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Views and opinions: Pollen from ragweed moving north into the lower Midwest


July 23-29, 2018

How restless are the snorting swine!

The busy flies disturb the kine,

Low o’er the grass the swallow wings,

The cricket too, how sharp he sings!

-From “Signs of Rain” by Dr. Edward Jenner

The Black-Eyed Susan Moon waxes into apogee (its position farthest from Earth) at 2:44 a.m. and then becomes full at 3:20 p.m. on July 27. Rising after dusk and setting after sunrise, this moon passes overhead in the middle of the night.

As the Sun travels through Leo in July and August, the midday stars of this sign are a prophesy of the midnight stars of January: the Big Dipper moving in from the east, Cancer and Gemini almost overhead and Orion fading into the far west.

Venus in Leo is the giant evening star in the far west after sundown. Jupiter in Libra lies along the southern horizon after dark. Nights of late July bring the Summer Triangle deep into the sky. The easiest formation to identify in this star cluster is Cygnus (the Northern Cross), that appears like a great cross (or swan) in the east.

The nights of July 28-29 bring the Delta Aquarids after 12 a.m. in Aquarius. This shower can bring up to 20 meteors in an hour. The bright moon at the end of July, however, may make meteor-watching less rewarding.

Weather trends

At the end of July, normal average temperatures start to fall in almost every state of the union. That means that light frost season is only 3-4 weeks away along the Canadian border, 6-7 weeks away in the lower Midwest and 8-10 weeks away in the northern parts of the South.

Sunshine remains the rule for this week of the month, with three out of four days bringing at least a partial break in the clouds. Chances for rain typically decline as the month comes to a close, dropping from 40 to 45 percent on July 24 down to just 20 percent on July 30-31.

A cool front passes through the lower Midwest between July 27-29. Full moon on July 27 is likely to strengthen that front, and an afternoon in the 70s is likely as July draws to a close. Evening lows in the 50s, unusual only two weeks ago, often return.

Average high temperatures drop 1 degree on July 28, their first decline since late January.

The southwesterly winds of late summer carry a different smell than those of June. Now even those people who spend most of their time indoors may notice a slight difference in the feel and mood of the air. Even in the city, cricket songs become more intense in the night, warning the commuter, the student and the farmer to prepare for changes to come.

In addition, pollen from ragweed moves up into the lower Midwest, and while thunderstorms may temporarily clear the air, the pollen returns, increasing the likelihood of allergic reactions.

Field and garden

Farmers prepare for August and September seeding of alfalfa, smooth brome grass, orchard grass, tall fescue, red clover and timothy. Major damage from insects inhibits or stops growth on pumpkin, squash and melon vines.

Some garden tomato plants have become too lanky and need to be cut back to encourage September fruiting. Bee balm (monarda) goes to seed, offering food for finches but sending bees to wildflowers and garden annuals.

Marketing notes: Explore the market for the Hindu feast of Navaratri, which beings on Oct. 9 and lasts through Oct. 18.

Fish, insects, livestock and birds: Cicadas still dominate the days, but katydids begin singing after dark and crickets intensify their song. Geese become restless as a Judas maple here and there turns red and the moon turns full. Blue-winged teal and meadowlarks begin migration.

Fish follow the moon, too, increasing activity in the middle of the night (with the moon overhead), especially as the cool fronts that arrive near July 27 and August 3 approach, pushing down the barometer.

The natural calendar: Now, the yellowing locust and buckeye leaves, and the brown garlic mustard, give a sense of fall to the woods. Shiny spicebush, boxwood, greenbrier and poison ivy berries have formed. Seedpods are fully formed on the trumpet creepers.

White vervain blossoms reach the end of their spikes. Lizard’s tail and wood nettle go to seed along the riverbanks. A few black walnut leaves are falling. Late-summer fogs appear at dawn.

Some full-size Osage fruits and walnuts are heavy enough to fall to the ground in summer storms, another marker for the advance of the year.

Virtues and self-sufficiency

I grew up surrounded by the power of my mother's prayers and the reserved dedication of my father. My mother's faith, the family knows, interceded with the Virgin to bring my sister safely through rheumatic fever and to protect my father during World War II. Her novenas and her love still shape what happens in my life.

My father promoted a mix of pragmatism and Catholic values, attended Mass daily, never seemed an intimate man, but gave me everything he could. I recognize in myself his preparations for the seasons, his need for order, for naming, for setting things in a theological basket.

Virtues are associated with images in my memories. My mother was ironing clothes one afternoon, and I asked her about happiness. She said there were no guarantees; that's why a person prayed.

I remember my father walking with me across the fields in winter, hunting rabbits in the Wisconsin snow. I thought about him in the snows of this past winter, redefining myself and what he meant to me.

He had had his fill of weapons in the South Pacific and wasn't fond of shooting, but he took me out when I was still too young to go by myself, and he tried to guide and tame my first passions for guns. He did it well, and I came from his lessons with respect for life and some skill with a rifle and pistol.

He also once told me never to assume that anyone else was more correct than I might be. I've forgotten the circumstances of his statement; they were probably reasonable – my father is no radical questioner of authority. But he never wanted me to suppose that someone else knew more or better, unless I had good reason.

He would most likely prefer I remember some different piece of advice, but I remember that one almost above all. It gave me confidence and set me free to question him, and to go my own way.

That freedom and the love and the invisible powers of my mother have stood by me, forming the center of my self-reliance and security, smoothing the imperfections in our relationships and making the foundation for my own adult life.