SHINE ON, SHINE ON, STRAWBERRY MOON
Over me and my gal . . .
In the late 1980s, I was irrationally fond of the poetry of Mary Oliver.* I read her collection Twelve Moons and may even have discussed it in a paper I wrote during my second stint in graduate school in English. The collection includes a poem titled “Strawberry Moon.” I have completely forgotten the poem, and I long ago sold all of my volumes of Mary Oliver.
Recently, I saw on Facebook a mention of the upcoming “strawberry moon.” So I went out last night and photographed it, using my 127mm (five-inch) Meade AR5 LXD75 achromatic refractor and my Samsung NX300.
The photograph actually shows the moon just a bit past full. The right (east) limb falls off into shadow; the left (west) limb is sharply delineated.
A photograph of the full moon can be visually interesting. But it contains less information than photographs of the moon at other phases. When the moon is full, it’s much harder to see features on it, as the light is shining directly onto it. At other phases, some portion of the moon is lit from the side. Features cast shadows, and it’s easier to pick them out. When the moon is full, it’s as if it’s lit by a flash from directly in front of it. And photographers know that on-camera flash generally provides very poor results.
Back to the term “strawberry moon”: Perhaps it’s true that this name (like “buck moon” and “beaver moon” and “cold moon” and the like) derives from a genuine tradition–allegedly an Indian (Native American) tradition.** Perhaps so; perhaps not. The sources I found on the Internet connected the names of the moons to the names of the months. Perhaps the names of the moons are authentically Indian–but the names of the months most definitely do not derive from Indian traditions. Thus, to say that the Algonquin Indians called the June’s full moon “the strawberry moon” makes one of my eyebrows assume a skeptical shape.
Nevertheless, if there’s a bandwagon somewhere, I’ll lumber my aging, overweight body in its direction and propel myself aboard it.
Thus, here you have it: my Strawberry Moon, shinin’ down, over me and my gal . . .
* “Irrationally” because I later decided that Oliver’s poetry is generally vapid, clichéd. I reached this conclusion after reading Blue Pastures (1995). A friend gave me the volume, probably in 1995, after learning that I was fond of Oliver. I hadn’t read anything by her since Dreamwork (1986), which I read sometime in 1988 or 1989.
I read Blue Pastures and wondered whether Oliver’s skill had suddenly departed her. Then I went back and dipped into her earlier volumes, most of which I owned. The works in those collections had transformed themselves. They had been insightful, quietly eloquent; now they were almost mawkish, lacking in any essential music.
I don’t know what changed my perception of Oliver. I had spent most of the intervening years editing scholarly books and teaching freshman composition at a local community college. I had also written an entire novel (still unpublished–and unpublishable) and about two hundred pages of another (still unfinished, and destined to remain so). I had changed profoundly in those few years–for the better, I think.
** Yes, I use the term “Indian.” Many Indians (or “American Indians”) consider the term “Native American” problematic, as it suggests that they are equivalent to other hyphenated Americans (Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, etc.). Indians consider themselves rather different, as they have an older claim to the land. And, of course, if we want to avoid using one faulty term–“Indian”–it makes no sense to substitute for it another equally faulty term–“American.” Neither of those terms derives from Indian culture.
Generally speaking, Indians prefer to use (of course) their own national or tribal names: Ojibwe, Chippewa, Nisqually, Quinault, S’Klallam, and the like. When speaking more generally, they tend to use “Indian” or “American Indian.”
In 1998, I published a paper in a law review about Indian law: Dan Gunter, “The Technology of Tribalism: The Lemhi Indians, Federal Recognition, and the Creation of Tribal Identity,” 35 Idaho L. Rev. 85 (1998). In that paper, I wrote a trifle about the use of the term “Indian.” Note, too, that “Indian law” is the proper name of the field. No one writes about “Native American law.”