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Daily Bread: Blame it on The Moon

Full Buck Moon over Mount Hood from Larch Mountain.

Photo by Peter Marbach
Full Buck Moon over Mount Hood from Larch Mountain.

They say there is a first time for everything.

As a lover of full moons and believer in its power to affect the entire ecosystem of the body, I normally prefer to be a lone wolf high in the mountains when the moon rises full. Witnessing July’s Full Buck moon come up over Illumination Rock on Mount Hood was nothing short of spectacular. But standing on Larch Mountain, shoulder to shoulder with a crowded pack of humans all barking in joyful unison was a surprisingly delightful experience.


Peter Marbach

Since the beginning of recorded beliefs about the impact of the moon on people, much credit has been given to the “lunar effect,” from everything to the ocean tides, animal behavior, anxiety and the madness that arouses the soul, heart and mind. Lunatic and lunacy stem from the word Luna, the name of the ancient Roman moon goddess. Aristotle blamed mania on this moon goddess. Perhaps our dark age ancestors passed on the moon-induced erratic behavior gene. One theory suggests the bright light of the moon kept people awake, so blaming things on the moon is not a new concept.

Scientific studies don’t back up the lunar effect. Yet science can’t prove the existence of God, but millions of followers of organized religion believe it to be true. Some things just defy explanation. I cannot imagine living without the acceptance of mystery as fact.

The influence of the moon in my life didn’t really come into play until choosing the path of photography as a way of life. In recent years, the anticipation of each month’s moon has brought a mixed bag of joyful anticipation or a dread of the stirring of painful memories. Moonlight, like poetry, has the power to both lift your soul into a sublime state of arousal or exile you into a forest of inescapable melancholy. Where you head is at and what is happening in your life impacts the result.

To truly explore the magic and mystery of the lunar effect, you need to go deep into the wild. Gazing at the moon for a few moments from your deck with a beer doesn’t count!

Most years I intentionally plan my summits of mountains around the time of the full moon. As I lay in my tent at base camp I can feel the overwhelming sense of a shift in energy and alertness as the full moon begins to rise. I can feel the blood coursing through my body with such a force that I don’t even try to get any sleep. As I ascend, the snowfield reflects a million little moon stars under an ethereal midnight blue sky. When my head is clear and free of lowland distractions, the ascent is almost without effort. But when my heart is heavy, and the way forward with my life is unclear, a moonlight climb can be tortuous. There is no hiding from yourself under the tractor beam of a full moon.

In July 2015, with a passion for life renewed, I stayed up all night, under the influence of the Full Buck Moon illuminating my camp in a hidden wildflower meadow. I wandered with glee from ridge to ridge, staring at a landscape transformed into a surreal painting. But in the same place in July 2016, the night passed unbearably slow with the moon creating a surge of unforgiving, deeply personal dark thoughts of loss and uncertainty in my life.

In November of 2010, when I was struggling to come to terms with the facts that my mother would soon pass away, I turned to the moon for a moment of healing. I wandered into the low water of the Columbia River beneath Cape Horn and watched with silent awe as the moon rose at dusk over a calm river and fading space blue sky. As the tears flowed, I felt a sense of peace and acceptance.

As an experienced witness to countless moon rises in the wild, I know that the best day to shoot the moon rise is the day before the predicted full moon. It takes anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes for the moon to appear at mountain height level. You also get the additional gift of light lingering on the land to include in your composition.

Three days before July’s full moon, I was on assignment in an old growth forest near the summit of Larch Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge. When my work was done, I ambled up the quarter-mile path from the parking lot to a public viewpoint of five Cascade mountain volcanoes, with Mount Hood dominating the skyline. Having studied the pending full moon angle, I knew it might rise just to the right of the summit skyline and made plans to return the following evening. When I arrived, there were just two photographers readying for the moment. Just as the moon began to appear, a thin band of clouds blocked it. We patiently waited as there were gaps in the cloud bands, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

But persistence often rewards those willing to try again. The following evening, I made plans to return. Halfway to the trailhead I was stuck behind a very slow driving tourist, clearly unaware that the driver behind them was already bursting with full moon focus, so when a straight section of the road appeared, it was pedal to the metal to arrive with minutes to spare. But what was a scene of tranquility the night before was now a mob of dozens of people on a small viewpoint. Undaunted, I surged forward, and wedged my tripod into the front between two understanding shooters. And suddenly there it was, rising right over the top of Illumination Rock. Though the last breath of sunset light had faded from the western flanks of the mountain, a small forest fire on nearby Mount Adams warmed the moon just enough to add detail and color.

I may never share a moment like that again with such a big crowd, but it was a beautiful thing to witness so many people pulled into the awe and mystery of the power of a full moon.

When that that celestial orb is next full, try and get to a wild place, spend the night, and let it take over your senses. Expect the unexpected to happen. Howl, dance, wander and dare to dream big.

“It is the very error of the moon. She comes more near the earth than she was wont. And makes men mad.”

— William Shakespeare


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