Chief Moon Time

In the Bras d'or Lake Bio­sphere Re­serve

The Victoria Standard - - Environment - AN­NA­MARIE HATCHER

In the Mi’kmaw cal­en­dar, De­cem­ber is Chief Moon Time (Ke­sikewiku’s). The Mi’kmaw word breaks down to ‘win­ter moon’ but the ad­jec­tive ‘Chief’ de­scribes a De­cem­ber full moon that is 14% larger and 30% brighter than full moons dur­ing other months. The ‘Su­per Moon’ will hap­pen when a full moon is clos­est to Earth as it trav­els on its el­lip­ti­cal or­bit. On Dec. 3 of this year, the moon will be 12% closer to the Earth than it will be at its far­thest po­si­tion on Dec. 19. The sun plays a part in this De­cem­ber drama too. The Earth is clos­est to the sun in De­cem­ber, mean­ing that the grav­ity of the gi­ant star pulls the moon and the Earth a lit­tle closer to­gether. Be­cause of this ef­fect, the largest Su­per Moons hap­pen dur­ing De­cem­ber, ‘Chief Moon Time’. This year in the Bio­sphere, the Su­per or Chief Moon will be com­pletely full just be­fore noon on Sun­day (Dec. 3) but will be clos­est to the Earth on the next day (Dec. 4) around 5:00 a.m. Su­per Moon view­ing should be op­ti­mal on Sun­day night. Let’s hope for good weather and clear skies!

Dur­ing this moon time, we wel­come win­ter (Mi’kmaw: Ke­sik) on the sol­stice (Dec. 21) - the short­est day of the year. If we have a sunny day, you may no­tice that your noon time shadow is the long­est that it has been or will be all year. This is be­cause the noon sun is at its low­est point above the hori­zon. So, on Dec. 21, go for a walk on a trail in the Bio­sphere at noon to ac­quaint your­self with your shadow at its best. Take a mo­ment to re­flect. In Mi’kmaw cul­ture, your shadow con­nects you with your an­ces­tors.

If you could travel back in time to live along­side your an­ces­tors in the Bio­sphere many thou­sands of years ago, you would not rec­og­nize the place! Af­ter the glaciers re­treated (10,000 to 12,000 years ago), the land base of Cape Bre­ton Is­land was much larger than it cur­rently is be­cause wa­ter lev­els were about 15 me­tres be­low present lev­els. The ocean was much colder then so your sum­mer diet would have been sim­i­lar to that en­joyed in present day Labrador. You and your an­ces­tors would prob­a­bly be feast­ing on po­lar cod, wal­ruses, seals and prob­a­bly cloud­ber­ries. There would not be oys­ters on the menu!

From the re­treat of the glaciers un­til about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, the Bras d’or Lakes were small fresh wa­ter lakes or ponds con­nected to the At­lantic Ocean by long river sys­tems. Wa­ter lev­els ranged from 10 to 55 me­tres be­low present as the earth’s crust re­bounded from the weight of the glaciers. You and your an­ces­tors would have es­tab­lished sum­mer en­camp­ments in many ar­eas that are now un­der the salty waves of the Bras d’or es­tu­ary, but were then on the shores of fresh­wa­ter lakes and ponds. The Mi’kmaw name for the Bras d’or es­tu­ary is ‘Pitu’paq’, which means ‘wa­ters flow­ing to­gether’ - a cul­tural mem­ory of an ear­lier time when the Bras d’or wa­ter­way was a se­ries of fresh­wa­ter lakes. Sum­mer ma­rine en­camp­ments would have been on land that is now up to 38 km off­shore at the bot­tom of the ocean. Ar­ti­facts from hu­mans of that early time have been dragged up by off­shore trawlers on George’s Bank, which would have been an is­land in the dis­tant past.

Dur­ing a pre­vi­ous pe­riod of global warm­ing, the ocean tem­per­a­ture climbed to about 2.0 o C above cur­rent lev­els. This oc­curred dur­ing the ‘cli­matic op­ti­mum’, about 4,000 to 7,000 years ago, and co­in­cided with ris­ing seas flood­ing Pitu’paq and form­ing the Bras d’or es­tu­ary. At this time, warm wa­ter species in­vaded the es­tu­ary from their more southerly homes. Sev­eral of these species have be­come per­ma­nent res­i­dents, ex­ist­ing in the pock­ets of warm wa­ter of shel­tered, pro­tected Bras d’or in­lets. That pre­vi­ous pe­riod of global warm­ing brought the oys­ter to the Bras d’or, which might have been a sta­ple in your sum­mer diet if you lived some­time be­tween 4,000 years ago and the present time. What im­pres­sions do you think that your an­ces­tors might have if they were trans­planted to the Bio­sphere as we know it to­day?

Dr. An­na­marie Hatcher is a con­sult­ing ecol­o­gist and a board mem­ber of the Bras d’or Lake Bio­sphere Re­serve As­so­ci­a­tion. For more in­for­ma­tion about the Bras d’or Lake Bio­sphere Re­serve As­so­ci­a­tion, please visit Thanks to Michael R. Denny and Tom John­son for their help. Spe­cific In­for­ma­tion about past en­vi­ron­ments was ob­tained from Pro­ceed­ings of the Nova Sco­tia In­sti­tute of Sci­ence, 2002, Vol­ume 42 and about the su­per moon from (https://­per­moon-guide.html).

Photo by Tom Ruen.

A su­per­moon above Min­neapo­lis on Nov. 14, 2016.

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