The full moon illuminated the snow, which had compressed in the recent cold snap when the moisture dissipated, leaving dry frozen hard pack that crunched like styrofoam as I walked to the barn for evening chores. I fed out hay to the cows, then cleaned and bedded their space in the tie stall, scraping away manure and replacing it with fresh sawdust.
“Goodnight, Cows. I love you,” I said, as I always do, then flipped off the light and walked out of the dark barn into the bright night.
Hunger Moon. That is what old farmers called February’s full moon, which lights the middle of winter as some of the coldest temperatures of the year set in. I imagine what it must have been like long ago, when winters consistently lasted for six months, from November to the beginning of April, with March going out like a lion with snowstorms. I imagine going into the root cellar in February, taking stock of potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, and cabbage, and counting the canned goods that had been prepared the previous fall, making sure the supply would last until spring. Some families still put food by for the winter, though with grocery stores and coops, the threat of hunger is not so dire.
The winters are less predictable these days. Even since my youth, the season has changed dramatically. I remember preparing for Halloween, making sure our costumes were warm enough to trick-or-treat in the snow, though I don’t remember the last time flurries flew about with make-believe ghosts and witches. The common saying here still goes that you should have half your woodpile left by February 1st, but woodstoves were hardly used this past November when blue skies and 60 degree temperatures muddled the seasonal lines between summer and fall.
But now it is February, and the air dips to single digits at night, and the Hunger Moon still lights the northern sky.
Last night Edge pulled spinach, maple sausage, and tomato sauce from the freezer. Until then we had forgotten about the greens I’d blanched in August, and after weeks of beans and roots, spinach was a cause for celebration. Edge made a medley of spinach, sausage, pesto, eggs and rice, and the taste of summer burst through the green flavors. This morning I made a spinach, sausage and egg scramble, put the tomato sauce on to simmer for tonight’s dinner, and thought how winter meals demand more imagination than variety of ingredients—how many ways can you cook root vegetables and prepare cuts of meat? The Hunger Moon may not give us fresh cucumbers and ripe tomatoes like the Harvest Moon does, but it is full nonetheless, and despite the repetition of ingredients, we are full as well.
On Tuesday night, after chores, I sat in a pool of moonlight pouring through the yurt’s glass dome, and a quiet awe grew within me as the calm strength of the Hunger Moon filled the world with shades of blue. In that light I met a creativity that is born out of stillness, a fullness that arises out of emptiness, and realized that all winter asks is that we come alive just the same.