Oak Duke: Looking up at the moon

Oak Duke

The harvest moon used to be an important annual event. But now, hardly anyone speaks of it.

Yet the big, bright, shining moon came up over the eastern horizon at about 8 p.m. Sept. 15 this year, whether anyone took notice or not. Maybe someone, somewhere accidentally glanced up for a moment through the windshield at a sudden and surprisingly bright light.

“What’s that light? Oh, it’s the moon.

“Gosh, it’s bright. …weird.”

The moon and other celestial events:

- Do not happen in our computers.

- Do not happen on the TV screen or the car’s radio.

- Do not happen on any of the millions of cell phones.

- Do not even happen on the iPod.

They happen in the outdoors. But there are still some who still see the moon and are looking at it anew.

The harvest moon is the moon that is closest to the autumn equinox, which is also considered the first day of fall. This year the harvest moon was Sept. 15, and the autumn equinox was just a week later on Sept. 22.

So what, what importance is there now to an antiquated notion like a moonrise?

Before clocks and global positioning satellites, those that knew how could tell what time it was and where they were located by the moon. Explorers used a sextant and other similar instruments that measured angles. And they charted distance.

There’s a bit of an irony because even today, our communication and entertainment devices are still dependent upon orbiting satellites: tiny, complex, but nonetheless, little metal moons that fly around the earth, just like that big rock 240,000 miles away.

The moon of course is much more than a source for mere technology and measurement. The moon has a spiritual element that has added so much to our lives, from romance and love to spooky times on Halloween.

The moon is a symbol of Halloween, like black cats, witches and skeletons. Under the light of the moon, mushrooms grow and weird and scary things can happen.

Maybe the two different ways that we have traditionally looked at the moon are not so far apart. While the moon has been used as a navigation tool, explorers and scientists were seen looking at the moon all the time. And one risks being moonstruck.


Here are the some of the more serious definitions: afflicted with or exhibiting irrationality and mental unsoundness; brainsick, crazy, daft, demented, disordered, distraught, dotty, insane, lunatic (notice the moon reference, luna means moon,) mad, maniac, maniacal, mentally ill, off, touched, unbalanced, unsound; and even wrong.

Oh no, not wrong! Next time you disagree with someone, instead of telling that person that they are simply wrong, it might be more effective to say, “You’re moonstruck.”

And we even have a legal term for moonstruck: non compos mentis.

But even more than all that, the moon is used by outdoorsmen, hunters and fishermen since the dawn of time to determine fish and game movement in correlation with moon position.

Hunting magazines post the evidently popular sol-Lunar tables, and they have their proponents and disciples who wouldn’t leave home for the woods or water without it.

But as the moon rises, there are new theories on animal behavior being researched and studied. One would think that the old moon had been studied and used for so many different types of thought and ideas, there wouldn’t be any real estate left.

What can we say about the moon that hasn’t already been said? What can we think about the moon that hasn’t already been thought?

Wildlife science, by studying photoperiodism, defined as the functional or behavioral response of an organism to changes of duration in daily, seasonal, or yearly cycles of light and darkness now factors in the moon.

And once more, as strange as it may seem, researchers are looking up at the moon for even more and different new answers.

Oak Duke is publisher of the Wellsville Daily Reporter. E-mail: