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Some call this May Day. Depending on where you live, it could be International Workers’ Day or Labour Day. May 1 is a national holiday in more than 80 countries and celebrated unofficially in many other countries. Not many people are celebrating Beltane, so let’s mark that festival here.

Beltane is an ancient Celtic festival which came into English from the Gaelic word bealltainn which literally means “May First.”

Traditionally large bonfires would be lit to celebrate this transition from spring to summer and the fertility of all things. Cattle were driven through the Beltane bonfires for purification and fertility.

The annual Beltane Fire Festival held in Edinburgh, Scotland is the prime modern example.

Today, the neo-pagan community, often associated with the art of fire dancing, have also embraced the Beltane festivities.

In Wales, Creiddylad was a character connected with this festival and often called the May Queen. The maypole and its dance is a remnant of these old festivities.

In Finland, May 1 was celebrated as Rowan Witch Day, a time of honoring the goddess Rauni, who was associated with the mouton ash or rowan tree. Twigs and branches of the rowan were, and still are, used as protection against evil in this part of the world.

May Day is another name often given to this day. That derives from the Greek goddess Maia, the most important of the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades) and the mother of Hermes. From her, we get the name of this month. The Romans called her Maius, goddess of Summer, and honored her during Ambarvalia.

A maypole is a tall wooden pole erected as a part of various European folk festivals, around which a maypole dance often takes place. The festivals may occur on May Day or Pentecost (Whitsun), although in some countries it is instead erected at Midsummer.

May Day celebrations were continued by early European settlers to the American continent with May baskets filled with flowers or treats left secretly at someone’s doorstep. If the receiver catches the fleeing giver, a kiss is exchanged.

 

May Day basket

May Day basket

 

Cicada_skin

cicada cast-off skin

Sitting outside this afternoon, I tried guessing at the temperature by listening to some crickets. I do know that crickets chirp faster as temperatures rise, and slower when temperatures fall. I’m sure my parent’s were unaware of Dolbear’s Law when they told me about crickets and temperature (Temperature = 50+[(N-40)/4] where N = the number of chirps per minute), and math is not one of my strengths, but I could tell it was getting hotter.

If you can’t distinguish a cricket “song” from a cicada or a katydid, listen to a field cricket sound.

As an amateur phenologist (one who studies the seasonal changes in plants and animals), I’m interested in these sounds. Not that I could ignore the cicadas who are very noisily chirping around my house this month.

The cicadas are pretty creepy looking and their cast-off skins that they leave attached around the backyard are also creepy. Katydids are much nicer looking in their bright green. It is difficult to find them, but easy to hear their eponymous “Katy did! Katy did!” call from he trees. Can you hear females answering “Katy didn’t, didn’t, didn’t?”    Take a listen to them

katydid

They hide with their veined oval-shaped wings that look like leaves in the treetops. They start singing in August, but, if you can identify when they start their summer song, weather lore says that autumn will arrive 90 days later. I’m not sure I caught the first katydid, but today was the first day I noticed them calling. That makes autumn in Paradelle arriving November 16.

The katydids are singing for love, lust and a mate. It is mating season (August through mid-October). Feel the love?

Sirius-Dog-Star

Summer is less than a month old, but today is the beginning of the Dog Days of summer.

Those days run for 40 days and are generally known as especially hot and humid weather with little rainfall. It’s the kind of weather that makes us feel a bit sluggish. It’s a time when we might want to have  bit of a dog’s life and just finding a nice shady spot to take a nap.

It was the ancient Greeks that gave it that tag because they believed that Sirius, the “dog star,” was making the sun hotter.  That quite visible star rises now with the sun and they assumed it was like a second sun.

The ancients also thought this was a period when dogs were more likely to go mad and have fits. Unfortunately, the Romans tried to appease Sirius by sacrificing a brown dog at the start of the Dog Days.

Nowadays, “Dog Days” is less of a weather term and more of a general term meaning any period of stagnation or inactivity. For example Wall Street marks this period as one that tends to be slow and sluggish.

Photographing the South Beach Full Moon

The first full moon of this spring season came early enough after the March 2016 equinox to allow for a fourth full moon to take place just prior to the summer solstice.

We had the equinox on March 20 and full moons on March 23, April 22, May 21 and now on June 20 at 11:02 Universal Time. The summer solstice will follow at 23:34 Universal Time. (That is 7:30 pm EDT – use the worldtimeserver.com to convert time zones.)

Last year, we had a father’s day solstice that got me thinking about childhood summer and father memories. Thinking about summer and full moons, sends my thoughts to nights on the beach when the full moon over the ocean looks bigger and more dramatic and gives a soft light to the beach.

As we slide into summer in the Northern Hemisphere,  the solstice (from the Latin solstitium, from sol-sun) and stitium- to stop), it’s a good day to stop ourselves and consider the season past and one ahead.

We now know that the Sun does not stop on the two solstices but simply crosses a path and “shifts” position at a moment in time. Do you observe the position of the Sun during the year? You probably don’t in as careful a way as I do or astronomers, but perhaps you notice that the Sun is higher in the sky throughout the day now. Have you ever noticed in the morning that the sun rises in relation to your home and your windows from different places in winter and summer? From my usual morning coffee spot in the family room, the Sun is shining right on me in winter, but come summer it’s streaming in a window on the other side of the room.

On the summer solstice tomorrow, the Sun is directly overhead at its most northern point at “high-noon.” There will be more sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere on this day than any other – even if it is cloudy or raining in your little corner of the world.

Why isn’t this also the hottest time of year? The atmosphere, land, and oceans are still cool from winter and spring and absorbing part of the incoming heat and energy from the Sun. But as the land and, especially, the oceans release that stored heat later in the summer, that will bring us our hottest days and nights.

At this midpoint of summer, I like to have some early morning views of the Atlantic Ocean so that I can see “the ghost of the shimmering summer dawn.”

Orion the Hunter arrives at the crack of dawn in late summer. Like most of use, he rises on his side, with his three Belt stars – Mintaka, Alnitak and Alnilam – being vertical.

As we move into hunting season and winter, this well-known constellation moves across the south during the evening hours. He is standing then and ready to hunt and those 3 belt stars in a horizontal line make it one of the easiest constellations to spot in the sky.

I was reminded this week of Orion by the EarthSky.org website which is one of my startup pages on this computer. It is a good way to be reminded to look up at the sky and a way to know what I might find there tonight.

I am also reminded that people write those daily posts. One of those people is  Deborah Byrd who created the EarthSky radio series back in 1991 and founded the site in 1994. She has won lots of awards for science and broadcasting and getting science to the masses. I think it is quite cool that she has an asteroid – 3505 Byrd – named in her honor.

carwash500

Summer officially begins with the solstice today, June 21 at 12:38 P.M. EDT. This year, Father’s Day falls on the solstice. There’s no cosmic connection between the two, but maybe it has you thinking about childhood summers and some memories of doing things with your father.

You can take that solstice and its Latin solstitium to mean sol/sun and stitium/stop as its ancient meaning – that the Sun appeared to stop at this time. Or, this year, you can take it as a reminder to stop for the day and remember your father. (As a dad, I like the latter.) You’ve got the time today because the summer solstice is the day with the most hours of sunlight during the whole year.

In our northern hemisphere, the Sun is higher in the sky throughout the day. Its rays are hitting Earth at a more direct angle and it is heating us up.

Around Paradelle, people launch summer things – barbecues and beach days – when Memorial day hits. But as a kid, school always seemed to ended somewhere near the solstice and so that second or third week of June really was summer for us.

What’s your traditional summer celebration? Did it connect with your Dad?

The solstice day was traditionally celebrated by dancing around the bonfires. My dad made barbecue fires. Never danced.

He did love the Jersey Shore and that was a summer ritual. There was a bit of fishing and crabbing, which he only did on those shore trips. Definitely a summer thing for him.

Our vegetable garden was a big part of summer. Plant those Jersey tomatoes and plant them deep – up to the top leaves – to survive our dry, hot summer days.

We did picnics, but no camping. Camping is one of my memories of being a father. Great times in the woods with my two sons.

But it doesn’t require big events to make the day. As father or son, teaching or learning how to fix something around the house. Washing the car. Cutting the grass. Looking for seashells by the shoreline.

Enjoy your long day. Think some good thoughts about your father. Say it in person, if you can, but say it aloud either way.

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