I have as an astronomy educator tried to make a conscious effort to promote the science behind my discipline, but equally important is the beauty of the night sky in all of its different characteristics—visual, melodic, and poetic. I believe this makes the science more approachable, especially to a liberal arts population. I want my students to be able look up into the heavens to appreciate its beauty as well as to comprehend what they see. One of the eternal themes in the arts involves the moon and its phases, a concept that I have stressed throughout my professional career. In fact in my book, I have an exercise jokingly, and not very poetically titled, “Know the Phases of the Moon or Die.” Although I incorporate many participatory ways of presenting the phases, some students still fail to the grasp the differences between a new moon (no moon) and a full moon, waxing (growing) and waning (diminishing), or crescent (horned) and gibbous (bulbous) moons. Let’s not forget quarter moons, first and last, which show a half-lit Luna in the sky. It can be confusing, especially to my international students. Enter Cowboy Junkies, a Toronto-based alternate country and folk-rock band that was formed in 1985 and is still singing today. I invite you to listen to “Crescent Moon” on YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGBfBd2S9uA which debuted in their fifth album, Pale Sun, Crescent Moon, in 1993. It is about unrequited love. I cannot comprehend why this ballad with all of its astronomical resonance never got any more traction than it did. It is quiet, poetic, melodic, and beautifully sung by female vocalist, Margo Timmins. Perhaps it hits a little too close to the heart because most of us have experienced an unanswered love for which we have suffered deep, emotional pain. However, the astronomy is woven so effortlessly throughout the song that I had to bring it to your attention. Here are the first two verses which don’t do justice to the poetry and to the emotional feelings which it creates unless accompanied by the music and the vocals. I hope you’ll listen to “Crescent Moon” in its entirety and appreciate the song as much as I have.
Reach a hand to the crescent moon
Grab hold of the hollow
If she sits in the palm of the left
That moon will be fuller tomorrow
If she sits in the palm of the right
That moon is on the wane
And the love of the one who shares your bed
Will be doing just the same
"Won't you come with me", she said
"there's plenty of room in my iron bed
You're looking cold and tired
And more than a little human
I know I'm not part of the life you had planned,
But I think once your body feels my hand
Your mind will change
And your heart will lose its pain"
The lyrics along with a few notations can be found at http://astronomy.org/StarWatch/November/index-11-18.html#11-4-18. A special thank you is extended to Richard Hogg for introducing me to Cowboy Junkies, prompted by a short conversation about lunar phases and how to remember them, which took place last week under the beautiful skyscape of Shooting Star Farm.