By Bill Felker
The bright, thin, new moon appears, Tipped askew in the heavens…. The Milky Way shines unchanging Over the freezing mountains…. White frost covers the garden. –
Tu Fu (China) Translated by K. Rexroth Edwin Way Teale
The Moon and the Sun
The First Week of Late Winter
The Tufted Titmouse Moon wanes throughout the remainder of January, becoming the new Mourning Dove Moon on Feb. 1 at 2:06 p.m. Lunar perigee (when the moon is closest to Earth) at 2 a.m. on Jan. 30 is very likely to strengthen the cold front that usually arrives at the end of the year’s first month. Rising in the morning and setting in the evening, this moon passes overhead in the middle of the day. Animals should be more active with the moon above you, especially as the cold fronts of Jan. 31 and Feb. 3 approach.
On Jan. 31, the sun reaches one fourth of its way to spring equinox.
Lunar perigee on Jan. 31 and the new Mourning Dove Moon on Feb. 1 are likely to bring a chilly entry into the new month, delaying or even eliminating the Groundhog Day Thaw.
Late Winter is one of the shortest seasons of the year; it begins with the final high-pressure systems of January and extends through the middle of February. Its cold fronts historically pass through the area on Jan. 31st, Feb. 3rd, 6th, 11th and 15th. Although cruel weather can bring double-digit low temperatures during this time, the cycle of freezing and thawing that takes place continues to wear away the power of Arctic air, almost always leading to early spring, the third major phase of the year.
Early Spring starts between the cold fronts of Feb. 15th and 20th, and it continues throughout March. Its high-pressure systems (each one a little less ferocious than the last) arrive on Feb. 20th, 24th, 27th, and March 2nd, 5th, 9th, 14th, 19th, 24th and 29th.
Events in Nature that Tell the Time of Year
Although the end of the year’s first month is often one of the coldest times of the year, each thaw accelerates the swelling of buds and the appearance of early bulb foliage. In the warmest winters, fresh foliage of crocus, columbine, henbit garlic mustard, wild onion, ground ivy and celandine appears in sheltered areas. New mint grows back under the protection of a southern hedge or wall.
Below the 40th Parallel, from South Carolina west to California, crocus, daffodil and tulip foliage emerge in the garden. Garlic planted in late November has pushed out of the ground. The first rhubarb leaves are unfolding, and Algerian iris will soon be blossoming in Virginia.
Journal: Before the Thaw
Jan. 21, 2017: The barometer was dropping ahead of the thaw. Below me in the woods, the river was fast, running up close to the top of the bank because of the recent rains. The sun in and out through the trees, water cress bright in the strongest rivulets cascading down the slopes, a few hepatica leaves, sweet rocket leaves, garlic mustard and waterleaf and leafcup leaves.
Crows called and cardinals warbled. A buzzard drifted above me. I saw no bluebirds, but 11 years ago today, Suzanne wrote me: “Between 3 and 4 p. m. I saw at least four Eastern Bluebirds in the woods. Spectacular show.”
In the yard this afternoon, I found a handful of pussy willows breaking out. Raking Osage leaves, I uncovered the fat sprouts of daffodils and the thin sprouts of hyacinths and precocious snowdrop sprouts, their tips already white. I found scilla seeds sprouting. Red peony stems lay at ground level waiting. Along the west edge of the property, the pachysandra was tall and green and fully budded. The lungwort had a few new leaves. By the last rose bush to survive the hard winter of 2014, chickweed was in bloom.
When I was about to go indoors, a storm suddenly struck from the oncoming thaw, three rolls of thunder, wind gusts and bursts of fat raindrops. A week ago, the koi in my pond lay still in the deepest water. Now before the storm, they rose hungry to meet me, ate for the first time since the middle of November.
In the Field and Garden
As the days lengthen, take cuttings of roses, Russian sage, forsythia, viburnum, pussy willow, lavender and other flowering shrubs for fall planting and future bloom.
Late Winter is also the time to treat ash, bittersweet, fir, elm, flowering fruit trees, hawthorn, juniper, lilac, linden, maple, oak, pine, poplar, spruce, sweet gum, tulip tree and willow for scales and mites. Spray trees when temperatures rise into the upper 30s or 40s.
Prune shrubs and trees for the next two weeks while the moon wanes. As time permits, pick up supplies for February lawn and pasture seeding.
Mind and Body
Late Winter is often the worst time of the year for seasonal blues. Try to be outside as much as possible; be active and avoid excessive carbohydrates in order to give your body and brain the best chance of getting through the season with the least stress. Despite the lengthening day and gradual decrease in cloud cover, the S.A.D. Index (which measures the forces usually attributed to Seasonal Affective Disorder on a scale of 1 to100) remains in the high 80s this week, a clear indication of the strong seasonal challenges.
By Dee Krieg, Seattle, Wash.
“Into the car now,” Grandpa ordered, and we piled into the old Oakland: Grandma, Mommy, Daddy, Great-aunt Lizzi, Auntie Sadie, Sissie and I on this star-studded night of August 1932. Five miles out of town at the Union Pacific railroad crossing, the streamliner called “City of Celina” would come roaring from the flatlands heading east.
Grandpa drove pretty fast, 15 miles an hour, and we all sat quiet, expectant. Finally, the crossing appeared. There were people lined up along the tracks, everyone looking toward the western horizon. We climbed out of the car, Mommy and Daddy holding on to us, and joined the crowds.
Suddenly everyone was quiet. We felt it before we saw it. The vibration in the ground was subtle at first, and then we could feel the rolling thunder underneath our leather soles. In the distance we saw a tiny bright eye glistening in that summer sky and we knew it was not a star.
Our muscles tensed. Mommy and Daddy grasped our hands tighter. Parents shouted to their kids to stand close. And the eye became brighter and brighter, and suddenly a loud roaring noise eclipsed the night sky and the sleek, silvered body of the streamline bore down upon us, the noise of the engine pulsating in our ears so that we pressed nearer to our parents, listening to the tracks singing their metallic siren song, and then it flashed past all of us, the crossing signals clanging their alarms and their red lights blinking.
And we stood transfixed, looking in at the lighted windows of the privileged sitting in their silver coaches, little children pressing their noses against the windows and waving at us, and we all waved and waved and waved until the last car vanished into the soft dark at the edge of our world.
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Copyright 2022 – W. L. Felker