Don’t know if you have been watching the moon lately, but it’s been pretty spectacular, even though it’s not even full yet. We’ll see the full Hunters’ Moon rise on Tuesday, Oct. 27.
Got to thinking about the Feast of the Hunters Moon along the banks of the Wabash down near West Lafayette, Ind. the other day, and then last evening the full Hunter’s Moon rose, and it took me back a good many years when we used to head down to the feast every year. But then it became so crowded, it was no longer the fun event for some of us French and Indian War, Revolutionary War and fur trade reenactors it had been back in the mid-1970s. Even so, West Lafayette welcomes in some 40,000 visitors to each year’s Feast.
But back to the full moon. Officially, the Hunter’s Moon is the first full moon after the Harvest Moon, which, in turn, is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox.
Ancient Europeans, Native Americans, and many other peoples had their own names for the full moons that rose roughly once each month in the night sky. The Native American names, especially those given by the Algonquian peoples living east of the Mississippi River, were not only descriptive, but also are good clues about what local tribes were doing during each month of the year.
The year began in January with the full Wolf Moon. Even here on the prairie, wolves were familiar animals (even if the local prairie and red wolves were smaller than their timber wolf cousins), and their howls marked many a winter eve. The mere name “Wolf Moon” evokes snowy, cold nights with prairie wolves howling while families huddled around small but cheery fires in their lodges.
February’s full moon was called the Snow Moon, and, especially here in northern Illinois, for good reason. While February is felt by many to be a spring month, Native People out here on the Illinois prairies knew that it was the time of heaviest. The settlers, like their Indian neighbors, found the month of the full Snow Moon one of the most desolate during the year. As their food supplies dwindled, they saw more and more snow fall, forcing more than one family to leave their pioneer claims to search for food in settlements near and far, illustrating the truth behind the alternate name for February’s food moon: the Hunger Moon.
March finally marks the first beginnings of spring on the prairie. The Native Peoples called it the Worm Moon, or sometimes the Crow Moon. Many also called it the full Sugar Moon. Each of those is descriptive of an important part of Native American life. The Worm Moon denotes thawing ground and occasional warm nights that persuade nightcrawlers out of their burrows for the first time. Also in March, crows forage among the unlucky animals that failed to live through the long winter. And the Sugar Moon denotes the rising of sap that was boiled down during maple sugaring that provided an important part of Native Americans’ diets, not to mention a tradable commodity, both before and after Europeans arrived.
April brought the full Pink Moon or Grass Moon. The Pink Moon got its name because it sometimes looks pink through the rising amount of humidity at moonrise. The Grass Moon is self-explanatory—April is when grass starts to green up on the prairie. Before 1800, that meant the movement of buffalo on the prairie and the Native Peoples’ return from their winter hunting camps back to their permanent village sites throughout the region.
May brought the Full Flower Moon, sometimes called the Planting Corn Moon. On the prairies, April showers really did bring May flowers, thus the derivation of the first of the names. And corn—maize—was so important to the Native American diet that it was the basis for the moon names of three months, with May being the first.
June was the Full Strawberry Moon, marking the time when the tiny, wonderfully sweet, wild berries were picked by the bark bucketful to be eaten fresh or dried for use later on.
July’s full moon was called the Buck Moon or sometimes the Thunder Moon. Male deer are very active during July, and anyone who has lived in Illinois for very long knows the month is punctuated by swift-moving thunderstorms.
August marks the Corn Moon, the second full moon named in honor of this most important crop of the Native People. In late August, the corn harvest began for Native Americans, the small golden ears picked and hung on frames to dry before shelling and storage.
In September, the Harvest Moon shown down on the Fox Valley, marking the season when corn, beans, and squash were harvested and preserved for use during the coming winter months. Some tribes called September’s full moon the Corn Moon, too.
October, as noted above, brought the Hunter’s Moon when deer and other animals were hunted so the meat could be property dried for storage and use during the winter. Some tribes called it the Drying Grass Moon, while others called it the Travel Moon—October was often the month when tribes broke into small family groups that traveled to their winter hunting camps. Oswego was reportedly Chief Waubonsee’s favorite winter hunting campsite.
November marked the full Beaver Moon, the time when beavers wearing their full, lush winter coats could be trapped. “Prime Winter Beaver” pelts represented the principal currency of the fur trade.
December, with its cold weather and short days, not only brought the end of the year, but also brought the Cold Moon. Sometimes the December full moon was called the Long Nights Moon as the yearly cycle ended ready only begin again with January’s full Wolf Moon.
Just as the Fox Valley’s Native American residents once hurried to gather in the harvest each October, so too do area farmers still work hard to get their corn and soy beans harvested before the snow starts to fall. This year, just as it has for thousands of years, the full Hunters Moon is keeping watch over the Fox Valley’s farmers wrap up their harvest from its high vantage point.