Dec. 25-31, 2017
If New Year’s Eve night wind blow south,
It betokeneth warm and growth;
If west, much milk, and fish in the sea;
If north, much cold and storms there’ll be;
If east, the trees will bear much fruit;
If north-east, flee it, man and brute.
Moon time: On Jan. 1, the Bedding Plant Moon reaches perigee, its most powerful position closest to Earth, at 6:54 p.m. and becomes full at 9:24 p.m. When full moon occurs on the same date as perigee, it is often called a “Supermoon.”
Rising in the afternoon and setting in the morning, this moon passes overhead (adding the possibility of even more lunar disruption) in the middle of the night.
Sun time: On Dec. 26, daylight begins to increase for the first time since the end of June. Sunrise, however, keeps taking place slightly later up until New Year's Eve. After that, sunrise remains at the same time until Jan. 11, when the sun finally starts to rise earlier.
At that point, the reversal of the Sun's course and the 40-day vigil for its turn toward summer are complete. Perihelion, the point at which the Earth and the Sun are closest to one another, occurs on Jan. 3 at 2:12 a.m.
Planet time: Find Jupiter and Mars in the southeast before dawn, together in boxy Libra. Saturn follows both Jupiter and Mars in Sagittarius close to sunrise. Venus is not visible this month.
Star time: Follow Orion during the first months of the year to track the progress of the season. In deep winter’s January, Orion’s giant figure fills the southern sky at 11 p.m. To his right, the red eye of Taurus (the star Aldebaran) leads the way. Behind him comes Canis Minor and its brightest star, Procyon.
The first front of the calendar year is typically severe. After the Jan. 1 weather system passes through, the chill of deep winter, empowered by the first full moon and lunar perigee of 2018, should bring the most troublesome weather of this winter.
Zeitgebers: As daylight starts to increase, spring is waiting – new daffodil and tulip leaves lie just below the surface of the mulch, and the tips of crocus crouch in their beds. Dock, leafcup, buttercup, mint, ragwort, sweet rocket, plantain, thistles, great mullein, moneywort, red clover, celandine, forget-me-not, wild onion, henbit and ground ivy foliage push ever-so-gradually toward March.
Multiflora rosebuds swell in the sun. One or two pussy willow catkins crack in the thaws. In warmer microclimates, moss can be long and flushed. In the swamps, wild iris spears stand strong around the broken strands of lizard’s tail.
Farm and garden time
As the barometer falls in advance of winter cold waves, seeds should be especially eager to sprout. In the chicken house, pullets that will produce summer eggs are hatching.
Pruning gets underway as average highs in your area drop into the 30s; it continues until highs climb once again past 40. Take out suckers, dead and crossing branches. Cut fruit trees down to the right level for picking, but don't prune what will bloom before June.
The full force of winter may bring livestock into the barn much more often. Avoid overcrowding in order to cut down on the possibility of pneumonia. And, keep adequate ventilation in any closed area your animals use on a regular basis. If you haven’t already done so, treat for mites and lice when you bring animals in from the cold.
Marketing time: The pre-Lenten carnival season begins in the second week of the New Year, one month before Mardi Gras. Explore marketing lambs for cookouts during this period. Plan to sell beads and other paraphernalia to Mardi Gras parties. Get out your recipes for hot-cross buns, a traditional treat before Lent.
Mind and body time
Pines pollinate across the South, and allergy season begins as those allergens travel north on winds from the Gulf. Begin tracking allergic reactions as the winter progresses; you may be able to narrow your window of sensitivity to certain blooming trees and flowers and be better prepared next year.
If you are planning surgery or dental work for next month, consider scheduling it before the new moon on Jan. 16 – preferably between Jan. 8, when the moon enters its mild fourth quarter, and Jan. 14, when it reaches apogee, its least influential position furthest from Earth.
And if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, this week could be a wing- dinger. Lunar power, combined with the long nights, stormy weather and cloudy skies may bring on depression or irritability. Luckily, the holiday season draws to a close, helping many people cheer up, and the New Year often brings celebrations, optimistic lists and resolutions to counter the gloom of deep winter.
Creature time (for fishing, hunting, feeding, bird-watching): The moon will be passing overhead in the middle of the night this week; therefore, it might make more sense to scout the woods and see what is in the water at the second-best lunar time, the middle of the day. Do that as the barometer is falling after the passage of the Jan. 1 weather system.
Increase the amount of feed at your bird feeders, and listen for the sharp calls of the tufted titmouse announcing the mating season. In the weeks ahead, keep alert for flocks of birds stopping by your yard, blown off course by storms. And listen for sandhill cranes flying over.
Winter in the Country
Winter is easily the least appreciated of all the seasons. The under-appreciation of winter seems to have less to do with the cold temperatures than it does with the apparent dullness of the landscape. You really have to look closely at nature to notice the activities of life.
In spring or summer, finding a blooming flower is no challenge at all; you might even be able to do it with your eyes closed. In deep winter, though, you have to look around. You may find a witch-hazel in blossom by the creek, or a purple henbit flower in the field. You may even find the pollinating cones of pines or the tiny fructifications of a moss. These, too, are “blooming.”
Walking through the woods and brush is easiest in wintertime, due to the absence of tall annual weeds, and the dormancy of biting insects. The only insects you’re likely to see are a few ladybugs, craneflies, camel crickets and perhaps an occasional moth.
With the leaves fallen, sounds tend to carry far. On a calm day in late winter, listen to the surroundings. Listen to hear the laughter of distant chickadees, the chatter of distant starlings, even the familiar sounds of far-off dogs.
Look up into the tree canopy to see the bittersweet vines with their orange-red berries swaying in the wind, and see the distinctive bark patterns of branches as they can be viewed only from below. Smell the smoke of unseen fires, perhaps from some unseen chimney over the ridge.
For a time in winter, the curtain is lifted on the complex stage of the natural world as it is; we are allowed to see it plain and unadorned. Then comes spring ever so softly, and the heavy green curtain is eased into place once more.