New Moon, New Beginning
Five minutes ago I looked out the window and saw the new moon. Going by the width of the crescent, this isn’t the first day of the new moon, but it is the first day I saw it, so for me it’s a new moon.
It’s a good omen. Not that I believe in anything as thoroughly irrational as omens, naturally. But if I were to believe in omens, this would be a good one. The new moon that’s closest to the start of the new solar year. A time for reflection, for stories, and for new beginnings.
When I started paying attention to the cycles of the moon — I didn’t always — I noticed something odd happening. I got so used to seeing a crescent or a gibbous moon shining strikingly in the night or daytime sky, or the full moon in all its glory, that whenever I went for a few days at a time without seeing the moon, I would feel sad and off-center, like I was missing something. Or like a loved one was far away. Usually this was during the last few days of the waning moon. And then the new moon would come back, curving right rather than left, shining in the evening rather than the morning (which because I’m a night owl meant I was far more likely to see it) and it felt like an old friend returning, and everything was right again.
Does paying attention to the natural world matter? In a sense, it doesn’t — by itself, observing the new moon doesn’t reduce CO2 emissions, or prevent habitat loss and species extinction, or neutralize water pollution. (As I write, the moon appears to be turning on its side as it’s about to set. The “horns” of the crescent always point away from the sun. When the moon is a crescent, it is actually in the sky mostly during the day rather than during the night. So right now, it is the start of the night, but the moon is setting.) People who want to act to protect the environment can take action with very little knowledge of the environment in general, let alone the bioregion they live in.
But that is precisely where the two problems are: firstly, that people who are disconnected from the natural world (from rivers and springs and sparrows and spiders and the moon and the sun and the stars, from sunshine and drizzly rain and sharp lightning storms) are less likely to want to protect the environment, let alone be willing to make major sacrifices for it. And secondly, someone’s got to know what they’re doing. We live in a world of abstractions, and also a world where people often spin and manipulate and lie through their teeth, even lie to themselves, to ourselves. Chevron runs ads claiming to be “green”, so does PG&E. You can make anything sound good for the planet if you’ve got a big enough advertising budget. Those of us who want to make decisions that are going to be better for the environment, we need ways of fact-checking, of grounding what we do in reality. Part of that is using our own senses to observe the world immediately around us.
One of the books I read in college, “Developing Ecological Consciousness” by Christopher Uhl, talks about the importance to the environmental movement as a whole of simply being aware of the place you live in. The one thing I remember most about the book is how the author discusses his own life and his own personal development (and his own mistakes!) right alongside theoretical concepts. It is generally considered unprofessional in academic circles to acknowledge one’s own existence — I strongly believe this to be a profound mistake, for any subject of direct relevance to human beings. That is, if you’re writing about math or physics or engineering, there is little need to bring your personal life experience into it; but for subjects relating to people a certain amount of subjectivity is unavoidable and so it is preferable to not pretend to objectivity. I admire Uhl for going against that tradition of professional invisibility. It certainly made the book more approachable, and I suspect far more relevant as well.
Out of respect for the effectiveness of the personal approach, and in the interest of valuing integrity over looking professional, I will attempt as much as I can to speak in terms of my personal experience when that seems the best approach. When making statements that can be empirically verified, I will do my best to verify and reference sources. And when making theoretical statements I will attempt to ferret out where I got the ideas from and acknowledge those inspirations — although, because playing with ideas is fun and worth doing for its own sake, I will not refrain from sharing an idea just because I am unsure of its origin or its veracity.
In the interest of keeping this blog relevant, concise, and well thought out, I’m considering a “sleep on it” policy, where I don’t post anything until I’ve had a chance to proofread the next day, when I can see mistakes and confusing phrasing with fresh eyes. I’m sure this won’t clear up everything, but I hope it will help.