The first week of deep winter arrives


I sing the cycle of my country’s year,

I sing the tillage, and the reaping sing

— Vita Sackville-West

Lunar Phase And Lore

In spite of the arrival of deep winter this week, the tufted titmouse usually initiates its mating calls as the year begins, and the Tufted Titmouse Moon, new at 5:14 New Year’s Day, follows the earliest mating cycles of titmice, owls and small mammals. Rising in the morning and setting in the evening, this moon passes overhead in the middle of the day. Many creatures are most active with the moon above them: children and fish, among others. The approach of the January 5 cold front is likely to bring increased mid-day activity.

And the dark moon is perfect this week for the seeding of bedding plants, especially when it lies in Pisces between January 4 and 6, and then again in Taurus on January 8 – 11.

Weather Trends

Fish, game, livestock and people tend to feed more and are more active as the barometer is falling one to three days before the weather systems that arrive near January 1, 5, 10, 15, 19, 25, 31. New moon on January 1 and 30, and full moon on January 15 are likely to intensify the weather systems due around those dates. The coldest January days usually fall between the 7th and the 10th, as well as between the 15th and the 18th. Storms are most likely to occur on January 1-2, 8-12, and 19-24 (the transition time to late winter).

The Natural Calendar

December 29: The hydrangea heads are drooping, and the Jerusalem artichokes have fallen over. Grasses are pale and bent. Hoary goldenrod and brittle great ragweed have broken. Chicory stalks are leaning.

December 30: The last sandhill cranes fly over the Miami Valley on their way south.

December 31: The Quadrantids are the meteors of January. Look for them in the northeast after midnight on the 1st through the 5th.

January 1: Enter deep winter, a three-week period when high temperatures often stay below freezing and the most snow falls. High barometric pressure is common on this day, often contributing to positive feelings and ambitious resolutions.

January 2: White-tailed bucks have their grey winter coats now, and they are starting to drop their antlers.

January 2: In milder years, the foliage of crocus, columbine, henbit, catnip, forget- me-not, garlic mustard, dandelion, wild onion, celandine, and ground ivy grows slowly between cold fronts. One by one, pussy willows crack in the sun.

January 4: Solar perigee (the Earth’s position closest to the sun) occurs today at 12:00 p.m. This is the last night on which Venus is visible in the evening sky.

Countdown to Spring

• One week until the tufted titmouse begins its mating calls and pines start to pollinate

• Two weeks until owls and foxes mate

• Three weeks until the traditional January Thaw

• Three and a half weeks until the beginning of late winter

• Four weeks until cardinals start to sing before dawn

• Five weeks until doves join the cardinals, and maple sap is running

• Five an a half weeks until the first red-winged blackbirds arrive in the wetlands

• Six weeks to the first snowdrop bloom and the official start of early spring

• Seven weeks to major pussy willow emerging season

• Eight weeks to crocus season

• Nine weeks to the beginning of the morning robin chorus before sunrise

• Ten weeks to daffodil time

Carol’s Moon

Shyly, Carol admitted her anguish about the moon.

” I’m so embarrassed,” she said. “You know I always thought the moon made its own light, and that, well, it shone from inside.”

Then she told me how she had just read that the lunar surface actually reflected light from the sun. We talked for only a few minutes, but I was struck by her emotion and by her need to share her very real disillusion.

Her disappointment was especially interesting to me because I had been thinking about how the authority of astronomers and physicists and naturalists is often intimidating, and how most of what we believe about the universe is based on complex technology and mathematics, and is quite understandably taken on faith.

The result, it seems to me, is that people are becoming more hesitant to think for themselves about what they see around them. They defer to specialists (like peasants to priests) and lose their wonder and curiosity.

And I wanted to reassure Carol and to reassure myself.

There are too many lessons to be learned from the concept of a moon that produces its own light to dismiss it as childish or naïve.

Natural science is only an adjunct to our imagination. The fruit of knowledge does not dangle from a quantifiable tree but rather hides in our imperfect vision. We will not see God another way. We live as you assumed, Carol, in the glow of a benign, accessible, self-sufficient moon.

Listen to Poor Will’s radio almanack on podcast any time at www.wyso.org.

Copyright 2014, W. L. Felker


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