A New Season Falls into Place

September is the ninth month of the Gregorian calendar, but the month’s name is derived from septem, Latin for “seven,” which was its position in the early Roman calendar.

September is the month of the Autumnal Equinox which occurs on the 22nd at 9:03 PM. Is it always on September 22nd? In the Northern Hemisphere, the autumnal equinox falls on September 22 or 23. In the Southern Hemisphere, the equinox occurs on March 20 or 21.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the equinox is when the Sun crosses the celestial equator going south. In the Southern Hemisphere, the equinox is when the Sun moves north across the celestial equator.

Today we move into autumn, also known as fall in North American English. Which word do you tend to use? The origin of “autumn” and “fall” for the season is interesting. Did you know that at one time (and still in some places) the season is called “Harvest?”

This transitional period from summer to winter is when (unless you’re in the tropics) daylight becomes noticeably shorter and the temperature cools considerably. This is best known as the time when the leaves of deciduous trees change colors as they prepare to shed. Early predictions for Paradelle here in the northeast is that a lack of rain this summer will mean a less-than-spectacular color foliage show.

Temperatures now seem to switch between summer heat and winter chills, but that is true only in middle and high latitudes. In equatorial regions, temperatures generally vary little during the year, and in polar regions, autumn is very short.

The Chrysanthemum Moon of September

Most of the time, what we see as a Full Moon isn’t perfectly full. We always see the same side of the moon, but part of it is in shadow, due to the Moon’s rotation. Only when the Moon, Earth and the sun are perfectly aligned is the moon 100% full. That rarer alignment produces a lunar eclipse.

The September 10, 2022 Full Moon is often called the Harvest Moon (an Anglo-Saxon name) and it is fullest at 5:59 a.m. EDT. Technically, the Full Moon known as the Harvest Moon is the one closest to the September equinox around September 22. The Harvest Moon is the only Full Moon name determined by the equinox rather than by a calendar month. In most years, it is in September, but around every three years, it falls in October.

Actual crop harvests, such as corn, have nothing to do with Full Moon names though. The name Corn Moon is the version of harvest that a number of Native American tribes called this month’s Moon. The Celtic and Old English names include two harvest names – Wine Moon and Barley Moon – and also Song Moon.

The September Full Moon is sometimes called the Chinese Chrysanthemum Moon and it coincides with the Mid-Autumn Festival – also known as the Moon Festival. As with the British Midsummer Eve, September 10 is not mid-autumn in America as the autumn equinox won’t even arrive until the 22nd. But in my part of the U.S., this is when you start to see chrysanthemums blooming both in the ground and appearing at stores. They are often in autumn colors and used as decorations. Florist mums are not hardy in Paradelle, so even if you plant them, they will not make it through the winter, so we most commonly see them in pots or transplanted for the season around homes. I have associated mums with autumn since my childhood as our garden had a row of them in orange, bronze, red, purple, white, and yellow.

Mums at the garden center

Moon Festival for Autumn

Illustration by Grace Lin
from her book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

The “Moon Festival,” also known as the “Mid-Autumn Festival,” or “Mooncake Festival,” is the second most important festival in China after the Chinese New Year. Celebrations include worshiping the moon, lighting paper lanterns, and eating mooncakes. The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th of the 8th lunar month in the Chinese calendar around the autumn equinox, but the date varies in different parts of the world and on different calendars. Chinese people will enjoy a 3-day break from September 10 to 12. Here it will be celebrated by most people on September 10, which is also the September Full Moon. Our Harvest Moon is a similar marking of this time of the seasons.

I will attend one of tea expert Selina Law‘s festival celebrations locally. She shares customs and stories about the holiday and provides samples of different types of tea and mooncake.

The Mid-Autumn Festival originated from the Chinese attention to and worship of celestial phenomena. It evolved from the worship of the Moon in autumn in ancient times when ancient Chinese emperors offered sacrifices to the Moon in autumn to pray for a good harvest in the coming year.

This is a traditional festival celebrated in Chinese culture and similar holidays are celebrated in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and other countries in East and Southeast Asia.

There are numerous varieties of mooncakes consumed within China and beyond. The type I knew when I was younger is the Cantonese mooncake which my Chinese friend would give me. is the most famous variety. Typically, a Cantonese mooncake is a round pastry with a rich thick filling usually made from red bean paste or lotus seed paste. It has a thin, salty, egg crust. It is cut into small wedges, accompanied by tea.

Some of the other festival traditions are certainly things anyone can participate in this weekend. Traditions include: reuniting with the family over a meal, paying closer attention to the Moon, making and lighting colorful lanterns, giving small gifts, and sometimes drinking a special liquor, such as cassia or Osmanthus wine. I have yet to try that drink though I looked again this week for it, unsuccessfully, in stores.

Thanking the Moon, written and illustrated by the award-winning and prolific author Grace Lin. It would be a good read-aloud book to let children know about the holiday and possibly about another culture. It is the story of a Chinese-American family celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. They have a picnic in the moonlight with mooncakes, pomelos (the largest citrus fruit and an ancestor of the grapefruit), cups of tea, and colorful lanterns. Everyone sends thanks and a secret wish up to the Moon. A moonlight picnic sounds like an excellent family (or couples) activity for this weekend.

Crescent Moon

Woodcut of Sun and Moon (Nuremberg Chronicle)

We are into the Waning Crescent phase of the Moon which occurs between the last quarter and new Moon phases. In the Northern Hemisphere, we see the Moon’s left side lit and the right side in darkness. The lit area slowly shrinks each day, covering less and less of the Moon’s surface until it looks like a very thin crescent on the left side.

About 30% is lit this weekend with what we call “moonlight.” But there is no moonlight – only sunlight reflected off the Moon’s surface.

The whole Moon will be in darkness at the new Moon phase and another lunar cycle will begin.

Waning Crescent Moons rise in the east between midnight and sunrise and are highest in the morning. It sets (yes, just like the Sun) rather invisibly between noon and sunset.

Even this phase of the Moon has its lore, though the Full and New Moons tend to get more attention. One of the many lunar superstitions is that the first time you see a crescent moon for the month, take all your spare coins out of your pocket, and put them in a different pocket in order to ensure good luck for the next month. Clearly, this belief came from a time when people carried coins in their pockets instead of credit cards and a phone.

Some other Crescent Moon connections:

  • A crescent shape is a symbol for this lunar phase and it is sometimes called the “sickle moon.
  • In Hinduism, Lord Shiva is often shown wearing a crescent moon on his head symbolizing that he is timeless and the master of time.
  • The crescent is also used as the astrological symbol for the Moon.
  • It is the alchemical symbol for silver.
  • It was the emblem in mythology of Diana (Artemis) and represented virginity.
  • In Christianity, it is associated with the Virgin Mary.
  • Because it was used as a roof finial in Ottoman-era mosques, it has also become associated with Islam.

A Flying Up Full Moon of August

The Full Moon for this month will be on August 11. To be precise the Moon goes officially 100% full at 9:36 p.m. ET. (That’s 01:36 GMT on August 12.) But if I have a clear night in my neighborhood, I’ll walk outside and look up at it when I have the chance.

You usually hear this August Full Moon called the Sturgeon Moon, but that really only applied to places like the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain where this big fish was easiest to catch at this point in summer.

Sturgeon are very strange prehistoric-looking fish and rightly so as they have been traced back to around 136 million years ago.

Secretary bird leaves treetop nest.Secretary bird leaving nest  – via Flickr

This year I chose the Flying Up Moon, a Cree term for the Full Moon that was used to mark this time when young birds seemed to be ready to leave the nest – the Flying Up Moon.

But those fish are pretty interesting. The word “sturgeon” means “stirrer,” and that is what this giant fish does to the muddy river and lake bottoms as it looks for food. The females require around 20 years to start reproducing, and they can only reproduce every 4 years – but they can live up to 150 years. They are not exactly the same as in prehistoric times when they were the size of bass. There are more than 20 species and some can get to be the size of a small car (about 10 feet).

sturgeon

I saw a sturgeon once in my home state of New Jersey in the Delaware River. That is the habitat of New Jersey’s only endangered fish species. It was a shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum) and big, but not compact car big. The ones in NJ were fished almost to extinction in the past centuries because caviar is made from the roe (eggs) of different breeds of sturgeon.

A more likely Native American name for this month in the land of Paradelle would be Corn Moon which was used by the Algonquin and Ojibwe. Depending on what tribes were in your part of America the name might have been Harvest Moon (Dakota), Ricing Moon (Anishinaabe), while the Assiniboine people named this period Black Cherries Moon, referring to when chokecherries become ripe.


Walking on the Moon

I remember watching Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong set foot on our Moon on July 20, 1969. I was in high school but it was summer vacation so all of my friends had been outside being teenagers. But everyone went home to watch the astronauts.

I went home before 3 pm EST because that was supposed to be when they would be landing. I looked it up today and Apollo 11’s Eagle lunar module landed at 20:17 GMT (3:17 my time) and then Neil Armstrong (who was closest to the door) was the first man to step on the Moon.

They landed in an area known as the Sea of Tranquility. When his feet touched the ground Armstrong spoke words that would become famous: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” He later said that he had actually said “That’s one small step for a man” but the audio cut out and the “a” was lost.

Buzz Aldrin called for a moment of silence shortly after the landing to give thanks for their survival. I read today but I don’t recall that he took communion with a wafer and a tiny chalice of wine.

Aldrin stands on the Moon
Aldrin on the Moon in a photo by Armstrong, who can be seen reflected in Aldrin’s visor. NASA Image and Video Library, Public Domain

Buzz Aldrin grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, not far from my hometown. In 2016, his hometown middle school in Montclair was renamed Buzz Aldrin Middle School. I was the poet-in-the-schools person there for a few years. Students knew a bit about him – astronaut, Moon landing – but almost nothing about the actual landing or the space program. When I told them about watching the landing, they looked at me as if I was time traveler. I must be as old as their grandfather.

A teacher there told me that when they did the dedication Aldrin came to the school for an assembly and was kind of cranky and a bit “inappropriate” in his remarks to the pre-teens. Hey, he had been on the Moon!

The video from the Moon landing was not very good quality by today’s standards but the idea that it was coming from so far away made it amazing. Most people today still have no real understanding of how that picture appears on their Tv screen whether it travels by antenna, cable, or from their phone.

I have to shake my head and wonder about people who still doubt that we ever landed on the Moon. There is something in humans that seems to be attracted to conspiracies and doubt. My favorite crazy theory is that director Stanley Kubrick did 2001: A Space Odyssey the year before. One source claims that Kubrick initially declined the offer, only relenting when NASA threatened to out his little brother as a member of the Communist Party. Knowing what I do about Kubrick, he would have had a hard time shooting bad video because he was so demanding as a director.

That theory (which came mostly from one person and one book he wrote called held that Kubrick spent 18 months on a soundstage shooting the footage for the Apollo 11 and 12 Moon missions. Hey, in his 1980 film The Shining, the boy does wear an Apollo 11 sweater at one point. The 1978 film, Capricorn One, is about a journalist who uncovers a government hoax about astronauts landing on Mars. That prepares us for how they will fake the Mars landing one day.

I still look in wonder at the Moon most nights and it still seems incredible that we can send a spacecraft to the Moon or Mars. And how about that a telescope is now orbiting around the Sun at a distance of nearly 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth and sending back amazing photos of stars and planets? Using the JWST, we will be able to capture extremely distant galaxies as they were only 100 million years after the Big Bang – which happened around 13.8 billion years ago. We will be able to see light from 13.7 billion years ago. That must be fake too, right?

The “Phantom Galaxy” NGC 628 as seen by the James Webb Space Telescope NASA/ESA/CSA/STSCI/JUDY SCHMIDT

Crossposted from the One-Page Schoolhouse website