July 16, 2019
Tonight, the full moon casts a soft glow over the fields of Corvallis, making shadowy figures out of the trees and shrubbery on the outskirts of town. On other parts of the planet, eyes are dining on a partial lunar eclipse, watching as the moon’s surface slinks into the Earth’s shadow.
This Saturday, humankind will unite in celebrating 50 years since men first planted a flag on the moon’s surface. Almost a century prior, in 1879, Thomas Edison introduced the first street lights in New York. A century and a half later (25 years ago), emergency centers during in the 1994 Los Angeles blackout were swarmed with reports of a mysterious cloud in the sky – otherwise known as the Milky Way. The sight had been lost to the densely populated city for so long due to light pollution. It had become unrecognizable. Today, light pollution renders the Milky Way invisible to 80 percent of Americans and one third of people worldwide.
Images of Earth come in blues and greens. It took me a few tries to find any proof of our planet’s lit up landmasses from outer space via a Google search. I don’t remember where I was when I first saw that lit-up version of Earth, but I remember feeling a mixture of shock, horror, and grief.
Research shows how light pollution disrupts the biochemical ebb and flow of Earth’s species and ecosystems, especially for species that flourish and reproduce at night. Mock orange, jimsonweed, and common evening primrose are all Pacific Northwest night-bloomers. Day blooming nectar flowers such as honeysuckle and flowering tobacco create stronger aromas at night, attracting pollinators like sphinx and tiger moths, traveling long distances to transfer pollen between flowers – sometimes spanning the length of over nine football fields.
Moonlight is also deeply entwined with marine life. Many species of crabs and fish have mating and feeding cycles in sync with lunar alignments. Plankton, migrating chum salmon, and newborn rabbit fish move differently depending on the moon’s phases. Another creature that embodies lunar magic is the bobtail squid. Smaller than a human palm, these squid emerge from their sandy hiding spots at night to prey on shrimp and worms, using bioluminescence to blend in, by mimicking the stars and moonlight filtered through the water – thus effectively erasing their shadows to predators on the prowl.
The moon’s most dazzling aquatic dance happens once a year under a full moon in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Over 130 species of coral are simultaneously triggered into a spawning frenzy due to a perfect combination of water temperature, moonlight, and day length – as masses of sperm and eggs are ejected into the ocean. Increasingly, the coral is losing territory, as climate change continues to bleach the reefs at an alarming rate.
In many indigenous cultures, moon lodges were made for women to harness the energies of the moon during menstruation. Tribes saw this as a sacred time for purification. Scientists today say the connection between lunar and menstrual cycles lack sound evidence, given how much womens’ cycles vary. A typical menstrual cycle lasts between 24 and 38 days, while the lunar cycle spans 28.9 days. I have a sneaking suspicion that all the hormonal pills, shots, and devices implanted in women these days, combined with other imbalances like overexposure to artificial light, are largely to blame for a lost synchronicity with the lunar cycle. Scientists now link overexposure to artificial light with negative health effects such as higher risk of diabetes and obesity, disturbed sleep patterns, a weakened immune system, and muscle loss.
A prophecy passed on by one Kalapuyan shaman told of a green Earth ploughed black. Later, white settlers arrived with technologies that would eventually lend way to the industrial revolution, which allowed for humanity’s mass extraction of the Earth’s materials – choking out green with concrete, and blotting out the stars and moonlight.
The moon is the keeper of our climate, anchoring the Earth’s axial tilt with its gravitational pull. Without it, Earth would tilt a full 10 degrees every 10,000 years, causing cataclysmic cycles of ice ages and extreme heat, a circumstance uninhabitable to life as we know it.
Recent interviews with astronauts in anticipation of our 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing illuminate humanity’s incessant drive towards colonization. Hopes have been raised that we will someday populate Mars and build on the Moon. Perhaps that would be alright, if we first learned how to live sustainably on Earth – if we faced our dark side, embraced the moonlight, and reclaimed our balance.
Instead of take, take, take – what can we give, give, give?
By Stevie Beisswanger