Whether it feels or looks like spring or like winter outside your home today, spring is officially here. It slipped under my pillow while I was still asleep this morning at 6:28 am ET here in the Northern Hemisphere.

Our ancestors my not have understood what was happening to our planet from a celestial viewpoint, but they were more careful observers of the world around them and definitely marked today as something significant. Ancient observers built devices, buildings and places like Stonehenge to measure and mark changes in the Sun’s movements. Of course, that was what they thought was happening – that the Sun was moving closer or further from Earth. They may have been wrong on that part, but they were able to mark that today was midway between the sun’s lowest path across the sky in winter and highest path across the sky in summer.

Though we visualize an equinox as occurring on the imaginary dome of Earth’s sky, it is a very real point on Earth’s orbit that is halfway between the two extremes of the sun’s path in your sky. “Your sky” because though the equinox occurs at the same time for all of us. The seasons are based on whether you are in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere.

One thing you can observe easily at each equinox (no Stonehenge required) is that the sun rises due east and sets due west from where you live. An equinox happens when the ecliptic – or sun’s path – intersects the celestial equator, that imaginary line above Earth’s equator.

Go outside around sunset and sunrise and notice the location of the sun on the horizon with respect to local landmarks. You can then use those landmarks to find those cardinal directions in the months ahead and observe how the sunrise and sunset points move southward or northward. I showed my young sons this many years ago by crudely tracking the sunrise moving from window to window during the year from the vantage point of our East-facing family room. It was a pretty interesting lesson in science.

Today the sun is on the celestial equator. It may be springlike outside or it may still seem like winter, but the new season has arrived.

 

 

dragon

image via The Dragon

There is a system called Wu Xing by the Chinese, which translates to the Five Phases (sometimes as the Five Elements, Steps etc.). The “Five Phases” are Wood (木 mù), Fire (火 huǒ), Earth (土 tǔ), Metal (金 jīn), and Water (水 shuǐ).

Wu Xing also correlates to the seasons.

Wood is Spring, a phase of growth, which generates abundant wood and vitality.

Fire is Summer, full of swelling and flowering, and filled with fire and energy.

There is a shorter in-between transitional phase known as Late or Long Summer.

Metal is the element of Autumn when there is harvesting and collecting.

Water represents Winter, the period of retreat, stillness and storage.

Each season or “phase” also corresponds to other things. For example, the direction east and a green dragon correspond to springtime.

The Chinese also use Wu Xing to describe interactions and relationships between such diverse activities as music, military strategy, martial arts and how to heal the human body.

I view it as a way of thinking about nature and another way to encourage a closer observation of nature.

For a few weeks in February, it sure felt like spring was very near in Paradelle – or maybe it had arrived early – even if the calendar and Earth’s tilt said otherwise. I saw crocuses and daffodils up and blooming. Tree buds seemed to be starting their bud burst.

Then the thermometer reversed itself and we had our biggest snow of the winter.

The news reported that the cherry blossoms in the nation’s capital are threatened, and the ones in New Jersey, which generally peak in early April, might also be affected. [Not So Trivial Fact: New Jersey has more cherry trees than Washington D.C. – the largest cherry blossom collection in the United States. But the Branch Brook Park cherry blossom webcam in Newark just shows bare trees and snow as I write this.]

I have written before about the study of cyclic, seasonal natural phenomena which is called phenology. The National Phenology Network tracks “Nature’s Calendar” via phenological events. But can we actually predict the seasons with any accuracy?

These nature observations include the ones we all have been observing lately, such as trees and flowers, but also ones that you may not be able to observe or just don’t pay attention to. Those signs of seasonal change include male ungulates, such as elk or deer, growing antlers at the beginning of the rut and breeding season each year, mammals that hibernate seasonally to get through the winter, and bird migration during the year.

Other than the false Groundhog Day forced observations, phenological events can be incredibly sensitive to climate change. That change can be year-to-year, but the timing of many of these events is changing globally – and not always in the same direction and magnitude.

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Spring leaf anomaly: dark red indicates areas of early bud burst, with some areas as great as 21 days early. It should be noted, that areas around Los Angeles are conversely nearly 21 days behind schedule. Image via blogs.plos.org

According to a Public Library of Science (PLOS) blog, “From 1982 to 2012, spring budburst (when the leaves first appear) has advanced by a bit over 10 days, while the onset of autumn in the northeast US has pushed back about 4.5 days. No trends were found for other regions. This lengthening of the growing season has profound implications for the ecology of these forests and potentially their ecological evolution. A longer growing season could translate to high carbon storage for increased growth, but higher rates of decomposition and changes in moisture availability. However, these changes in phenology are primarily driven by increasing temperatures. In a warmer world, some species may simply not be able to survive where they are now, creating a dramatic change in the species composition. And this is without considering changes in precipitation.”

The National Phenology Network’s project called Nature’s Notebook collects data from more than 15,000 naturalists across the nation who, using standardized methods, provide information about plant and animal phenology.

Project BudBurst is another citizen science focused project using observations of phenological events and phases through crowd-sourcing. Project like this give you the opportunity to make your observations of nature more conscious, and to contribute to the knowledge base.

This post first appeared, in slightly different form, on my Endangered New Jersey blog

For those of us in the northern U.S. or Canada or at a similar latitude, the Big Dipper is always above the horizon. That means it is described as circumpolar. The mnemonic to remember for the Big Dipper is “spring up and fall down” to describe its appearance in our northern sky.

big_dipper_thru_seasons

The Big Dipper’s location at around midnight in each season. Image via burro.astr.cwru.edu

The Big and Little Dippers are asterisms – a prominent pattern or group of stars, typically having a popular name but smaller than a constellation. The Big Dipper ascends in the northeast on spring evenings, and it descends in the northwest on fall evenings.

“Follow the Drinking Gourd” is an American folk song that used “Drinking Gourd” as another name for the Big Dipper. The lyrics, according to legend, came from a conductor of the Underground Railroad, called Peg Leg Joe, as a way to guide some fugitive slaves.

The “drinkin’ gou’d” alludes to the hollowed out gourd used by slaves (and other rural Americans) as a water dipper. Used in the song, it was a code name for the Big Dipper which points to Polaris, the Pole Star, and to the North and freedom.

Polaris is a special star because it always stays in the same spot in the northern sky. The entire northern sky appears to turn around it because Polaris is located more or less above the northern axis (pole) of the Earth, and the wheeling of the stars across the dome of night is really due to Earth’s turning, after all. Polaris is part of the harder to find star pattern known as the Little Dipper.

As is often the case, the Moon looked full last night although it just became an official Full Moon as I hit the publish button on this post at 10:54 am ET. It will certainly look very full tonight.

This winter-into-spring moon is often called the Worm Moon, and last year I chose the name the name Earth Cracks Moon. The latter sounds rather ominous, but like the Worm Moon it refers to the heaving soil as we transition into spring with cold nights and warm days. That thawing ground will be marked in many areas with the earthworm casts that appear as they emerge. They are very attractive to another symbol of spring – worm-loving robins. The Full Crust Moon is another name that was used by some Indian tribes.

Although the wind in March is often quite blustery in some parts of the U.S., I optimistically chose the gentler Hopi name for this lunar occurrence of the Whispering Wind Moon. The Hopi tribe now primarily live on the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona. Their name for this Full Moon is fitting for the tribe because Hopi is a shortened form of their autonym, Hopituh Shi-nu-mu which means “The Peaceful People” or “Peaceful Little Ones.”

New World settlers called this last Full Moon of winter the Lenten Moon and also the Sap Moon. The latter name marks the time of tapping maple trees. The Lenten Moon marks the religious observance in the liturgical calendar that occurs during this lunar month. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later, before Easter Sunday.

As Lent is seen as the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial, it fit well with the non-religious view of starting the year anew for farmers, ranchers and those looking to do “spring cleaning” and get a fresh start.

There are more Indian names for the Full Moons than the Colonists used because there were many tribes in many locations and their names for the Moon phases were based on their local observations of nature. Some northern tribes knew this as the Full Crow Moon, because the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter. Other names used by Native American Tribes: Rain (Diegueno). Bud Moon (Kiowa). Eagle Moon,Rain Moon (Cree). Green Moon (Pima). Deer Moon (Natchez). Moon of Winds (Celtic). Lizard Moon (San Juan). Death Moon (Neo-Pagan). Wind Strong Moon (Taos). Amaolikkervik Moon(Inuit). Little Frog Moon (Omaha). Little Spring Moon (Creek). Crane Moon (Potawatomi). Long Days moon (Wishram). Big Famine Moon (Choctaw). Moose Hunter Moon (Abenali). Whispering Wind Moon (Hopi). Little Spring Moon (Muscokee). Fish Moon (Colonial American). Snow Sore Eyes Moon(Dakota). Catching Fish Moon (Agonquin). Snow Crust Moon (Anishnaabe). Spring Moon (Passamaquoddy). Much Lateness Moon (Mohawk). Chaste Moon (Medieval English). Buffalo Calf moon (Arapaho, Sioux). Seed (Dark Janic), Plow Moon (Full Janic). Strawberry, Windy Moon, Lenten Moon (Cherokee). Worm Moon, Sugar Moon, Crow Moon, Crust Moon, Sap Moon. (Algonquin).

Not all calendars, including our traditional Western calendar, follow the phases of the Moon. In the solar Hebrew calendar, the months change with the new Moon, so the full Moons fall in the middle of the month. A solar year is about 11 days longer than twelve lunar months, so to keep holidays tied to their seasons, the Hebrew calendar occasionally repeats the month of Adar.

In the Islāmic calendar, the months start with the first sighting of the waxing crescent Moon, a few days after the New Moon. Unlike the Hebrew calendar, the Islāmic calendar has no leap days or leap months to stay in sync with the seasons, and Islāmic holidays occur approximately 11 days earlier each solar year.

Wow, my title sounds like a Trumpian rant will follow, but this is really about recent research on how sites like Facebook, Twitter are spreading “fake news” along with you and your friends who like it and pass it along, and how it is affecting your memories.

This is about research on “collective recall.” If I didn’t know it earlier in life, I certainly know at this point in my life that memory is very fallible. I have posted a lot online about studies about memories – how we create them, how we recall them and how we lose them, but there is a new way that we may be warping our memories.

“Memories are shared among groups in novel ways through sites such as Facebook and Instagram, blurring the line between individual and collective memories,” said psychologist Daniel Schacter in Nature magazine. He studies memory at Harvard University and has found that “The development of Internet-based misinformation, such as recently well-publicized fake news sites, has the potential to distort individual and collective memories in disturbing ways.”

Collective memories are our history. We use the way we understand the past as a way to think about the future.

If our memory recalls fictitious terrorist attacks as real, it is easier to justify a travel ban on people who come from those terrorist nations. Social networks are being taken quite seriously as a kind of collective memory, even if it is a faulty memory.

Courtroom lawyers are known for introducing “evidence” or accusations to a jury that they know will be objected to and not recorded – but they get the information out there and into jurors brains.

It turns out that people don’t need very much prompting to conform to a majority recollection. Whether it is true or false isn’t really an issue.

I’m encouraged that research is also being done on ways of dislodging or even preventing them from forming in the first place. Scientists and social networks are now interacting. It might also be encouraging to know that not all collective memories pass into history. Some cognitive psychologists have proposed that more than cognitive and social processes determines whether an event survives the transition across generations. That additional aspect is the nature of the event itself. Depending on how much change occurs in a person’s daily life is crucial to personal and collective memories.

 

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