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Christmas cold front is usually a powerful one
Poor Will’s Almanack
By Bill Felker
December 18-24, 2006

Beneath this sense of cold’s enormity is an equally strong sense of its ability to make us sensitive to one another, to ourselves, to our world.
-Susan Felch

The astronomical calendar for the third week of early winter:
The Owl Nesting Moon, new at 9:01 a.m. on Dec. 20, waxes through the week, entering its second quarter at 9:48 a.m. on Dec. 27. Rising in the middle of the morning and setting early in the evening, the new moon is overhead near midday.

Winter solstice for 2006 occurs at 7:22 p.m. on Dec. 21. On Dec. 24, the sun begins its journey toward May, shifting from a declination of 23 degrees, 26 minutes to 23 degrees, 25 minutes.

Between Dec. 19 and Dec. 25, the day’s length remains steady at about nine hours 20 minutes for most of the region, the shortest span of the year. On the 26th, days begin to lengthen; they will continue to grow at the rate of seven minutes a week until January 15. After that, night recedes a little better than two minutes every day all the way to early summer.

At bedtime, find Taurus right in front of giant Orion. Then look behind Orion for the two bright stars of Castor and Pollux, the anchors of Gemini. Behind Gemini comes Cancer. On the far eastern horizon, the largest star is Regulus, which tells you that you are looking at the constellation of Leo. Cygnus the Swan (the Northern Cross) leads the Milky Way into the far west, and summer’s Vega finally disappears on the northern horizon.

Weather patterns
The Christmas cold front is usually a potent one; it brings snow about half the time to the upper half of the nation, and its temperatures are brisk.

Christmas day is generally cold and partly sunny, snow remaining on the ground three to four years in 10. Chances for highs in the 60s are only 5 percent.

Forties come another 5 percent of the time, 30s about 40 percent, 20s or below 50 percent. One Christmas per quarter century remains below zero.

The weather moderates as the first high-pressure system of the New Year approaches, bringing a 40 percent chance of highs in the 40s or above. After the passage of the January 1 weather system, highs remain below 40 on 80 percent of the afternoons. The likelihood of precipitation increases as the old year fades. From a 35 percent chance of rain or snow on Dec. 27, chances increase to a 55 percent chance on Dec. 31.

Natural year
The leaves are coming apart, letting go of their shapes, dissolving back into the ground. As the year ends, it is often hard to tell a box elder leaf from a maple or an Osage or mulberry.

The fallen foliage accepts the rain now, its July resilience softened by the winter. Its surfaces have become passive and absorbent, sometimes skeletal, letting all the weather through.

In the perennial garden, ferns have come down across the hostas in a protective mantle. Amaranth is bowing to set its seeds. Black pokeberries dangle on their hollow stems. The heads of foxtail grass cling to one another, wave in the wind like lost caterpillars. Stubborn snapdragons and Japanese honeysuckles are finally giving in, blackening with the cold.

The vegetable garden is definitely under siege by now. Collards and kale, and well mulched carrots and beets can survive to this point in season, but January’s cold spells eventually take them.

Indoors, however, tomato and pepper plants, seeded in middle summer and brought inside before frost, should be continuing to produce fruit in a south window. Basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme and oregano are also doing well.

Mind and body
The S.A.D. Index, which measures the forces that contribute to seasonal affective disorders on a scale of 1 to 100, falls slowly after reaching a high of 90 on Dec. 20. On Christmas, it reaches 80, and the following day, Index readings reach 76, promising some relief to those afflicted with S.A.D.

Best fishing
Fish and hunt in the afternoon when the moon is overhead, especially prior to the Christmas cold front.

Almanack literature
A frightening experience at Christmas time by Clarence Dinnen, Jamestown, Ohio

The year 1939-1940 was a memorable one for me. I was in the third grade at the Bowersville, Ohio school. All 12 grades were in the same building.

One morning, we were bussed to Xenia to hear a symphony orchestra. The music had a lasting impression on me. And at Christmas time, the high school acted out Dickens’ Christmas Carol. I was genuinely scared of the ghosts of Marley, Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

But the most frightening experience happened unexpectedly one day. A high school girl came into our third grade room and spoke with our teacher, Miss Vanami, and left. A few moments passed, and then our teacher said, “Clarence, you are to go upstairs to the superintendent’s office.”

A murmur rippled through the class. I stepped into the hall and the girl was waiting. She escorted me up the long flight of stairs to the second floor and the office. I was really frightened, much more so than of the ghosts in the Christmas play. There were rumors circulating that there was a paddling machine in the office.

The superintendent, Mr. Alfred, greeted me with a big smile and asked me to sit down. Then he said, “Clarence I hear that you have lost your dog.”

I said, “Yes, he was run over by a car.”

He said, “Well, I have found you a new puppy.”

Oh, I was greatly relieved. Then he told me to ask my parents about the puppy. I couldn’t wait to get home from school to tell them. I got the puppy and named him Mickey. He was a spaniel mix that grew into a fine, affectionate dog that I had for years.

Poor Will’s Scrambler
In order to estimate your SCRAMBLER IQ, award yourself 15 points for each word unscrambled, adding a 50-point bonus for getting all of them correct. If you find a typo, add another 15 points to your IQ.


Here is this week’s rhyming Scrambler:


This farm news was published in the Dec. 13, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.