Next Sunday, October 4 is the Harvest Moon. As most of you know, the Harvest Moon is the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox. This moon has also been called the Wine Moon, Singing Moon, and Elk Call Moon. Those other names must have originated in parts of the world where they didn’t grow much for crops. Here in the breadbasket of the world, “Harvest Moon” rules.
That big orb is going to look humongous. Actually it’s the same size it’s always been. A full moon close to the horizon always looks larger than when it is further up in the sky. The phenomenon has been well studied, and is known as the “moon illusion.” Even at that, it’s still hard to accept. Some people will also say that the harvest moon is brighter and more golden than other full moons. Wrong again: More illusion.
Those harvest moons were pretty important during those early days. I suppose there aren’t many people who can remember harvesting without the benefit of headlights. But if you put it into historical perspective, more crops have probably been harvested without headlights than with them. The harvest moon was probably the best thing before sliced bread, or certainly headlights! Now of course, many crops are harvested before the equinox.
There is another interesting aspect to the harvest moon. The moon generally rises about fifty minutes later each successive evening, but around the autumnal equinox it rises only about thirty minutes later each day. I’m not quite sure why it works out that way, but the harvest moon really does provide an unusually large amount of light during the early evening hours.
The harvest moon hasn’t become insignificant though. It still seems to elicit our sense of wonder and jogs our memories of days gone by. That might be through making us muse about harvests of our childhood, or perhaps wondering who the singer was that made “Shine On, Shine On Harvest Moon” so popular back in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
Take a little time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the Harvest Moon. It’s both interesting and evocative. Who knows, if it’s a quiet evening you may even hear the faint melody of someone in the distance singing “shine on harvest moon, for me and my gal.”
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.