The moon, I hear, is rusting. This seems entirely wrong. Nature is meant to be pristine; wet oxygen should gnaw on shipwrecked hulls, carburetors, iron gates, cartwheels. The machines in the garden, the futile artifacts that tried and failed to be powerful. Never the moon.
The Moon stays with us, loyal as a rescued greyhound. It amuses us nightly, winking then swelling to crazy fullness. We link it with lunacy, the thrown-back howl of uninhibited bloodlust, and while we are on that subject, menstruation.
Old farmers still plant certain vegetables by the moon; some even time their haircuts to its cycle. A friend’s great-great-grandfather set the stones for his barn at a certain phase of the moon, hoping it would stand straighter. A century later, it remained at a right angle to the earth. “Land rises and falls like the tides,” my friend tells points out in his defense. I nod, thinking we are talking, what, maybe an inch of shift? Then I come upon a passage by John McPhee: “The sea is not all that responds to the moon. Twice a day the solid earth bobs up and down, as much as a foot. That kind of force and that kind of distance are more than enough to break hard rock.”
We gaze up at an ethereal, distant circle of light and forget what a pull it exerts on us, waxing and waning, hiding and shining forth, tracing an egg-shaped orbit so even the distance between us keeps changing. At its perigee—its closest approach to Earth—we call the full moon a supermoon. And on April 27, we will see the year’s second-largest supermoon, the Pink Moon.
I envision rose gold, more delicate than the orange harvest moon. But “pink” refers to the frilly little North American flowers—native dianthus, also called pinks—that bloom in late April. Spicy and bold, pinks are far more interesting than the Styrofoamed florist version, the carnation that gets shoved into reluctant buttonholes or glued to parade floats. Their jagged edges named pinking shears, their favorite hue named the color, and now they have named the moon.
Every full moon is named—I never knew this, and I feel almost guilty, as though I have slighted them with anonymity. January brings the Wolf Moon, February the Snow Moon, March the Worm Moon. Next month we will see the Flower Moon, then the Strawberry Moon. All of them are rusting.
What little water is on the Moon concentrates at its poles, where there are signs of hematite on the rocks. Scientists only noticed because light was being reflected off those rocks—which meant they were made of different minerals, shiny and metallic. A closer look revealed silvery gray hematite, an iron oxide that won its name because it often turns the color of dried blood.
Hematite is formed when iron is exposed to oxygen and water—and the moon has neither. Oh, a little water and ice at the poles, but compared to Earth? Scientists were thrown. How could the Moon rust without our intervention?
It seems we may have intervened without even realizing it. The surfaces with the most oxidation are those that face Earth. Scientists now think oxygen could be hitching a ride on the Earth’s magnetotail, which trails us like a windsock. When the Moon crosses into our magnetotail, solar winds blow oxygen to its craggy surface.
So we have rusted our moon. Our pride, the place the United States planted its flag back when we were so cocky, we thought we would rule the universe. The place Count Basie flew us to, home of romance. Home of superstition and dark ritual, too, keeping the night mysterious. The Moon has so many moods, we can moon over unrequited love and moon a frat brother for a prank and sail over the moon with delight. So much, we have projected upon that luminous orb. Including the very air we breathe.
Read more by Jeannette Cooperman here.