Last night, a hour or so after darkness laid claim upon the land, I stood in the yard and watched a moon as shiny and round as a newly minted silver dollar come slipping up through the tangle of leafless maples to the east. The trees line the high ground uphill from the cottage—and for a while, the rising moon seemed to get slowed by the interlaced branches.
I wanted a picture, but I had to be patient for another half hour, until the bright moon finally rolled above the skeletal treetops…and then I had to hurry, because not far above that narrow band of clear night sky, a thick wadding of altocumulus clouds, like thousands of cotton balls laid upon a glass ceiling, waited to hide the light again.
Last night's full moon was known for centuries by Europeans as the Hunter's Moon. They brought the name—along with their traditional Feast of the Hunter's Moon—to these shores. Here, as it had in the old countries, hunters seeking to bag migrating birds found the bright moon, during waxing and waning, furnished sufficient shooting light for several nights in a row. Non-migratory game was also quite active under this natural nightlight, and could be chased with dogs. Such matters were of great importance—not because of sport, but survival.
Several tribes of American Indians also called this moon by a similar name in their own language—and for exactly the same reasons. The moon extended the hunting time with its bright, useful light. For all northern people, red or white, this big full moon came at an ideal time to stockpile and preserve a much-needed supply of meat to help see them through winter.
The Full Hunter's Moon receives its designation from the Full Harvest Moon, which is the first full moon closest to the autumnal equinox. Just as the Full Harvest Moon might occur in either September or October, the Full Hunter's Moon can happen in October or November. Since lunar months average only 29 days in length, full moon dates shift from year to year. (Incidentally, when the Full Harvest Moon comes in October and the Full Hunter's Moon in November, that September moon is called the Full Corn Moon.)
Some Indians knew this full moon as the Beaver Moon. This moon marked the best time to set beaver traps in swamps and marsh areas in hopes of catching plenty of beaver before the onset of winter. Beaver have warm, water-shedding fur—now in its prime condition—and also a lot excellent meat which can be smoked and jerked. The tanned furs, fashioned into beaver-skin robes for outerwear and bedding, were often the crucial difference between living and dying in the northcountry.
I eventually got my photo. Afterwards, ambling back to the cottage, I took a few more minutes to watch the moon's reflected light scatter and sparkle in the river's murmuring riffle. The old moon names don't mean much to us anymore beyond a bit of quaint folklore. We have lost our connection to land and season. Many would be surprised to learn it is the earth, not civilization, that sustains us. How long can a species, so crippled by ego and ignorance, survive?
However long or short that time may be, the Full Hunter's Moon will keep rising in the east, setting in the west—shining it bright clear light on whatever remains.