Columns » Eva Hayward

Minding—and mining—the moon

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From his front porch, my neighbor excitedly tells me that the crescent moon—"as perfect a crescent as you'll ever see"—will be close to Venus at dawn.

The moon is a talking point across differences: porches, neighborhoods, sometimes even politics. Why does the moon bind us so? A legacy of the space race, with the Soviet Union and the United States rocketing dogs, chimps and humans into orbit?

The First Man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, died Aug. 25, reigniting our sci-fi dreams as the Curiosity rover gingerly touched Martian rock. Moon rocks retrieved by Apollo 11 gave rise to the Giant Impact Hypothesis, that the moon was formed from the debris of a cataclysmic encounter of Earth and Theia, a Mars-size planet. But even more than that, the moon has helped to shape our imagination, language and bodies. Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker/ Wherever you're goin', I'm goin' your way, sings Louis Armstrong.

Just after 6 a.m., there it is, 239,000 miles from Earth, the moon. Broken milk bottle, a silvery trout in mid-jump: this crescent moon, like the moon most nights, is both a beacon and a sentinel, a reminder of our own place in the universe. We are spinning through the expanding dark of space-time.

Perhaps because the moon is our unavoidable link to outer space—to our place in space—it mirrors our fantasies, our inner space. Inhospitable to life, the pockmarked surface of the moon grows bumptious in our imagination. Lunacy, Latin Lunar for moon: Moon madness is a viral part of popular thought, like Freud's unconscious. Sensible people will say "It must be the full moon" to describe disturbances in their own life. Not scatterbrained planning, but the mood-swung force of the moon.

The lunar effect, or sometimes called the "Transylvanian hypothesis," is a breeding ground for monsters and apparitions. Nosferatu is a night creature, but the werewolf is a moon beast. From the wolfish body, the flexing volatile energy of the full moon draws out primal urges. That which is human about us walks back through our own animal door. And now, Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series attempts to rein in the dark appetites of vampires and werewolves, cross-stitching Mormon theology with the lunar effect.

We are all moonstruck, drawing down its power. Poet Alice Oswald describes, "Yes this is the moon this hurrying/ Muscular unsolid unstillness/ This endless wavering in whose engine/ I too am living." (If you love poetry, run out immediately and order A Sleepwalk on the Severn from your local bookstore.) The moon takes shape in our bodies. From the absurd: The moon mount, in palmistry, is a fleshy pad below the pinky and above the wrist—the seat of emotions. In the 1980s we moonwalked with Michael Jackson. His scintillating sequins and equally glistering tones still have us mooning. And who can forget moonboots? Mine made Vermont winters gayer.

The moon pulls at the tides, just as it pulls at our language. At 6 a.m., standing in my front yard, looking up at it, I breathe in a resuscitating breath. Breathing is tidal, and breathing is central to the moon, as it is to a poem. I see the moon, the moon sees me. Does the Curiosity rover see Earth and the moon, white and blue, calling to each other in the quiet of space?

My neighbor, ever the elementary science teacher, continues, "You know the Full Harvest Moon is on the 29th of September and the Full Hunter's Moon is on the 29th of October?" No. He insists that I get the Farmers' Almanac, "or you could borrow mine if you'd like."

Harvest or Hunter, the moon is an archive, not only of our past metaphors and cultural projections but also of our future selves. Despite Newt Gingrich's failed bid for presidency, along with his promise, "By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon. And it will be American," plans are under way to mine the moon for its resources. The moon's abundance of helium-3 could be used as fuel for nuclear fusion, while, according to several media reports, its raw materials could be turned into "the water, oxygen, building materials and rocket fuel needed for human space exploration." There has also been discussion about establishing a supercomputer and accompanying radio dishes on the moon as the "first phase of lunar industrial and settlement development." Political worries about a moon monopoly are already at play.

How will a harvested moon affect our dreams, our breath and our poetry? Whatever the answers, these questions make phantoms and poltergeists seem a bit provincial this year. Instead of going as ghost or troll, my Halloween costume will be a lunar prospector. Now, how am I going to hot-glue a space helmet to a business suit?

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