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The Moon

By November 21, 2012November 7th, 2016Adventures

Life isn’t long enough for love and art.
W. Somerset Maugham

I am drawn to the moon. It’s ripening, death, and rebirth effect me profoundly and my disposition swells and ebbs with its cycles.

When I was a young man, I often dreamt of the moon. In one reoccurring dream, I floated in darkness while a soft and distant mixture of sounds became the introduction to Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. As the music swelled I opened my eyes and looked down upon the earth, which glowed in the blackness of space. A warm and gentle breeze seemed to waft up from it and I drifted on this zephyr further and further from my home. As the earth grew smaller, I turned away and looked toward the moon, which now filled the sky. As if in water, I pulled myself through the darkness, toward the light.

The dreams of my youth eventually faded, long since forgotten and replaced by the trivial concerns and musings of a middle-aged man. It wasn’t until a spring night, several years ago, that our daughter, Tommy, gave them back to me.

She was wrapped in her favorite flannel blanket, a corner of it folded over her face to protect her from the cold night air, as I stepped from our back porch to begin the evening ritual of walking her to sleep. I sang softly as I carried her up the darkened street. It was one of our favorite songs.

I’m just a poor, wayfaring stranger… traveling through this world of woe…

I watched our shadow lengthen and eventually fade as I walked through pools of light cast by the streetlights. But, there’s no sickness, nor toil, nor danger… in that bright world to which I go…

As we turned the darkened corner, Tommy began to snore softly.

I’m going there to see my Tommy Girl… I’m going there no more to roam… I’m just a passing over Jordan… I’m just a passing over home.

A new, softer shadow of us was cast across the road. It was more delicate, and slightly warmer. “Moon.” Tommy said, throwing back her blanket and pointing to the east. “Moon!”

And there it was, hanging low on the horizon across the river valley. “Moon… moon!” she said again, looking back and forth between the enormous orange orb, and my soul. I held her as she watched it rise, pointed to it and called its name. Finally, chilled by the night air, she burrowed into her blanket and my shoulder for warmth, and I continued our walk.

“Moon, moon.” I heard her murmur as she eventually drifted off to sleep, and my mind began to drift away on her words. The moon has always had a strange and powerful effect on me, and no matter where in the world I happen to find myself I’m always cognizant of its phase.

Every culture that marks the passing time by the lunar cycle has developed names for the different moons throughout the seasons, and these designations often describe their life and death experiences.

This is March, I thought, and it’s the Worm Moon to the northern woodland Indians. As the temperatures warm and the ground begins to thaw, earthworm casts appear and herald the return of the woodcock, a migrant game bird that is dependent upon them for food. Others tribes know this time as the Crow Moon, when their cawing signals the end of winter. The northern most natives know this difficult time of year, the period between the end of their winter’s stores and the arrival of fresh food, as the Death Moon. Some of the locals, who make maple syrup, call it the Sap Moon. It’s also the time to tie flies in preparation for the coming trout season. The steelhead season opens on the Brule soon, and I’m sure that the guys at Trout Lodge think of this time of year as the Steelhead Moon. From now on I’ll think of it as the Walking Moon, when there’s almost two weeks of waning moonlight, early in the evening, for Tommy to gaze upon as she falls asleep.

Many northern people call April the Pink Moon because of the color of the wild phlox, which is the earliest widespread flower of the spring. This is the time when Shad run upstream to spawn, prompting some costal tribes to name this month’s celestial body the Egg Moon. In my mind, I think of this time as the Wood Pile Moon. It’s always a guess as to whether or not there’ll be enough firewood to heat the studio until it’s warm enough to put a potted fern on top of the old stove. Lisa would probably call this the Seed Moon. She knows full well that it’s unwise to plant anything except root crops before Memorial Day, but she anxiously awaits her packets of garden seeds anyway. If I’m caught up on my commissions and illustration assignments, I might think of April’s moon as the Trout Moon… but that rarely happens.

May is thought of as the Flower Moon among a lot of people, because this is a time when wild flowers are most abundant. Our home usually has a vase of meadow flowers on the kitchen table, so the name fits for Lisa. We can’t quite wait for Memorial Day to get the garden in, so the Planting Moon is another name to include. It’s a great time to trout fish… but you know that story.

June is known as the Strawberry Moon, and rightly so; it’s been a ritual in both our families, for generations, to pick strawberries as soon as school lets out. And, you can bet that any kid worth his salt will eat as many as he puts in the basket! The trout fishing peaks and begins to wind down.

July is often referred to as the Sturgeon Moon since sturgeon, an important fish of the Great Lakes and other large bodies of water, is most readily caught during this month. This is also the Buck Moon. It’s the time when the new antlers of the year show on the bucks in the woods behind the studio. Lisa is always in-tune to the weather this time of year, so she thinks of it as the Thunder Moon. Her father, Dave, is a dairy farmer, and no doubt thinks of it as the Hay, or Sweet Butter Moon. If we were still in Alaska, I’d think of this as the Grayling Moon; the narrows in front of the lodge come alive with them after they’ve dropped down from their spawning creeks to feed for the summer. There’s still some good trico fishing to be had… but I’ll probably be too busy.

The month of August is the lazy time of year, a time between times… the dog days of summer. The natives refer to it as the Fruit Moon, because the wild berries and plums are ripe. I think of it as the Northern Light Moon. I consistently see the best that the Aroura Borealis has to offer during August. The trout fishing is pretty much over until September.

September is a time of anticipation for me; the fishing will soon pick up, grouse and woodcock seasons begin, ducks and pheasants are just around the corner, with deer season to follow. No wonder it’s called a Harvest Moon!

In two years out of three the Harvest Moon occurs in September.Usually the full moon rises an average of 50 minutes later each night, but, for the few nights around the harvest moon, the moon seems to rise at nearly the same time each night, just 25 to 30 minutes later across the U.S., and only 10 to 20 minutes later for Canada and Europe. When a harvest moon occurs, farmers can work by its light late into the night. This is considered the last full moon before winter, and once again, the Wood Pile Moon. It’ll start to get cold in a hurry! Some early Steelhead might be up the rivers, and the lake-run browns will show up soon. The Brook Trout in the little creek behind the studio are emblazoned in their spawning colors.

There’s no doubt in my mind that October’s full moon is the Hunter’s Moon. With the leaves fallen and the deer fattened up, it’s time to be in the woods. There is one day in October when I row my duck boat out onto the marsh under a setting full moon at dawn, and if I can stay the whole day, pick up my decoys in the light of a rising moon that evening. It’s a time to hang a few birds from the eaves of the back porch and invite friends over for a game dinner. I’m sure that Tommy will begin to think of this time as the Jack ‘O Lantern Moon. The fishing seasons close, and it’s time to start thinking about tying flies for Argentina!

November is known as the Beaver Moon; a time to set traps and ensure a supply of thick winter pelts before winter fastens its grip on the land. The duck and goose season winds down and I think of this time as the Hard Core Moon; when just a few friends and I brave the ice and snow for one last bird. It is often referred to as the Frosty Moon. Fishing has just opened in Argentina and Chile and all of my friends will be busy guiding their first clients of the season.

As December 21st is the shortest day of the year, and the nights are at their darkest and longest, this month is often called the Cold Moon. Because, this midwinter full moon is opposite a low sun, and has an unusually high trajectory, it is in the sky for the longest time, prompting some people to call it the Long Night Moon. I like to think of it as the Settling Moon; when I look back on the past year and “settle my accounts”. Next year, I tell myself, I’ll fish more often… pick more wildflowers for Lisa… get the kids out on the marsh more… make enough fire wood so I won’t have to worry in April… lay in enough pheasants to last until summer, and get the garden turned over sooner. I try not to even think about fishing.

January is known as the Wolf Moon. The holiday season is over and people stop buying artwork; hungry wolves howl outside our door and I fear for my family’s survival! I suppose I can always feed them by ice fishing…

February is a quiet month of solitude and contemplation. I think of it as the Patient Moon. I long for spring, yet regret the passing of another winter. I might also call it the Diamond Moon, because Tommy’s blanket will be encrusted with frosty snowflake-gems when our evening walk is finished. I’ll turn another year older this month; that’s something to think about. I look through my fly boxes and determine that not many were used last year.

It was a lot to think about, and we were home from our walk before I knew it. After Tommy was tucked into her bed for the night, I wandered out to the studio to work on a large canvas that labored to find its voice. I had struggled to help it, and although there was an occasional whisper, I couldn’t quite hear its song. It was trapped within the image somewhere… distant, ancient and pure… waiting patiently to be released.

I sat in my chair, looked at the big canvas, sipped whiskey from the old tin cup, and let my mind wander. What was it about the time and place in the painting that needed to be expressed? As hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to solve the riddle that would give this painting its voice, and a life of it’s own. I closed my eyes. “Moon, moon.” Tommy had said as she drifted off to sleep.

I opened my eyes and saw it clearly for the first time, a full moon hanging low over the horizon. The answer had finally found me, and a few brush strokes later the painting had a voice with which to sing it’s song, and its title; “Winter Moon Rising”.

The dreams of my youth had, like most of ours, faded away to be replaced by the cluttered and meaningless worries of adulthood. Tommy and the moon had given a voice to this painting, and in doing so, returned mine to me.

As I drifted off to sleep that night, I dreamt that I was floating in the darkness, and a soft and distant mixture of sounds became the introduction to Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.