Contributor: Kari Skaflen
Photographer: Madison Cline
We gasped as it first appeared with an otherworldly glow along the horizon line. The undulating orange orb clung to the tree tops. It hovered, unmoving and almost as though it was alive, breathing quietly, observing the earth up close instead of from its usual distance. The colors were alive with warmth; the light contouring the slope of the prairie was like a match against the straw. This was the Harvest Moon.
We were gathered to watch the Moon for good reason. It’s only once a year that a moon like this smears its vivid light across the landscape in the early twilight. This is the full Moon closest to the autumnal equinox—the epic Harvest Moon.
The normal pattern of the Moon is to rise later by roughly 50 minutes each night. The Moon’s orbit carries it east each night. And each day when the earth turns toward the moon, it has moved a few degrees east. It takes slightly longer for the Moon to appear upon the horizon each night.
But the Harvest Moon rises nearly the same time each night for several nights in a row. According to the Old Farmers’ Almanac, “Because the Moon’s orbit on successive nights is more nearly parallel to the horizon at that time, its relationship to the eastern horizon does not change appreciably, and the Earth does not have to turn as far to bring up the Moon.”
At this time of the year, the Moon is also at its northernmost. In the Northern Hemisphere, the further north a star or the Moon appears in the sky, the longer the distance it will visibly travel. This explains the largesse of the moon as it appears in the sky, shedding extra moonlight that was traditionally a great help in harvesting crops. The Harvest Moon is the only Moon where there is no darkness between sunset and the rising of the Moon.
The vibrant orange and flaming pinks of the Harvest Moon are caused by light from the Moon moving through a larger than normal amount of atmospheric particles.
A Harvest Moon also figures into other cultures as a sign of harvest, or festival. The Chinese celebrate the Festival of the August Moon. It’s named the August Moon because of a slight calendar difference for the Chinese. The festival is celebrated with games and sweet mooncakes. In ancient Scandinavia, the Harvest Moon was considered to be the most powerful Moon of the year.
My friends and I sat perched on our deck chairs, in awe as the night’s Moon lazily climbed crimson in the night, while the sky around it darkened in color making for an even more vivid contrast. Watching the Moon cast its annual magic is an inspiring display. Think about checking out the Harvest Moon this year. It will be full on September 16.