On my walk this morning I saw this lovely waning half moon, and remembered a conversation after our Candlemas ritual. Most people have no idea how the cycles of the moon work. We don’t learn about it in school. Years ago, when I was in my twenties, I was curious about why I saw the moon sometimes in the evening and sometimes in the morning with different degrees of light and shade. So I investigated. (This was before Google–how did I do that?) I learned that the moon follows a consistent and lovely rhythm. I talk about it in my book Finding Our Way Home.
The moon is always half in light and half in darkness from the light of the sun. When the moon is full, we are seeing the whole of its light side, because the sun and moon are on opposite sides of our sky. The full moon rises at sunset and stays in the sky all night, setting at sunrise. Then, as the days go by, we see less of the light of the moon and more of its shadow, and it rises about fifty minutes later each day, until there is only a waning crescent in the morning just before and after dawn. About two weeks after the full moon, the moon rises unseen with the sun and sets invisibly with the sun. The night is dark. This is called the dark moon or the new moon. Then a day or two later, a thin waxing crescent appears in the western sky just after sunset and sets soon after. Each day it is seen in the evening for a little longer time until we come round to full moon again.
What is sad and funny to me is when fiction writers misplace the moon–for example most recently, I read a line something like this one: “I saw the waxing gibbous moon in the morning light.” The thing is, no one will ever see a waxing moon in the morning light. Waxing moons are only seen in the evening. Am I a nature snob if I want the moon to be accurately represented in fiction? The actual realities of the moon’s cycles are beautiful and magical–like a cosmic dance, which it accurately is. Here is a rather fuzzy photo of a waxing moon, taken about 8 p.m. in April several years ago.