Kage Baker, despite being a totally solar sort of person, liked the idea of measuring the year in full moons. She said it was elegant; also, it just works better. The Moon is subject to all sorts of highly visible and predictable changes, whereas the Sun appears unchanging – all you can really do is count the times it rises and sets, and hope they come out in even pairs.
And while the Sun appears to engage in all sorts of alterations and moods, they all really come down to weather: how much dust or cloud is in the way? Because beyond that special effects veil of illusion, the sun just doesn’t display anything we can notice with our naked eyes. The Moon, she said, is easier to track and has better effects besides.
Kage was part Native American. Those who met her or have seen her photographs will find this hard to believe – the red hair, the freckles, the complete failure to tan – but it shows more in several of her siblings. Her black eyes, though, were not Spanish or Celt, but Iroquois.
The Iroquois and Algonquins gave lovely, lyrical names to all the full moons – Pink Moon, Buck Moon, Sturgeon Moon. Kage loved them. There is, of course, little real correlation between the full moon names of the North East tribes (our family connection) and the strict calendar nomenclature of the Western months – the period between full moons is not 30 days, and anyway there are 13 of them in an annual cycle. But the general time frame is the same. Who could argue that the Justinian month of June is well-named Strawberry Moon?
January, now … sometimes Wolf Moon, or Old Moon. Often, though, the full moon after the solstice is Starvation Moon. Even for semi-agriculturists like the Iroquois (who kept good gardens) gathering in January is pretty much futile, and the hunters of game are having a hard time as well.
Kage used to joke sometimes that in these modern days, it was meant as instructions rather than a warning; that after the gorging of the midwinter season, it was time to live frugally and get lean. And that was part of the reason she gave me last year, when she simply stopped eating in the days after New Year’s.
Prior to that, I had been able to coax her into little meals – she wouldn’t eat the hospital food (except the occasional cherry ice) so I brought her meals. Really, though – who, given the choice between mystery meat with anonymous salty broth and real home cooking, would not refuse that horrid institutional tray? Our friend Neassa, in a hospital stay several years ago, also could not eat until her Mother brought food from home; it delayed her release by a couple of weeks, as her body adamantly refused the hospital fare.
Anyway, I cooked. It gave me a reason to eat real food, too. I did up a classical New Year’s feast last year – baked ham, collard greens, hoppin’ john, cornbread. Anne and the nieces Katie and Annie came up to share the holiday with Kage, and the festive meal was enjoyed by all, to my delight. The cornbread had been especially challenging, as Annie can’t eat gluten; and if you make cornbread without some sort of lighter flour added in, what you end up with is edible adobe … but I discovered that almond flour works admirably. Anyway, Kage ate that meal and enjoyed it.
It took me a couple of weeks to realize that it was the last full meal she actually ate. She continued her life-long passion for Italian ices, and developed a mad fondness for Gatorade Frost – mostly because it had very little flavour, I think, and all her meds and treatments made everything taste weird. So she drank – Egg creams. Floats. Ginger ale. Sick-kid-in-bed treats, now that I think of it.
Things were getting so busy and confusing and frightening … we both realized there wasn’t much time, but we both also hoped the other hadn’t twigged – we tended to concentrate on the needs and comforts of the moment, getting Kage through each day in increments of 4 hours or so at a time. The chemo and radiation therapies didn’t help her appetite any, either. So when she snacked instead of clearing her plate – when I had to feed her from my own plate to make sure she did eat – it all seemed more normal, somehow. She never came close to starving – I got very clever in packing a lot into the half-dozen mouthfuls I knew I could persuade her to eat without rebellion – but she Just. Wasn’t. Interested.
Starvation Moon. The thing to bear in mind is that the people who so named it didn’t starve because they wanted to, but because they had no choice. Same with Kage. She realized she couldn’t eat without nausea, and decided (rationally enough. For Kage … ) not to waste her limited time with throwing up. She consented to drink because I made things she liked, and also made a horrible fuss if she did not: but mostly, I think, to please me.
She was winding down, divesting herself of as many extraneous burdens as possible. Expert packer that she was, she was sorting out how much would fit in the rest of her life. Chicken soup just didn’t make the cut.