How the moon lost its tail (and the peregrine falcon) (#074)

 

The moon has an extraordinary influence on human beings. Especially when the moon is full and rises above the horizon in the night sky, revealing its full glory, few people aren’t moved by a sense of the romantic or euphoria. Things were very different in the past! Particularly when the moon played a mean trick leaving people deprived of bare necessities had it not been for the intervention of the fastest bird in the world. Listen to this old Aboriginal tale:

 

In the beginning of our history the moon was jealous of the sun. He could hardly stomach the fact that people turned their backs and went to sleep when he appeared and only came alive again when the sun returned. He wanted to shine himself and not just weakly reflect another’s light. So that people would think he was important too.

In view of the fact that fire also gives light, he decided to steal the people’s fire. He hung it behind himself like a tail and thought this would make him be more highly valued. People did indeed notice that the moon had gained an illuminated tail, but it didn’t interest them in the slightest. No, they had other things on their mind: their fire had disappeared. They couldn’t keep themselves warm or cook any more.

Hungry and blue with cold they had to spend the nights huddled up to one another for warmth. Even if they put on two layers of animals skins, they still lay shivering from the cold!

Who had stolen their fire? A pair of peregrine falcons accused the moon of being the guilty party.Everyone was furious, but the people were helpless. Night after night the peregrine falcons witnessed the people’s miserable plight from their tree and then they took pity on them and wanted to help. Mrs. Peregrine Falcon said to her mate: “It’s heartbreaking to watch this misery. They really need to get their fire back now. I think we’re the only creatures that can help. When all’s been said and done, nobody can fly faster than we can.”

Mr. Peregrine Falcon was a man of few words. He thought in silence for a moment with his eyes shut, then looked at his wife and said: “The moon’s clever and sees everything. That’s why we need to wait till he’s asleep behind the horizon. We are fast and can snatch the fire from his tail in a flash and dive back down to earth at top speed.”

A few days later they began practising. People noticed how the peregrine falcons were suddenly diving down from great heights with the speed of lightening. They were impressed by this spectacle, but had no idea whatsoever of what the birds were up to.

Early one morning, when the peregrine falcons had practised a lot and felt themselves to be in tip top condition, they flew as swiftly as they could to the sleeping place of the moon and in the blink of an eye they stole his tail. The fire burned their beaks, so they had to keep tossing the fire one to the other as they hurtled back down towards the earth. From a great height they let the fire drop into the forests below which quickly ignited. Thousands of trees were set on fire and lit up the early morning sky. The people were euphoric and danced from joy.

Abruptly awoken from his sleep, the moon tried to pursue the birds, but knew he didn’t stand a chance when he saw the super swift birds nosediving towards the earth.

When he saw how whole forests were in flames, he ordered the clouds to rain until all the fires had been put out. But the peregrine falcons were not only fast fliers, they were clever too. They had anticipated the moon’s desire for revenge and had hidden bits of fire on the inside of the trees so that the fire would never again disappear. Weeks of torrential rain put out all the forest fires and from the high tree where they perched the peregrine falcons witnessed how people mourned the loss of their warm fire. But once the earth had dried, the people learned to make fire by quickly rubbing bits of wood together above the plumes of the bulrush. Ever since then people once again know how to keep themselves warm and how to cook their food.

As for the moon …the moon is once again a pale, blueish-yellow round sphere without a tail which still only reflects the light of the large sun. But it’s just because of that modest light that people have come to love the moon. And particularly when the full moon shines in the night sky, you often see people smiling and cuddling up to one another. And they’re definitely not doing that because they’re cold…

 

The peregrine falcon is the fastest bird in the world. During a nosedive it reaches speeds of more than 300 km. per hour. The bird lets itself drop down from a great height, as it flies it grabs a bird with its claws and then eats it when it finds a high place with a good view, such as on a high tension mast or tall chimney. It prefers clear open areas such as meadows and heather fields. Like all birds of prey it is the female with a wingspan of 110 cm. that is significantly larger than the male with a wingspan of about 90 cm. While most peregrine falcons can get to be 5 years old, one specimen reached 17 years of age. Birds of prey see ten times better than people. Owls and falcons see more colours such as ultraviolet light. In this way they can identify mouse urine and then locate the mice as a result. As a consequence of pesticide poisoning peregrine falcons in Europe had almost become extinct. The numbers of breeding pairs is now increasing fast: from 1 pair at the end of the last century to 120 pairs in The Netherlands and 65 in Flanders in 2012.     

 

The moon, and to a lesser extent the sun, attracts the waters of the sea upwards twice a day. High tide is the time when the water rises through the power of attraction, “high tide” is the highest level. In The Netherlands the difference between high and low tide is not very big: on Texel about 2 meters and in Flushing 4 meters, but in Normandy it is actually 12 meters. Twice a month the difference between high and low tide is the greatest, which is referred to as spring tide. In The Netherlands and Belgium this occurs two days after the full and new moon. If at the time of the spring tide a north-westerly storm is raging on The North Sea, we call this the spring flood. The last time this happened was in December 2013. The water level rose then to just 2 cm. below the level of the1953 North Sea Flooding Disaster. This time, however, only large chunks of dune were eroded by the force of the water.

Many people think that if we can’t see the moon, it’s due to the earth’s shadow. But,  in fact, at new moon, the moon is actually located between the earth and the sun. And at full moon the earth is located between the sun and the moon.