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The August Full Moon arrives in my neighborhood tomorrow, August 7 at 2:11 pm.

Names for the monthly Full Moons are very much culturally and geographically based. The August Full Moon is sometimes called the Corn Moon, but that name is used by others for the July Full Moon. It depends on your growing season. Similarly, I have heard it called the Barley Moon, which is also based on where you are located.

Some other names for the August Full Moon are: Worm Moon, Lenten Moon, Crow Moon, Sugar Moon, Chaste Moon, Sap Moon. It is the Celtic Singing Moon.

I see the August Full Moon called the Harvest Moon in some places. That is another name that varies in the month that it occurs. You might be harvesting in your locale, but the Harvest Moon is traditionally the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. Most years, that is in September though it can be in October. This year the equinox is on September 22, so the October 5th full moon is closer than the one on September 6.

The month of August meant that sturgeons were plentiful in the waters of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, so the Algonquin who fished there called it the Sturgeon Moon. Originally, they used hooks made of small animal bones or the wishbones of birds.

The Assiniboine of the Northern Plains called this the Black Cherries Moon, while the Ponca were more concerned with it being the Corn In the Silk Moon and the Shawnee, “plum moon.” But August also meant that plants and animals were transitioning in preparation for colder weather. The Cherokee called this the Drying Up Moon, which certainly would be the situation in the Southwest.  The Cherokee have called it Dulisdi, Nut Moon, and the Dakotah Sioux refer to it as the Moon When The Calves Grow Hair.

I found that the Passamaquoddy people called this the Feather Shedding Moon which resonated with me because I have been seeing feathers on the ground on my walks lately.

The Passamaquoddy (Peskotomuhkati or Pestomuhkati in the Passamaquoddy language) are an American First Nations people who live in northeastern North America, primarily in Maine and New Brunswick, Canada.

Most birds molt once per year, but some lose their feathers slowly during the year.  A few, like the American Goldfinch, have two molts a year. I don’t know which species the Passamaquody were observing up North.  I suspect it may have been  ducks, geese and other waterfowl, some of whom lose most or all of their flight feathers all at once. This leaves them flightless for a short while, until new feathers grow in. Even a couple of flight feathers lost will inhibit their ability to remain airborne.

It seems counterproductive to lose all of them at once but it makes more sense for them to get the process done in one fell swoop rather than be inhibited throughout the year. I have read that many waterfowl molt after their nesting season.

Summer is half full, but I am seeing all the signs of it being half empty. There are Back-to-School ads already. A few nights have been autumn cool. Some leaves have fallen in the backyard. There are end of summer sales at the Jersey shore.

I say shed a few feathers, but don’t go flightless yet.

 

bird feeding

A lot of you probably have bird feeders around your home. It’s a great way to see birds up close. It is a good supplement for local birds, as long as it is kept filled. But birds will sometimes rely on feeders and then when they aren’t filled or are taken away they may struggle to find natural sources, especially during winter.

A great alternative is to bring birds to your home by growing native plants that offer not only food but shelter and last for several seasons and can also be perennial feeders.

The Audubon Native Plant Database is a great tool to find the best plants for the birds in your area.  I did a search for my area and found more than 70 plants paired with the birds that feed from them.  Growing bird-friendly plants will attract and protect the birds you love while making your space beautiful, easy to care for, and better for the environment.

Another bit of gardening I have written about before is “guerilla gardening.” One of the methods is using “seed bombs” (AKA seed balls, for gentler folks) as a way to plant native plants in bare areas like vacant lots.

They are made using clay as a way to retain moisture as the seeds germinate and provide some protection from wind, sun – and hungry birds who would get at them before they sprout. People use artist’s clay, but clay powder, or unscented clay kitty litter can be mixed with water and is cheaper.

You mix in seed-starting soil or fine compost as a nutrient (dirt from your yard will probably add weed seeds which is not good).

Most important is adding seeds of plants that are native to your area. The database mentioned above helps there.

chaucer-courtly-love

Valentine’s Day, Grandparent’s Day, Sweetest Day, Mother’s Day and Fathers’ Day all fit the “Hallmark Holiday” definition of a holiday. The word “holiday” comes from the Old English word hāligdæg. The word originally referred only to special religious days. The word derived from the notion of a “Holy Day”, but has evolved (or more accurately devolved) to its current form. Valentine’s Day is the second biggest card-giving day of the year in the U.S.

It’s a bit sad that it has all turned into cards and candy and restaurants charging extra that day for the same old food. So much guilt and obligation about buying or forgetting to buy gifts.

Those ancient Romans loved festivals. They had a fertility festival in mid-February called Lupercalia. It honored Lupa, the wolf who saved Romulus and Remus, who then founded the city of Rome.

Lupercalia was a pagan festival and included sacrifices of goats and dogs. The festival was still very popular even when the Roman Empire was officially Christian. Of course, the Church wanted to replace it with something more acceptable. Something with a saint would be nice.

That early Christian priest, St. Valentine, who was martyred on February 14 in 269 A.D. actually has a good story. According to legend, due to a shortage of soldiers enlisting, Emperor Claudius II forbade single men to get married in order to increase his army. Valentine rebelled in his priestly way by performing secret wedding rituals. He was discovered, imprisoned, and sentenced to death. While awaiting his beheading in jail, he fell in love with the daughter of a guard who visited him. On the day he was executed, the priest left a note for the woman professing his love and he signed it “Love from your Valentine.”

But Chaucer often gets credit for making St. Valentine’s Day more of a secular and romantic day. When he wrote in the 14th-century his “The Parlement of Foules” he returned to that springtime idea that “on seynt Valentynes day” the goddess Nature watched all of the birds choose and seduce their mates. (“Foules being fowls or birds not “fools” – though these days the latter may be a better description for our behavior on this day.)

Chaucer wrote the poem for a patron poem to honor the marriage of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. There are no records of St. Valentine’s Day festivities in the English court until after Chaucer’s time. he nicely blended the nature and fertility associations, especially the rural English belief that birds choose their mates on February 14th, to the courtly love conventions of the day.

This put pressure on us (mostly males, as with the birds) to choose, seduce, including with gifts.

In Japan, Valentine’s Day is observed by women who present chocolate gifts (handmade ones are considered better) to men.

Honmei choco (“true feeling chocolate”) has also become “obligation chocolate” as women are expected to not only gift boyfriends, prospective boyfriends, and husbands, but bosses and almost any guy who has done them some favor.

The Honmei chocolate is higher-quality and more expensive than giri choco (“obligation or courtesy chocolate”) which is given to male coworkers and other men to whom the woman has no romantic attachment.

Don’t get mad ladies. There is also a reciprocal “holiday” called White Day which is celebrated one month later on March 14th when men buy candy and gifts for women. This is also observed in South Korea and Taiwan.

On White Day, males who received a honmei-choco on Valentine’s Day are expected – obligated – to return the favor by giving gifts, usually more expensive. Popular White Day gifts are cookies, jewelery, white chocolate, white lingerie and marshmallows.

Would you be surprised to find that White Day is a modern holiday first celebrated in 1978, or that it was started by the National Confectionery Industry Association?

But wait – there’s also Black Day a month after White Day (April 14) which appears to be more of a South Korean informal tradition for single people.  Not being a big candy eater, I like this day when singles get together and eat jajangmyeon (white noodles with black bean sauce). It’s a day for those who did not give or receive gifts on Valentine’s Day or White Day.

So many  “Hallmark holidays” (a disparaging term that is not encouraged by the Hallmark card company) designed to sell things and make us feel guilty for being alone or not a loving as we should be. Next to New Year’s Eve, I would say that Valentine’s Day (now more often used without the Saint part) is a day that splits people between happiness and sadness.

Plant Phenology Icons

I was looking at this very heavy textbook on phenology that I can’t imagine any of you opening up to read. I’m not going to get to read it through either,  but I find the subject fascinating and there is plenty of information online to keep me busy.

It always makes me sad that we are not the observers of nature that people were in earlier centuries. People paid much closer attention to the world around them and how the plants were changing with the seasons and what phase the Moon was in what the animals and insects were up to. And a long time before we had a scientific name for it, people recorded signs of the seasonal changes.

Today we call this phenology – the study of seasonal change as reflected in plant and animal life. (Not to be confused with the phrenology – a definitely fringe study from the Victorian era when doctors believed they could tell everything about a person from mapping out the bumps and oddities of the human skull.)

Phenology is the study of plant and animal life cycle events, which are triggered by environmental changes, especially temperature.

You would note the first openings of leaf and flower buds, insect hatchings (fly fisherman do some of this) and the return or departure of birds and insects.

I think that this has become a bit more popular the past few decades as the they might be seen as indicators of the impact of local and global changes in weather and climate on the earth’s biosphere.

The father of modern phenology is Englishman Robert Marsham who began recording signs from nature in 1736 and continued for 62 years. The word is derived from the Greek phainō, “to show, to bring to light, make to appear” and logos for “the study of.”

I do my own amateur phenology because I am a gardener and because I enjoy being out in nature and keep my own little field guides and calendars of my little local biosphere. I record the emergence of leaves and flowers, the first flight of butterflies and the first appearance of certain migratory birds.

Spring is a time full of these events. I also record when I start my vegetable seeds, set the plants out and harvest the first crop. Of course, those dates are somewhat in my control and not phenology. But I start those seeds and set out those plants based on my observations from past years of frosts and the appearances of other plants and flowers in my area.

I read that viticultural records of grape harvests in Europe have been used to reconstruct a record of summer growing season temperatures going back more than 500 years.

Some of what I learned growing up might border on folk wisdom, but seem to hold true. Dandelions in full bloom means it is time to plant potatoes. My father told me we could plant peas on St. Patrick’s Day if the soil wasn’t muddy, but I got burned on that a few times. Safer to wait for the full flowering of forsythia to put the peas into the ground.

Frost dates are the usual way to go on planting, but those dates don’t change very often in books and guideseven though they vary quite a bit in my little local records.

Chicory-FlowerObserving insects is a bit harder, but sometimes that mixes with the plants.

If you have the pretty blue wild chicory blooms nearby in summer, it is time for squash vine borers who just love to attack unprotected squash and pumpkins.

Insects are often used as weather predictors. You probably have heard some version of observing insects flying lower to the ground before a storm, or that insects can sense the onset of very wet weather. They will be observed in monsoon and rainy areas invading buildings for shelter before a storm. Some ants will pile up dirt around the entrance to their underground homes to keep out water.

Phenology has gone from being a fringe science to a real way of understanding climate change. It also a citizen scientist activity and there are lots of websites that allow you to record your garden, bird and insect observations into a database which gives scientists a huge amount of data to work with.  Project Bud Burst in the U.S. and Nature’s Calendar in the U.K> are two examples. In the US, you can also participate in the reporting program conducted by the National Phenology Network.  There is the University of Berlin’s International Phenological Gardens that collate observations from 89 gardens in 19 European countries.  And Earthwatch programs in Australia and other countries will increase the database.

A term that I picked up in my reading is “season creep.” People are observing birds laying their eggs earlier and buds appearing on some trees much earlier.  Northern hardwood forests have been leafing out sooner and retaining their green canopies longer and the agricultural growing season has also expanded by 10–20 days over the last few decades.

Does this prove climate change or global warming. Probably not. The Earth goes through long cycles and we are probably on a warming trend now. The many droughts and violent storms are also indicators. Of course, the climate change argument really centers on whether or not it is man’s activities that have caused this change or is it just nature. I side with the blame people side on this because the changes seem to be progressing unnaturally fast.

All that Big Science on temperature, moisture, and changing sea levels is important. But, I am really “thinking globally, acting locally” with my calendar and journal and more interested in getting people to reconnect to plants and animals. My posts on the Full Moons and even those on weather lore are really just part of that idea of observing the place where you live.

On Independence Day 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved to a cabin on Walden Pond. Ralph Waldo Emerson owned some land near Concord, Massachusetts, and let Thoreau build a cabin there. He stayed for two years, two months, and two days.

This year on Independence Day (AKA the 4th of July), I was sitting in my backyard when I heard a robin carrying on quite loudly near me.  I assumed it was a mother robin because there was a young robin hopping on the ground near me unable to fly. I suppose it could have been a father robin, but we always seem to assume it’s the mother protecting the young.

My neighbor, Frank, came out on his deck. “Is the robin over there?” he asked.

“Yeah. It can’t seem to fly,” I called back.

Turns out there were two young robins on the ground. We found their nest in a small tree between our yards. We both scooped up the young robins and Frank climbed up on a ladder to put them back in the nest.

The mother robin swooped down. Protecting her nest? No. She pushed those little ones right back out.

It was independence day in that nest. Ready or not, those kids were going to learn to fly.

In 1791 the first recorded use of the name “Independence Day” occurred. The day commemorated the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 that declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Thoreau chose the day to start his attempt “to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

He was mostly independent but he wasn’t all that apart from civilization. The nest, Concord, was only a mile and a half away, and he often walked into town. He worked part time as a surveyor, and his mother usually sent him back to the cabin with some home cooking.

He stayed for a little more than two years and he kept a journal. A form of the journal writings were published a book, which he called Walden; or Life in the Woods, in 1854.

Sometimes you have to get thrown out of the nest. Even if someone is watching out for you nearby.

Do you remember back in December 2004 when giant waves slammed into Sri Lanka and the India coastlines? One story that kept getting retold was that wild and domestic animals seemed to know what was about to happen and fled to safety.

Elephants moving to higher ground.

Eyewitnesses reported that elephants screamed and ran for higher ground, dogs refused to go outdoors, flamingos abandoned their low-lying breeding areas, and zoo animals rushed into their shelters and could not be enticed to come back out.

Do animals possess a sixth sense that allows them to know in advance when natural events from storms to earthquakes will occur?

The first response to this question is generally that animals’ more acute hearing and other senses might give them a big advantage over humans.

After that 2004 tsunami, relatively few animals were reported dead. In the world’s most earthquake-prone country, Japan, researchers have long studied animals in hopes of discovering what they hear or feel before earthquakes in the hope of using it as a predictive tool.

Since earthquakes bring vibrational changes on land and in water and storms cause electromagnetic changes in the atmosphere, some people believe animals use their sense of hearing and smell to determine something is coming.

Did humans also have this early warning sense at one time, but lost it as they evolved and moved away from nature.

I thought about this again recently when I read a post on the Small Farm Life blog by Fritz Nordengren.

On June 1, he was  mowing when he noticed that his ducks had returned to their pen earlier than usual. Then he saw that a flock of geese changed direction over the farm and set down in a pond that they don’t normally go to.  His dog, Zinger, who usually watches him mow from under the deck, followed him back and forth in the field.

He went inside and checked his computer for local radar and found that a tornado had struck about 30 minutes from his farm.

Many animals sense a change in pressure and other atmospheric factors. An old nature watcher told me when I was a kid that I should watch birds like swallows. They will fly much closer to the ground prior to a thunderstorms.  He told me it was really the insects who were somewhat disoriented and would fly lower and the birds followed to feed on them.  I have noticed that many times since – though usually it’s because I know (via a weather report) that a storm is coming, so I look for the nature signs.

I saw  a post that said that a survey done via Google Earth imagery showed that across the planet cattle and flock animals tend to face north.  Do they sense the earth’s magnetic field?  It makes sense. Researchers have shown that many birds do.

But scientists are not totally on board with animals having a living Doppler radar system.

For example, perhaps you’ve heard of the “Farmer’s Almanac science” about the banded woolly bear caterpillar. Some people believe this furry insect, which blossoms into a tiger moth in spring, can predict the severity of the coming winter. Weather folklore says that if the caterpillar’s center brown stripe is long, winter will be milder.  But, if the two black stripes running on either side are longer than the center stripe, a bad winter is coming.

Unfortunately, researchers checking on them over the course of years  found that sometimes one group of woolly bear caterpillars living near a second group had stripes that completely contradicted each other, thus discrediting their predictive usefulness.

What’s your take on animals being able to predict natural occurrences?

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All around I fear that Jonathan's (and most modern) satire is lost in a world that is itself a satire. The corporation side. All fall down The chenille is blooming its odd flowers again. It's August in NJ.

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