Harvest Moon


“Oh, Shine on, shine on harvest moon

Up in the sky;”

Those were, of course, the opening lines of the chorus of Shine on Harvest Moon, the popular song from the early 1900’s.  I will leave the rest of the song to you, but I suspect few among us known more than a few lines of the chorus.
The harvest moon is coming up next Thursday, October 5.  As some of you know, the Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox.  As such, it may occur in September or October.  And of course, this is harvest season, so the harvest moon was named because it rises around sundown and thus provides extra light for harvesting.

The harvest moon may confuse a few casual observers this year.  The last full moon in September sure looked like the harvest moon. It rose around sundown and gave off lots of light when some of the small grains were being harvested.

But the full moon closest to the equinox this year was not the one in September.  The autumnal equinox occurred on September 22.  The full moon in September came on the sixth.  But the full moon coming up on October 5, is a few days closer to the equinox.  It comes 13 days after the equinox, while the full moon in September was 16 days before the equinox.  So September loses by 3 days!  I suppose if we were diplomatic about it we could call them Co-Harvest Moons this year.

Full moons were used by early civilizations to mark the year.  All sorts of things were attributed to full moons, ranging from werewolves looking for victims to causing temporary insomnia.  We do not believe in werewolves anymore, and Lon Cheney Jr. passed away back in the 1970’s.  But I must admit that the light of the full moon coming through the bedroom window never seems to help me get to sleep at night.

One aspect of the full moon, does however, remain popular.  Ask most bartenders if people’s behavior gets a little bizarre during a full moon and they will probably answer in the affirmative.  And consider the words lunacy or lunatic.  The etymology is a reference to the moon, and it sure wasn’t a new moon.  But the research on correlating human behavior with the full moon is mixed at best.

But one aspect of the full moon and human behavior is certain.  Full moons are great times to take a closer look at moon’s surface.  So get out a pair of binoculars and take a look.  And if you are so inclined, there are several maps of the moon on the internet that can help you identify the Sea of Tranquility and other features.

Chuck Lura

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.

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