Friday, May 6, 2016

The Night Side of the Moon

The waning gibbous moon of 24 April, 2016

An attempt to capture the nearly full moon after darkness had fallen.

The 'moon' has figured in several conversations lately. When two young Amish women from a neighboring farm stopped by one evening our talk touched on gardening.  While we lamented the stoniness of our current garden spot, the girls mentioned that in spite of the prevailing rocky soil their family manages a good garden, including a healthy crop of potatoes.

"Do you have them in yet?" Jim inquired.
Lizzie hastened to assure us that potatoes should be planted in 'the dark of the moon' which will occur during the first days of June.

My Grampa Mac would have approved.  I haven't searched through the half dozen of his diaries in my possession to note when he planted potatoes each spring in the sloping patch of ground west of the marsh.  I have only recently discovered that, with the wonders of the internet, I could key in those dates and view a calendar depicting the phases of the moon for that month and year.

Grampa Mac kept the latest copy of The Old Farmers' Almanac on the living room table near his favorite rocking chair [along with the Sears Roebuck catalog and back issues of Farm Journal.]
A farmer lifelong, he drew on an accumulated store of wisdom regarding seasons and weather.  When he consulted the 'almanac' it was likely to verify his own canny predictions, aided by the weather forecast aired each morning on his aging AM radio.

My father, Larry, though not a farmer, was an outdoors-man, fascinated by the shifting patterns of seasons and weather. He too kept an almanac handy, comparing its prophetic warnings with the several thermometers strategically installed at eye level on various outside window ledges.

Growing up a country child, I learned the habit of noticing my surroundings, becoming aware of the subtle changes in behavior of humans and animals as days and weeks and months move through their ceaseless cycles.  Bits of Grampa Mac's weather lore became a part of my own response to wind, rain, heat and cold.

I know very little of astronomy; I don't delve into astrology, sensing that it would be dangerous territory.  I give only a cursory glance at the weather icons which pop up on my google news page. I leave it to Jim with his love of the doplar weather site to inform me that I had better do [or plan not to do!] certain tasks based on the weather about to be upon us.

I watch the moon--not as one who counts the nights between each phase or waits with anticipation for a blessing from the full moon.  The moon is 'full' for only one night in each cycle, but the waxing and waning gibbous moon sheds a luminous glow that draws me outside to marvel time and again.

During the past month I've made frequent evening visits down the lane to fuss over our neighbors' baby goats before they are taken into the stable for the night. As darkness falls, the nannies have still been in the pasture with the three Great Pyrenees dogs who guard them.  
When the moon neared full the dogs barked almost incessantly, rushing to announce our goings and comings, challenging Willis the Cat as he sauntered down the lane.  Their normal concern for the welfare of their herd seemed heightened to a frantic pitch. The goats appeared more than usually mischievous and lively, fired with fractious energy.  Bonny reported that a usually biddable doe suddenly struck out with a swift hoof and knocked over the full container of her milk, splattering the floor, upsetting the other goats awaiting their turn at the milking stand, instigating a cacophony of bleats and indignant caprine shrieks.

Lingering outside at dusk as the moon rose, we remarked on the general restlessness that prevailed. The barking of other dogs rang from neighboring ridges, adding to the clamor of the huge white canines pacing the fence line. Owls hooted nearby, unseen, answered by others in the woods beyond the creek.

At home our house cats behaved as though possessed, galloping up and down the stairs, larruping around the kitchen, skidding through the hall, cuffing at one another, executing  flying leaps across my desk or Jim's, careening on to the sunroom to slump in a snarling welter of tails and paws.

When I mentioned the animal uproar to friend Jay, he diagnosed 'moon madness' and reported that the two sedate old lady cats who live with him and his wife had that very morning stampeded through the rooms 'like elephants', barreling across his lap as he sat watching the earliest daylight bring shimmering color to the meadow below his house.

Was there something particularly intense about the waxing of the April moon?  Did the burgeoning of  green plants, budding trees, the birth of animal young fuse in some mystical way with the lunar force that pulls the  tides and sheds silvered light over field and lane?

As the waning gibbous moon diminished to its last quarter a perceptible calm settled over the dogs, the goats, the cats.  The Pyrenees matron and her two daughters spend the days quietly watching over their goats. They give a woof of greeting and accompany me along the lane on their own side of the fence, grinning, keeping up a low rumble of conversation.
The goats glance at me and return to their browsing.
The cats have quit roistering through the house, content to loll in front of the fire, for the night side of the moon brought cold rain and grey sullen days.

The 'night side of the moon' provides a time of quiet contemplation, a regrouping after the exciting and dizzying responses of human-kind and animal-kind during the compelling phase of waxing moonlight.
Tonight, May 6th marks the new moon.  On this first night there is 0% illumination.

As this new moon waxes toward full, moving through its mysterious and ageless pattern, I will be taking renewed interest in the responses of those around me, observing the resident creatures, the better to deal with the intermittent 'lunacy' which may again prevail. enjoy a moon calendar and learn more about the phases of the moon, visit moongiant at their website.


  1. I never heard of planting potatoes in the dark of the moon. I'd always heard they had to be in by Ash Wednesday. We've already been eating some that we sowed then, but we're getting ready to plant more.
    My cat is silly all the time, can't blame it on the moon. Sometimes she runs around with tail flying, we call it Cracker Cat.

    1. Janet; Planting season varies so much by locality and season I would hate to be tied into a firm date to get anything into the ground. In my native New England Memorial Day weekend was the favored frost safe date for planting the main garden crops.
      Aren't cats amazing? Unpredictable hardly covers it!

  2. What an interesting post. Having grown up on a farm and lived in the countryside all my life, I'm always amazed that some people have no idea what's going on up above them, this even seems to include not noticing when clouds and rain are approaching till it actually begins dropping on them.

    1. John; I wonder if even country-raised children of the current generation detach from their cell phones long enough to take in the nature scene around them, until--as you say--it drops on them.
      Any farming operation of crops and animals is affected by weather and seasons. Since we have to endure it, why not observe and learn--endless fascination!

  3. This is a question for Leanne I think Sharon. She knows lots about the influence of the moon. All I know is ours is coming up soon and my bed is calling me!!

    1. Jennie; I've bookmarked the website linked in my post hoping to learn a bit more about the moon. There have to be human--and animal--responses to the phases of the moon. It has an effect on tides, and warm-blooded creatures are said to be comprised of water [not that I comprehend that] so, there we are--subject to moon madness!

  4. I enjoyed this post exceedingly! How much alike we are. I could have written this paragraph: "Growing up a country child, I learned the habit of noticing my surroundings, becoming aware of the subtle changes in behavior of humans and animals as days and weeks and months move through their ceaseless cycles. Bits of Grampa Mac's weather lore became a part of my own response to wind, rain, heat and cold."

  5. Barbee: How nice to hear from you again! I can't imagine any child being 'bored' in the country. I am so blessed; not only in where I spent my childhood, but because I was surrounded by those who quietly taught me the habits of observation and wonder.

  6. Thank you. Happily, for some reason, my comments have begun to work after a few years of leaving me out of the loop. What a relief.

    1. Barbee; Computers and the internet can be very frustrating! When ours go down we feel quite out of the loop.