day precipitation. This followed another storm just 72 hours earlier that dropped 4 to 9 inches over the same area. This deluge caused massive flash flooding throughout the region. In Minnesota Weather Almanac, meteorologist Mark Seeley writes, “Roads became rivers; storm sewers spouted like geysers. All Twin Cities watersheds flooded.” Thunder Moon seems apt.

Another name I saw commonly listed as a July moon name is “Hay Moon”. July is the month in which hay is ready for harvest – to be cut, dried, and stacked. I can’t think of this process without recalling Tolstoy’s Constantine Dmitrich Levin at work in the hayfields beside his serfs:

“He thought of nothing, wished for nothing, but not to be left behind the peasants, and to do his work as well as possible. He heard nothing but the swish of scythes, and saw before him Tit’s upright figure mowing away, the crescent-shaped curve of the cut grass, the grass and flower heads slowly and rhythmically falling before the blade of his scythe, and ahead of him the end of the row, where would come the rest.”

Harvesting Hay Camille Pissarro [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Harvesting Hay
Camille Pissarro [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
One element of the name “Hay Moon” gives me pause, however. While many American Indian tribes were productive agriculturists, hay is not a crop that I associate with them. Hay is grown is used as fodder for livestock, which American Indians didn’t keep. I’m thinking this moon name must have either arrived with European agricultural techniques or, perhaps, was a name never used by American Indians at all.

In Minnesota, we have very short summers. The old joke goes, “Sometimes summertime in Minnesota falls on July Fourth, and sometimes it comes on another day.” The beginning of June is often still chilly, and the last week of August may bring harbingers of fall. But, July! It’s really summertime! If you are an American schoolkid, last school year was a distant memory and the next isn’t even on your horizon yet. When recalling the Julys of my childhood, I think of fireworks, running through sprinklers, popsicles, cook-outs, swimming in lakes, and camping. Classic Midwestern American summer. I think I’d call July the ‘Water Moon’, because of all the lazy summer days spent in lakes and pools.

My kiddo enjoying the season of the Water Moon at the local creek.
My kiddo enjoying the season of the Water Moon at the local creek.

I’ll end with a surprise twist…July 2015 actually has two full moons. That’s right. One tonight on the first, and a second on the 31st. The second one goes by another name…a blue moon. I’ll write about that later this month!

So, how are you spending your July? Scything any hay? What name would you give to the July full moon based on your location and lifestyle?

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Long Night Moon

photo by Sigurd Rage via flickr
Full Moon Over Oak by Sigurd Rage via flickr

At 7:27 on the morning of December 6th, the moon will become, for an instant, full. Then, it will begin its steady process of waning once more toward the new moon. The December full moon has a number of traditional names attached to it. It is variously called the Long Night Moon, the Cold Moon, and the Moon Before Yule.

The Long Night Moon is quite an appropriate appellation for the December full moon. This full moon occurs close to the winter solstice – the longest night of the year. Moreover, because the moon rides high in the sky at this time of year, it is visible above the horizon for most of the night. Here in Minneapolis, the moon rises at 4:23 pm on December 5th and doesn’t set until 7:25 am on the 6th. That is just over 15 hours of full moon; Long Night Moon, indeed! A good night to be a werewolf or just a plain lunaphile like myself!

If you are here in Minnesota, the sky is perfectly clear across the state tonight and the weather is mild (relatively speaking) – step outside and get a glimpse of the Long Night Moon! If you miss it on Friday night, it will look just as full on Saturday night, so try again then!

The Moon Halo

Upon stepping outside this evening, I was greeted by an unexpected sight: a gibbous moon surrounded by a large ring of light. This phenomenon is referred to as a ‘moon halo’. The appearance of a moon halo is purely an optical effect. Moon halos may appear on nights when there are very high thin clouds (cirrus clouds) around 20,000 feet. These clouds are filled with tiny ice crystals. The ice crystals act like prisms refracting and reflecting the light, thereby creating the appearance of a halo around the moon.

There is a folkloric belief that a moon halo is a sign of an impending storm. This actually turns out to be mostly true. While cirrus clouds do not bring rain or snow themselves, they are often the forerunners of the low pressure systems that do bring precipitation. Another belief is that the number of stars within the halo indicates the number of days until the bad weather arrives, though this one doesn’t seem to hold much water, as you might imagine.

The moon halo was an unanticipated and beautiful sight. It is easy to get so involved in our days and busy lives that we miss these little gifts that are all about us if we just take the time to look around (or above in this case). Looking up at the shining halo around the moon tonight, I felt very fortunate to be there to see it and to have the time to stand out in the cold evening with my little son just gazing upward.

I took some bad pictures on my phone that I won’t make you suffer by posting. Fortunately, there are a number of better photos of moon rings available from Wikimedia Commons:

By Radoslaw Ziomber (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Radoslaw Ziomber (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
If you’d like to see some very impressive photos of both lunar and solar halos, visit:

http://earthsky.org/space/what-makes-a-halo-around-the-moon

When have you witnessed unexpected moments of beauty in nature?

Sarah Josepha Hale: The Activist Who Gave Us Thanksgiving

By painted by James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As school children, most of us were taught the traditional story of the first Thanksgiving celebrated by the pilgrims in 1621. However, what happened to the holiday in the subsequent years is a story often left untold. Following the first Thanksgiving in 1621, celebrations of Thanksgiving were irregular and disunited. Days of celebration and thanksgiving for the harvest occurred in the fall throughout the colonies, taking place anytime from late September through early December. Thanksgiving was most commonly observed in the New England colonies of Pilgrim stock, and less so in the south.

It took almost 250 more years for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday fixed on a specific day (then the last Thursday of November, now the fourth Thursday of November). Without the advocacy of writer and editor, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, Thanksgiving may well have slipped silently into the past as so many of our seasonal holidays have.

Sarah Josepha Hale was an autodidactic New Hampshire mother and writer. She wrote a much celebrated novel about slavery, published in 1827, after which she was offered the editorship of a women’s magazine, The Ladies Magazine and Literary Gazette. She was the first female editor of a magazine in the U.S. From her post as editor of this highly successful magazine, she petitioned her national audience in support of many civil, social, and patriotic causes, including women’s education and the establishment of a national Thanksgiving.

Starting in 1846, she began her advocacy work toward making Thanksgiving a national holiday. Over the next 17 years, she would write thousands of letters, petition five different U.S. presidents, and publish numerous articles in her magazine all in support of creating a national holiday of Thanksgiving.  Hale hoped that the establishment of a shared national day of Thanksgiving might prevent the outbreak of war between the increasingly fractious North and South. “There is a deep moral influence in the periodical seasons of rejoicing,” she wrote, “in which whole communities participate. They bring out…the best sympathies in our natures.”

Hale finally found an ally in President Lincoln. She wrote him many letters and eventually visited him in person at the White House. Three months after the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln ordered a proclamation establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November. In his proclamation, Lincoln wrote:

And I recommend to them, that while offering up the ascriptions due to Him for such singular deliverance and blessings, they do so with humble penitence…commend to His tender care those who have become widows, orphans, or mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, and Union.

Although possibly influenced by Hale, Lincoln’s motivations for the establishment of a national Thanksgiving were likely complex. Godfrey Hodgson, author of A Great and Godly Adventure: The Pilgrims and the Myth of the First Thanksgiving, contends that the proclamation was, “…probably motivated by the need to maintain the civilian morale of a Union whose ultimate victory might now be inevitable, but where the costs and travails of the war were bitterly discouraging. Lincoln was always acutely aware of the connection between civilian morale and military victory in a great citizen army, and he was particularly sensitive to the moral sensibilities of the New England Christian intelligentsia and to that New England Protestant tradition from which, after all, the nation owed Thanksgiving in the first place. The decision to make Thanksgiving a national holiday illustrates the two sides of Lincoln’s genius: the moral prophet and the shrewd politician.” Whatever the motivation behind Lincoln’s proclamation, Hale’s influence on the President, local governments, and everyday Americans was instrumental in forging the idea of a national day of Thanksgiving. And that is something we can all be thankful for.