Monday, January 4, 2010

SWIRLING SNOW & A BLUE MOON…OR NOT

It was a cold and snowy day here along the river. Temperatures barely made it into the low twenties, and from mid-morning on, snow flurried and swirled—light, airy stuff that floated more than it fell, and gave the illusion it was far more serious and substantial than the end results deposited on the ground later proved.
At best, we received no more than a half-inch dusting…and that's being generous. But to look out the window and see the air filled in thick, scintillating white, you'd have sworn you were witnessing a major blizzard. Often I couldn't make out the far bank of the river; sometimes I could barely see the big sycamore at the end of the yard.
Birds massed around the feeders all day, occasionally squabbling for position on the wire mesh holding the gallon of sunflower seeds. The seed level lowered fast, too, like sand pouring out of an hourglass. Every time I looked up, it was down another inch. I'll have to remember to top them all up again tomorrow morning when I go out to scatter corn for the ground feeders and check the blocks in the suet cages.
The day actually began clear and sunny. Just after breakfast, I stepped onto the front deck to look at the river and saw the waning Cold Moon—also a blue moon, since it was the second full moon of December, full on New Year's eve—now making its way down to the horizon. For a while, the bright moon, already substantially reduced from its spherical glory, seemed to get tangled in the tops of the big trees on the island across from the cottage.
There is some argument about the proper definition of a blue moon. The most popular in current usage is that any time a month has a second full moon, that second full moon is a blue moon. Before 1946, however, until a writer in the magazine Sky & Telescope made an wrong assumption leading to a calculation error, which appeared in a published article, a blue moon was reckoned by season. Since seasons normally have three full moons—one per month—whenever the lunar cycles (slightly shorter than the average duration of a month) provided an extra—fourth—full moon during a season, that extra moon was the blue moon.
Who's right? Either way, we end up with a blue moon about once ever 2.7 years. The Old Farmer's Almanac, founded in 1792 and considered by many the final arbitrator of such matters, says the original seasonal definition ought to be renewed. I tend to agree. Why should an editorial mistake be allowed to change such things?
The safe ground is say the thirteenth moon in any calendar year is a blue moon.

22 comments:

Bernie said...

Hi Grizz, love the photo and info on a blue moon. I read in the paper today today that we won't have another until 2028, or perhaps I read it wrong.
Hope you had a wonderful day on the river as it did sound so very pretty........:-) Hugs

Kelly said...

...in our case, Scribe, I think it's blue because it's cold! I just came in and I'm freezing! You always have a way with words. I really like this sentence: "snow flurried and swirled—light, airy stuff that floated more than it fell, and gave the illusion it was far more serious and substantial than the end results deposited on the ground later proved." ...it's a perfect description.

KGMom said...

How funny that people would squabble over whether or not a full moon should be called a blue moon. I always understood it to be the 2nd full moon in a month's span.
As for your 1/2 blizzard, sometimes the extreme cold and low humidity seems to do that--puffs up the snow and swirls it around.
Sort of like living in a snow globe, eh?

Rowan said...

We are having similar weather here, it's snowing right now with a forecast for heavy snow during today. Temps aren't getting above freezing even during the day though it's not cold enough for rivers to freeze - the big dam down at the industrial hamlet has been frozen solid for a couple of weeks though.
Your setting moon photo is similar to one I posted a couple of days ago - great minds:)

Scattering Lupines said...

Hmm. I thought it was a song from Grease...

Just kidding! But I did not know about the technical discussion surrounding "blue moons." Very neat. Every 13 months.

Jayne said...

Hence the saying... "Once in a blue moon?" :c)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

It was pretty on the river yesterday with the swirling snow. This morning, we have about another half inch of new snow which fell overnight, so everything is whiter and fluffier.

I don't believe that piece was referring to a blue moon in 2028. I heard some report the other evening which mentioned that date, but I'm thinking it was either a conjunction of planets or stars—something like that.

[Wait a minute…you know, I think what I heard was about a blue moon—that the next blue moon occurring on New Year's Eve won't come until 2028. There will be other blue moons before then, just not on New Years Eve. I think I have this right. Don't bet the farm on it, though.]

Stay warm.

Wanda said...

These cold days make me a little slower in filling the feeders and the birds a little faster at emptying them, just as you say..."like sand pouring out of an hourglass"...our largest feeder appears to be too low...if the deer stretch, they are able to lick seeds out of the surrounding tray. At least, it's entertaining and only happens on these cold winter days!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Kelly…

That ol' moon did look cold up there in the treetops. I had to be out running around yesterday afternoon and it felt cold to me, too. We're just not used to the cold yet, I guess. But yesterday's snow was really neat—and it did look like there ought to be a foot on the ground the way it was blowing around up here on the river. I have a dab of new snow this morning, too.

BTW, loved your blue jay blog shots. I haven't seen a blue jay here all week.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

Yeah, that's the way I always understood it, too…but then, by the time I paid attention to such things, we'd gotten off on the wrong track. I'd guess, the way it's now embedded in popular culture/understanding, that the old, original definition—and the reason behind it—will fade from memory.

I like your comparison of yesterday's light, airy snow to being inside a snow globe—that's exactly right. It was incredible how much was in the air and how little actually fell; at any given time, I think 99 percent of the day's worth of snowflakes were suspended and swirling.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

We're not looking at temperatures above freezing anytime soon, either. Could be weeks before that occurs.

The river has begun adding shelf ice, but not much yet. A few pools and shallows along the edge (ankle-deep water) have now frozen over. But it will require a week or more of colder weather before the slow, deep pools upstream freeze…and the faster water down here will remain open even then. Good for the herons which need to open places for their fishing.

I'll have to check out your moon pix.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Scattering…

Hey, I first heard about a blue moon in the old Elvis song ("Blue moon/you saw me standing alone/without a dream in my heart/without a love of my own.") of the same name, later done by that doo-wop group the Marcels. (Written, I believe, by Rogers and Heart.) I've probably played it a thousand times when I used to play piano around.

Not every 13 months, though. On average, once every 2.7 years. Depending on your preferred definition: two moons in the same month; four moons in the same season; and for sure, 13 moons in the same year.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

Hence, indeed. Meaning something that doesn't happen very often. As in, "Once in a blue moon, I'll pass up that second wedge of grandma's apple pie." :-D

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

You and me both. Sometimes I have to wait for a good case of guilt to build up before I venture out—helped by, say, a half-dozen redbirds gathered around the stumps where I scatter cracked corn, all glaring at me because the ground is bare, or the indignant chickadees that peck at the window. Then I put on a jacket, get myself mentally prepared, and go out and do what a man's gotta do. Then I get to thinking, well, what if you were cold and hungry and the big brute hoarding the seed was late giving you your breakfast…

Sound familiar? At least sunflower seed has been really cheap around here this year. Don't know why—but I appreciate the savings.

Carolyn H said...

Griz: Interesting info about the blue moons. I'd never before heard it was supposed to be a seasonal 4th moon instead of a second full moon in a month. I wonder which is more common?? And who started the "blue" moon thing, anyway?

Carolyn h.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Carolyn…

The lore and history of blue moons is quite old and really pretty interesting. I won't go into it much, but the term "blue moon" dates back to at least a early as the mid-1500s. Possibly much earlier.

In those days, it may have meant a warning. Or, alternatively, something to be disbelieved, much as we now say, "well, if you believe THAT, you probably think the moon is made of cheese."

This may have come about because the church used moon cycles (and still does) to calculate Lent and Easter, and if the cycle would fall too early because of an extra moon, they ignored this early moon which they called a betrayer moon. "Blue" may be a corruption of betrayer.

There's also evidence "blue moon" referred to the uncommon but actual color of moons which occur when certain particulates are in the atmosphere, scattering red and yellow wavelengths of light, thus causing to moon to look blue.

Years have, as I'm sure you know, been calculated many different ways, from various starting and stopping points, using seasons, equinoxes and solstices, cross-quarters, etc. This included lunar cycles. And to further confuse, lunar cycles got tied into planting/farming cycles. So we have the old European moon names. Native American moon names. Names with religious tie-ins. Names with agricultural tie-ins to certain almanacs. Quite a mess.

A lot of them used the term "blue moon" to denote a moon in addition to their usual series and/or way of reckoning things. How they came about from what seems to be the original usage of the word, no one really knows. But, of course, we borrowed it from the Europeans.

When season was divided into Early Spring, Mid-Spring, and Late Spring, and an almanac gave planting instructions based on each of those divisions' full moon date, an extra moon could throw everything out of whack. So they'd call the moon a "blue moon" and stick it between the second and third division of the season.

Our latest confusion is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the overall and longstanding confusion of blue moons!

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ-

I love your telling of the 'Blue Moon' - and your weather described mine on Sunday, to a tee!!!

My sister is home - :-) sore and sad and overwhelmed but safe at home.

I have a bit of a head cold so I am laying low, drinking tea and snuggling on the couch by the fire for the afternoon. We plan to take our tree down though - ugh. And I am making a turkey pot pie from scratch for dinner - hearty and comforting. I would love for you to join us, your bride too. we should meet some day.
I ove ya Grizz-
Stay warm
Love Gail
peace......

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Really glad to hear your sister is home and on the road to recovery. She was lucky…and she'll do fine.

We took our tree and decorations down on New Year's Day. I always hate to see it go. Your turkey pot pie sounds like just the thing for a winter's day. Makes me hungry just imagining it—all the good smells, too. Maybe one of these days we will be able to meet—all of us—and share a meal.

For now…stay warm, enjoy your day and that tasty meal, and get well. Hope your mother is doing okay with all this trauma and tension.

Debbie said...

Thanks for your comments. You're right; Florida isn't far enough south. Cozumel or Cancun, or even St. John or Bermuda would be better.
Debbie

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Debbie…

Not to add to your air-travel paranoia…but did you ever wonder why hijackers never demand a pilot takes his plane to Fargo? They always want to go south.

Hmmmmm……

Raph G. Neckmann said...

This is all most interesting, Grizzled! And your further information about the history of blue moons in your reply to Carolyn. Your photo is beautiful.

I've always loved looking at the moon. There is such a sense of peace and tranquillity. (Of course, our moon is a different one, here in Camelopardalis constellation! :)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Raph…

A lovely moon, no doubt, yours in the Camelopardalis constellation…perhaps a bit spotted in light green and gold?

I also love looking at the moon, our moon, I mean—especially when it is round and full, a big silver-white wheel rolling across a winter sky.