Randy Wise (left) and Steve Tiessen shove off with their canoe into Perch Lake near Sawyer, Minn. as they begin a day of wild rice harvesting. (Bob King, for the News Tribune)
Wild rice is called manoomin or the “good berry” by the Native American Ojibwe people who live in northern Minnesota. When it ripens in August and September members of the local tribe head out into the rice beds in canoes and use cedar sticks called knockers to harvest the grains. While one person guides the canoe, the other uses one knocker to gently bend the stalks while tapping the seed heads with the other. The loosened grains tumble into the hull. Later, they’re toasted and the husks are removed to ready the rice for cooking.
Something as delicious and culturally important as the wild rice harvest seems the perfect choice for the August full moon, which also goes by the Sturgeon Moon, named for another traditional Native American harvest that occurs this time of year. Officially, the Full Ricing Moon occurs at 10:58 a.m. CDT, August 3, but it will be 99.6 percent full tonight and the same tomorrow night, essentially giving us back-to-back full moons.
Tonight’s moon will rise a little before sunset and tomorrow’s a little after sunset. To make sure you don’t miss either one click here to find your moonrise time. Last month’s full moon underwent a penumbral eclipse. This month it will miss Earth’s shadow and shine brightly all night from Capricornus the sea-goat. Capricornus is a faint, spacious constellation to the east (left) of Saturn and Jupiter.
The moon looks sticky as it rises over Lake Superior during a recent full moon. The bright arc below the moon is an inferior mirage. (Bob King, for the News Tribune)
I do three things at every full moon:
- Find a flat horizon to see the moon as close to rising as possible. Like you I enjoy the distortions and colors caused by the atmosphere. These are especially striking when the moon is very low. Only then does our gaze penetrate the bottommost, thickest layer of the air, where the scattering and refractive powers of the atmosphere are strongest.
- Bring a camera and tripod. Weird things can happen at moonrise. The atmosphere can pinch the moon’s sides or slice off its top and bottom. Mirages can even metamorphose a rising moon into an orange mushroom cloud. I love watching and photographing these sometimes unexpected variations in its appearance. You can also use a cell phone to get nice photos of the moon and landscape within 20 minutes of moonrise, the time when moonlight and dusk-light are nearly equal.
- Take along binoculars, the better to see these lovely colors and distortions.
A delicate lunar fogbow, similar to a rainbow but formed by fog, arcs across the northern sky on July 7. The waning gibbous moon was at my back at the time and shining in the southern sky. The brighter part of the bow are the two “stumps” on either side at the tree tops. (Bob King, for the News Tribune)
There’s something magical about catching the moment of moonrise — a bead on the horizon that becomes a line, a bean and finally a disk, changing color throughout. There are so many micro-moments during its transformation from point to circle it can be hard to keep up. That’s why I keep going back … moonrise after moonrise.
If ground fog develops overnight and the sky remains clear, turn around and look behind you. You might just see a lunar fogbow. Fogbows form the same way as rainbows. Light is refracted by water droplets and then reflected back to your eyes. Because fog droplets are extremely tiny compared to typical raindrops the light we see is nearly colorless. The best way to spot a lunar fogbow is to keep the moon at your back and look for a faint arch of light low in the sky. The ends of the arch are often a little brighter, so you may notice them first.
Wild rice, full moon, fogbows. Each season brings fresh, new connections to the sky.