Bombarded By Acorns

I was raking leaves today and was being bombarded by falling acorns. The ground is covered with them and the squirrels and chipmunks are going a bit crazy.

I have read that acorn production runs in cycles of two to five years. In the lore of weather predictions and nature signs about the seasons, a lot of acorns are said to be a sign of a bad winter to come.

“Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry will cause snow to gather in a hurry.”

Acorns and other fruits, nuts, berries, and buds produced by trees and bushes are called “mast.” Hard mast is the name for acorns, walnuts, pecans, hickory nuts, and hard seeds. (Buds are soft mast.) A mast year is a year when the amount of that mast is unusually high in number, In Paradelle, 2022 autumn is a mast year.

Saints, Souls, Hallows and Samhain

Photo by Victorya Gorbatikova on Pexels.com

Samhain (pronounced SAH-win, not Sam Hain) is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, or the “darker half” of the year.

It is celebrated from sunset on the last day of October until sunset on the first day of November. This time was chosen because it is the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. If you are wondering if this has some connection to our Halloween, read on.

Along with Imbolc,  Beltane and Lughnasadh it makes up the four Gaelic seasonal festivals. I have written before about Beltane, the ancient Celtic festival meaning “May First.” It was traditionally celebrated with large bonfires to mark spring transitioning to summer.  Cattle were driven through the Beltane bonfires for purification and fertility.

In Modern Irish, the name is Samhain, in Scottish Gaelic Samhainn and in Manx Gaelic Sauin. These are also the names for the month of November in each language, shortened from other forms.

These names all come from the Old Irish samain, samuin or samfuin all of which referred to November first and the festival and royal assembly that was held on that date in medieval Ireland. It seems to have been translated as “summer’s end.”

If you read Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, he says that May 1 and November 1 may not have been important to European farmers, but they were important to herdsmen. The May date would be the beginning of summer and the time when herds could be driven to the upland summer pastures. November 1 would mark the beginning of winter and the time to bring them back. Frazer suggests that this halving of the year comes from the time when the Celts were mainly pastoral people who were dependent on their herds.

In medieval Ireland, Samhain marked the end of the season for trading and a time for tribal gatherings.  It was a time for storytelling and Samhain appears in pre-Christian Irish literature.  Many important events in Irish mythology happen or begin on Samhain.

In the 9th century, the Roman Catholic Church shifted the date of All Saints’ Day to November first, while the next day later became All Souls’ Day. The Church tried to turn many of the “pagan” holidays into something Catholic.

Over time, the last night of October came to be called All Hallows’ Eve (or All Hallows’ Even). Samhain certainly influenced All Hallows’ Eve, and All Hallows’ Eve influenced the celebration of Samhain, and the two eventually morphed into the secular holiday known as Halloween.

Since the late 20th century, Celtic neopagans and Wiccans have observed Samhain, or something based on it, as a religious holiday.

Solstice Fires

sunrise
Winter solstice 2020 in the Northern Hemisphere will be at 5:02 AM (10:02 UTC) on Monday, December 21.
What can I say about solstices or the winter solstice specifically that I haven’t said in years past?
You’ve probably seen photos of neo-Pagans celebrating at Stonehenge or elsewhere with the solstice sunrise. That’s a kind of fire, and other celebrations often involve a fire. A nice fire in winter certainly makes sense.
Of course, tomorrow will the summer solstice for those lucky people on the bottom half of the planet. No fires required, though you can still have one to look at while you sip a drink or to put under those shrimp when you slip them on the barbie.

Solstice is from the Latin solstitium, from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop) because those ancient observers believed that the Sun stopped and headed in another direction to start the winter solstitium.

It occurs in our calendar near the end of the year, but in ancient Egypt, this solstice marked the start of the new year. They observed the rising of the star Sirius which happen around this time. It coincided with the annual flooding of the Nile River which was important to agriculture.

According to Wikipedia, there are other celebrations on the winter solstice.

Kračun costumes
Korochun, Koliada, Koročun Kolyiadki, Kračun – there are several names for the Slavic pagan winter solstice holiday. The costumes are quite colorful.

Maybe I’ll write about those celebrations in the years to come. One celebration that I feel a bit of an ancestral connection to is the Slavic Korochun. Its origin doesn’t seem to be clear, but modern scholars tend to associate this holiday with ancestor worship. The winter solstice was a day to make fires at cemeteries to keep their loved ones warm. They would hold feasts to honor the dead and keep them fed. They also lit wooden logs at local crossroads. (Crossroads figure in folk magic and mythology – see this earlier post.)

I think setting a fire in a cemetery or burning logs at my local crossroads would be seriously frowned upon by the authorities.  Perhaps, just a Viking toast to the solstice tomorrow night?

Falling Into Winter

fall winter

It is weather folklore that says that autumn will arrive 90 days after the katydids start to sing. Based on my Paradelle observations, that made this past Tuesday (November 17) the arrival of autumn. That prediction is way off. Of course, maybe I didn’t pay close enough attention to the first katydid song. Maybe the insects in my neighborhood got a late start. Maybe weather lore is just weather lore.

It was looking autumnal last month and this week it has been feeling wintry. I needed to take in the garden hoses and liquids from the garage. I did my last lawn mowing and drained the mower’s gas. It was below freezing this morning. But I haven’t given in to getting the snowblower ready. I’m not jinxing November.

I posted earlier about what the scientists at NOAA think will be coming this winter but I honestly don’t know that I trust scientists or nature for long-term weather predictions. Still, I find myself looking for those predictions and writing about them as a kind of seasonal ritual. I’m not alone. My past weather posts always get an uptick in hits when the seasons are changing from people wondering.

Before we get to predicting the weather ahead, we need to decide how we are going to organize the year. You can use the astronomical calendar of equinoxes and solstices to mark changes in seasons. The meteorological calendar breaks the seasons down into groupings of three months based on the annual temperature cycle as well as our calendar. Of course, your local conditions probably don’t really match either method’s breakdown of the year.

And then there is phenology, which is my favorite. This is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events in your area. That means the start of a season won’t follow either calendar. I like it because it requires you to observe nature – something people did quite seriously once upon a time and few people do today.  This means more than just saying “Oh look, the trees are changing colors” or “The crocuses look nice this year.” When did the trees start changing? Which species was first and when did it happen last year?”  I’ve been journaling my garden and plants around me for a lot of years and that first crocus bloom has become something I look forward to seeing and recording each spring. And it changes.

If you want to be a bit more of a “citizen scientist” you can join thousands of others in gathering environmental and climate change information from across the country in a program called Project BudBurst. But I do recommend some careful observation of your little corner of the world.

The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting for Thanksgiving  chilly conditions for most  zones with even some light snow forecast for the Rockies/Plains and points east and showery conditions for Texas, and most of Zone 5. (Check zones here)

I’m in Zone 1 on their map and that covers my New Jersey all the way up to Maine. Very different weather in there. For the 24th-27th (Thanksgiving time) it is supposed to be unsettled, with light snow/flurries but clearing in time for Thanksgiving.

Did you know that The Old Farmer’s Almanac is a different publication? That is the one my mom used to buy and I read as a kid, and I still buy a copy every year. It has a look and a style that has remained pretty much the same since 1792. It’s full of all kinds of crazy stuff.

As they say themselves, it has “fun facts, predictions, and feature items that have made it a cultural icon: traditionally 80 percent–accurate weather forecasts; notable astronomical events and time-honored astrological dates; horticultural, culinary, fashion, and other trends; historical hallmarks; best fishing days; time- and money-saving garden advice; recipes for refreshment; facts on folklore, farmers, home remedies, and husbandry; amusements and contests, plus too much more to mention.”

This almanac has me in a smaller Atlantic Corridor region which I’m thinking makes predictions more accurate? Both almanacs have websites that are free to use. I do like getting The Old Farmer’s Almanac free email newsletter with planting time suggestions and garden stuff and looking at this new-fangled World Wide Web thing at www.almanac.com. But I think for now I’ll just pour myself a neat one and settle down on the couch and read off some pages made from dead trees like God intended.

year end
Endings are often sad.

This Winter of Our Discontent

Photo by Simon Berger on Pexels.com

Weather is probably not your biggest concern this weekend with the election grabbing American headlines and the pandemic still the top concern around the world. But last month NOAA issued its annual winter outlook for the upcoming season and I have looked at that each year on this blog.

NOAA’s winter forecast for the U.S. favors warmer, drier conditions across the southern tier of the U.S., and cooler, wetter conditions in the North.

For Paradelle in 2020-2021 winter, they predict generally warmer than average temperatures, and near-average precipitation amounts. Their forecast this year was largely based on the continued presence of La Nina conditions in the Pacific Ocean.

La Nina is a water temperature anomaly in the Pacific Ocean and you might think that it wouldn’t have much of an effect on the east coast. Strong trade winds move warmer water away from the Americas and so colder water takes its place and that is less favorable for the production of storms. We have all seen that hurricanes and tropical storms gain strength over warm water.