By Coggin Heeringa, Interpretive Naturalist, Crossroads at Big Creek, Inc.
All over the world, people will celebrate on January 6. In many countries, January 6 is called Epiphany or Three Kings Day. At Crossroads at Big Creek, we will celebrate the Full Moon with a luminary-lit hike and a campfire at the Council Ring. Oddly, the celebrations are somewhat related.
Epiphany celebrates the visit of the Magi and in many cultures throughout the world (including our own) people picture this as three kings riding on camels following a star and bringing valuable gifts to the “babe in Bethlehem.”
Religious scholars have debated the details of this story for millennia (this rabbit hole is deep!), but in the Bible, there is no mention of camels or kings or the number of night visitors. The book of Mathew was written in Greek, so when he wrote of the “Magi,” he probably was referring to Zorastrian priests or learned men from the east, presumably Persia (now Iran). Magi studied the stars, which in those days was a combination of astrology and early astronomy. In other words, the wise men were astronomers!
These protoscientists produced sophisticated celestial maps and understood planetary motions. They would have noticed if something out of the ordinary was occurring in the sky. (To this day, astronomers debate what that unexpected light in the sky might have been.) But certainly, the Magi would have known the phases of the moon. And like astronomers today, they probably did not do a lot of star-gazing when the moon was full and its bright light masked all but the brightest stars.
So no, even in the unlikely event that the sky is clear on January 6, the members of the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society will not hold a viewing night. The nights before, during and after the full moon, which happens on January 6, are the worst times for night sky viewing, or for that matter, for studying the features of the Moon. Lunar features are much easier to see in the first and third quarter.
This January, the full moon is a “Micromoon,” the opposite of a “Supermoon.” DPAS members sort of laugh at all the sensationalized media hype when we anticipate a “Supermoon.” To most people (unless they are influenced by the power of suggestion), a “Supermoon” doesn’t look any different than a regular moon. It’s no big deal.
Understand that every 29 days, the Moon orbits the Earth. The path is not circular, but rather, elliptical. Because of this, sometimes the Moon is nearer the Earth than other times. This January, the Moon will be at its apogee – the furthest from the Earth, some 252,600 miles away. And just as a “Supermoon” isn’t a big deal, the “Micromoon” isn’t a big deal either. In any month, the moon just seems bigger and brighter when it is near the horizon, and that actually is an optical illusion.
But whether or not the full moon is visible or how far away it is, the campfire and the luminary-lit walk to it, will brighten your Crossroads evening experience on January 6.
Even in the dark, walkers will see signs that Crossroads is endeavoring to increase our biodiversity. They may see “Restoration in Progress” signs or piles of cut buckthorn and honeysuckle, invasive species we are working to eradicate. But how will we know if our efforts are making a difference? In olden’ times, miners took canaries into the coal mines to warn them of dangerous conditions. Bird populations—rising or decreasing – give us an indication whether or not wildlife needs are being met.
At the Crossroads Bird Club (which at this point is really a lecture series), we will discuss why biodiversity is important—essential!—to birds and why documenting both migratory and breeding birds will help us evaluate our restoration efforts. We also will offer a short presentation on owl courtship, which is a real hoot! This program is for anyone who is interested in birds, and we hope, for folks willing to become involved in our citizen science programs.
The pre-school-aged children who will attend Junior Nature Club at the Collins Learning Center are in for a special treat on Wednesday, January 4. Puppeteer Nancy Hawkins will present “The Princess and the Pea,” and Interpretive Naturalist Coggin Heeringa will talk about forest animal beds.