BRAS D’OR BIOSPHERE: ‘Chief Moon’ time

Pictured is the November 14, 2016 super moon.

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 per cent larger and 30 per cent 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 December 3 this year, the moon will be 12 per cent closer to the Earth than it will be at its’ farthest position on December 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 (December 3) but will be closest to the Earth on the next day (December 4) around 5 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 (December 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 December 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 and 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 Lake was small fresh water lakes or ponds connected to the Atlantic Ocean by long river systems and water levels ranged from 10 to 55 m 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 which 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 which is now up to 38 kilometres 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 degrees Celsius 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

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 (