… the Harvest Moon, that is. We have all had the experience of driving east on a local road, to be confronted by the huge, wonderfully large and yellow harvest moon – just coming up – which appears about to crash into the earth and roll along the road towards us, flattening the car. An hour or two later, it is floating serenely high in the sky, making us think, Whew! That was a close one – but we’re safe for another year.
To spoil the magic, here comes the explanation for this phenomenon: the harvest moon is the full moon closest to the autumn equinox. A shorter than usual rising time between successive moon rises around this season, means that the plane of the moon’s orbit round the earth makes a narrow angle with respect to the horizon in the evening, and this low-hanging moon appears larger and more colourful.
In olden days, humans regarded the full moon with superstitious dread: the cause of madness, and werewolves. Across a background of the full moon, witches rode their broomsticks and wolves howled.
Nowadays, we know scientifically that the moon really does affect many aspects of our life here on earth such as the tides in our oceans. A man has walked on the moon, and jumped high in his heavy clothing, giving us a practical demonstration of the moon’s gravity, which is about one-fifth that of the earth’s. More recently, scientists, watching the arc of large bodies from space most likely to hit the earth, have used the moon as a marker. They track only those passing between the moon and the earth.
But enough of the facts … So much has been written, and songs sung, about this mysterious appendage to the earth. Its name happens to rhyme with June, the month of weddings and honeymoons (there’s that word again). Couples linger romantically by the light of this, our planet’s only satellite. Some people reading this now, will remember the old song that says: “The moon belongs to everyone, the best things in life are free”. My favourite quotation comes from the inimitable Walter de la Mare. It is from his poem, “Silver”, beginning:
The first time I became aware of the moon – I mean really noticed it – was at the age of five, on a holiday to Japan where we visited a local family with a house along the beach from ours. Here comes a quotation from an account I wrote:
now the moon
Walks the night in
her silver shoon;
This way, and that,
she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon
The Japanese greet us ceremoniously with many bows. They pass tea and different kinds of little cakes, fruit and sweets from person to person. The adults don’t ignore me but treat me with great kindness and respect. … It is a wonderful way to end the day.
When the sun is setting the men remove one side of the room overlooking the sea and we enjoy the glorious sunset. As we talk quietly the bright colours of the evening sky gradually darken to blend in with the sea. This is a holy time. The family calls this their sunset-viewing room.
Then we move to another room where we lounge on futons and eat more little cakes with tea. This time the men have removed part of the ceiling and I gaze up at the black velvet sky with its millions of stars. We never see this in the city, but with no lights on outside, the stars shine out quite clearly. They seem so near that I could stretch out my hand and pick a few.
After a while we all lie with our heads on hard rolled pillows. There is a kind of ringing silence. I wonder whether we’re supposed to go to sleep, and sneak a look at the others. But no, they’re still looking at the sky. I look back up. And then it happens; sailing slowly across our window in the ceiling comes the large yellow lantern of the moon.
There is a collective, soft “Ahhh …”