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Monday, August 21, 2017

Dark Moon Magic in the Day

   
Eclipse!
 Eclipse of the sun! If you were one of the lucky ones to be in, or to have traveled to, the path of totality, I hope you thoroughly enjoyed the celestial magic. To those of you who, like me, watched the phenomenon from the much larger partial eclipse path, do not let the amazingness of the fact that it even happens at all, gets lost. I think it might be easy to do, in the wake of the excitement of its path of totality crossing a wide swath of the country.

Eclipses -- both solar and lunar, are phenomena based in the imperfections (not sure what word would work better, but that doesn't feel right) of the orbits of the earth around the sun and the moon around the earth. 

The path the earth takes around the sun and the one the moon takes around the earth are not both "flat" -- that is that they are not on the same plane. The Earth's orbit, known as the ecliptic, is by definition our reference point at 0 degrees inclination. The Moon's orbital inclination with respect to the ecliptic varies, but it is, on average 5.1 degrees. 

Think about this for a minute. The Moon's orbital inclination varies and most of the times that it goes 'round the earth, we just get the standard "new moon" (what I call dark moon) when it spends its days positioned more or less between us and the sun. As it moves around its orbit, we begin to see a small sliver of lit moon in the sky, the waxing crescent that appears in the western sky at sunset. As the moon continues around its orbit, it moves farther from being more or less between us and the sun and shows up later in the night until we see it fully illuminated at full moon. And then it continues around the orbit, rising later and later (or earlier and earlier by reference to morning, until we can only see that small sliver of waning moon, in the east just before sunrise.

We think of a lunar cycle as being 28 days, but while the moon completes its orbit around the earth in 27.3 days, due to the Earth's motion around the sun it has not finished a full cycle until it reaches the point in its orbit where it is in the same position with reference to the sun.

With the offset in orbital planes, not to mention the variation in the moon's orbit, the fact that they EVER line up is amazing... astronomical, in fact! 

Add to all of this, that for a solar eclipse to be total, the relative positions of sun and moon need to be just right for the moon to appear the same size as the sun. It's only by chance that the Moon and the Sun each take up approximately half-a-degree on the sky as seen from Earth's surface. Because both the Earth's orbit around the Sun and the Moon's orbit around the Earth are ellipses rather than circles, sometimes the Moon appears larger than the Sun, casting its shadow all the way down to Earth's surface, (a total eclipse when viewed from those locations on earth where the alignment is precise, but as a partial if viewed from other places nearby) while at other times the Sun appears bigger, with the Moon unable to completely cover the solar disk. This latter phenomenon is called an annular eclipse, and while nearly all of the suns's disk is obscured, we see a ring of sun around the moon, rather than the apparent flaming tendrils of the coronasphere that makes total solar eclipses so dramatic.

I am looking forward to the potential opportunity to see a total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, right here in Maine. According to this image from Accuweather if the weather gods smile on us (April... Maine... start praying now!) we will only have to travel to northern Piscataquis, Penobscot or southeastern Aroostook
projecting the eclipse
counties. At the same time, I thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to attempt to project this partial eclipse with a pair of binoculars, out in front of the house. Somewhere, I have an image of myself, as a teen, doing the same thing with my 4" refractor telescope, which I had recently completed. Believe me, I was longing for the good, solid mount for it that my dad built to go on a heavy, wooden surveyor's tripod that we found in one of our raids on the local surplus stores. By the time 2024 rolls around, I will have a more stable mount for whatever optics I use!


Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Moon Wanes and the Harvest Builds

It's been a very busy week here at the sign of the Fussing Duck and Dutch Hex Sign. I shipped not one but TWO large hex signs today, destined to grace a barn in Zionsville, PA.
48" Abundance and Prosperity sign

36" Wilkom (welcome) sign
These are the last two of a three sign order and will soon be mounted on a newly painted barn.

I am finally getting caught up with the backlog (only three signs in the queue at present, not counting the one I paint for our MOFGA chapter to donate to the Common Grounds Country Fair grounds. It is nice to have the kitchen table back for a few days!

Out on the farm, the meat chickens continue to grow. In fact, one was so big that I thought it was a wayward hen from the layer flock, which I have been culling down to a more reasonable size for 2 people, and culled it late last week. I realized my folly when I found no evidence of it having ever laid. I can attest to the fact that it made a delicious Sunday meal, regardless. I do intend to let the balance of this flock mature, though. I am not used to getting only one meal and a half from a bird (though to give it full credit, there is still a back and neck to use for chicken and dumplings.)  We are down to 4 hens and a roo (so I think the last count was) plus 4 turkeys, 2 duck hens and a drake and two guineas in the mature fowl department... plus the replacement layers and banty chickens "just for fun."

Broccoli and lettuce
Cabbage
Tall corn!
Garden harvest has picked up, and I have moved from "take a basket when you go to the garden" to "take a BIG basket..." LOL  We harvested the first broccoli (ate some tonight and half of the head is in the freezer) and a good size cabbage. The green beans continue to offer pickings, though the peas are essentially done. I am leaving the vines to harvest seed. Tomatoes are starting to come on, and the second variety of flint corn has given me flashbacks to my younger days, visiting family in Iowa "where the tall corn grows."

We keep having decent amounts of rain, mostly as late afternoon/evening thunder storms and we remain thankful that Thor graces us with the thunder than marks His presence but no hail.

As a former astronomy student and long time hobbyist, I am looking forward to the solar eclipse on Monday. It will be partial here, and I aim to project and photograph it. 


Friday, August 11, 2017

Crazy, distracted week

It's been a crazy, distracted week here at hex central, under the sign of the fussing duck.

I have not done any painting this week. I needed to... there are two hex blanks hanging fire in the house and the replacement mail box within reach of completion....but I have been focused on the garden, on culling fowl and on getting rid of STUFF.

Downsizing the homestead to a HOMEstead size takes work; the duck pen got de-commissioned, two more ducks culled and the balance are running with some of the chicken flock. But that left fence panels to be moved/repurposed and other parts of their former enclosure to be dealt with..some will go to the dump, hopefully today and some will be moved elsewhere for re-use.

There are two more chicken hens to be culled. One will be easy to capture some evening. The other has been running with the meat birds and is currently in their "chicken tractor" as they were all locked in at dusk. Tomorrow after a trip to town, I plan to get Tractor Guy to help me get INTO this pup tent size and shaped structure to capture the wayward hen, who will then become food. the other...well later in the day, most likely, will join her. Then the fowl culling will be done and I can focus on merging flocks and making one confinement pen for them all, with two sections and one shelter.

Rigby, out to pasture
I am happy that the goats and the sheep seem to be making a.. flock?? herd?? together. They happily go to pasture and share the former goat house at night. Rigby, the sheep, even trots to and from pasture easily, following me. The goats... well I have leashes for them! One of these days I will get Tractor Guy to shoot video of me bringing everyone back in the evening. It's crazy! One sheep following like a fairly well trained dog and two goats, on leash, both trying to go everywhere but WITH me and a flock of Red Rangers under foot!

We have also been working to make space in the garage... this and the decommissioning of the duck space has called for an extra dump run. I am aggressively offloading stuff scrounged for projects that have been hanging fire for some time and TG has brought the two free bookcases we scored a while back, into the computer room, to help organize stuff there.

I am hoping to get back to painting this weekend. The forecast is for two more rainy days to follow this morning's rain and thunder. There are peas still producing, the green beans are coming on and the tomatoes are beginning to ripen so in addition to the dump run early this afternoon, I will have to get to the garden to harvest. I would like to bring in some beets, as well, but as I pulled some of the larger ones to share with a friend yesterday -- in trade for a bag on perfectly good lemons from the waste food stream -- they can wait a bit.

The cleaning and organizing that I am wrapping up for the week, I am dedicating to Frigga, All-Mother and the Lady of the Hearth. It seems very appropriate to do so as this week's projects wind down on Her day. I will, as always, hold my Needfire tonight. At this point I am not sure if the ritual will fall before or after I make my way into the turkey pen to find the final hen for culling, but I am hoping to complete both tasks tonight. As folks who have tried to catch a chicken that does not want to be caught soon discover, it's easier to sneak up on a sleepy hen than to catch one in broad daylight. Unfortunately, this does not work on ducks or guinea fowl, though guineas are easier than ducks. At least I hope so, as I need to catch our two and clip their wings in hopes of keeping them out of the pen so they don't beat up on everyone else (especially the young layers, who will soon join the flock). If they insist on being bullies, and getting in with the other fowl, they will need to find a new home or will become dog food.

Gotta love life "in the slow lane."


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Thou Shalt Not Get Sentimental About Old Plants

Long, LONG ago, when I had barely achieved my majority, I was attending a party with my BF, a PhD candidate in upper atmospheric sciences. This was an after-finals/before summer blowout attended, primarily by a large crowd of doctoral and masters candidtate, a post-doc or two, a few odd dates and a handful of younger students, in '69 or '70, which might explain why I don't, actually, remember too much of the evening. LOL However, I recall vividly entering into discussion with a group of ag students, as I was, even back then, growing a large organic garden alongside the rural home the BF was renting. These students, I suspect, were well in the clutches of "big ag" as it was configured, but not yet named at the time, as they made me promise "not to get sentimental about old plants."

Looking back, I am not exactly sure what they meant, but this memory bubbled up a bit ago, as I was out in the garden pulling up the first planting of peas and combing the vines, as I did, for the ones that had not yet gone by. There were plenty, and while I pulled and searched, I contemplated my usual gardening tactic of hanging on to the bitter end. As long as the plants were blossoming and trying to produce, I usually let them do so. I pick small batches to add to a casserole or soup, as the end of production pickings are never enough to make even two servings for a supper. Is that, I wondered, what they meant, letting the plants finish a natural life cycle? They had just met me, so would not have known that hanging on to the bitter end -- tenacity to those who like me, stubbornness to the rest -- is one of my super powers.

I suspect, though, this was not what they meant. Those days and those times, I think, lead into more hybridzation and then into the genetic level modifications that stir up such strong feelings these days. They were grad students... in the sciences... where research drives the game and having the luck of being named in the paper your research allowed your advisor to write would have been a feather in your cap and a springboard to greater things.

They would not have been concerned about genetic diversity, even had I known to mention it. But, speaking back through the ages, I will tell them that supporting genetic diversity is far from the same thing as "getting sentimental" over old plants, and their seeds and their genetics.

While my mind was playing with the time machine, another somewhat related memory from the same era popped up.   "Grab hold tightly, Let go lightly." Yea, like I said tenacity has always been strong in me, the letting go, not so much so. 
The Moment of fullness

Grab hold tightly,
Let go lightly.

The full cup can take no more.
The candle burns down.
The taut bow must be loosed.
The razor edge cannot long endure
Nor this moment re-lived.

So...now
Grab hold tightly
Now...
Let go lightly
--- Timothy Leary
 I have been working on this lesson since I first encountered this bit of poetry. So, in the spirit of things gone by, the pea plants have gone by to the fowl, a batch remain to be shelled and the second planting to be picked later today.

As I was pulling, I noticed a new pea plant growing; it is about 6" tall, so was self-seeded a couple of weeks ago, but it reminded me to make a note in the calendar and to try planting a short bit nearby this volunteer, to help pin down the timing for a fall harvest of peas for fresh eating... something for which I have not yet not the planting date figured out.

I love my garden meditations and even more when it talks to me.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Let the Harvests Begin!

This week ushers in the tide of First Harvest. Also known as
Lammas, Lugnasad and Freyfaxi, it is a major holiday to this homesteading Northern Tradition witch.

Here in the USA, Pagans often focus the celebration around the harvest of maize ("corn" here, though in the rest of the world I believe it is more commonly known as maize and "corn" is either wheat or a generic term for all grains) though here in the northlands, it is not yet even tassleing, let alone ready to harvest as sweet corn for eating, not to mention as a grain, dried to grind for bread.

Winter wheat, though -- planted in the fall and overwintered under Mother Nature's blanket of snow -- IS ready to harvest here on Fussing Duck Farm. This year, one of my experimental projects was to be growing several varieties of wheat, so last autumn I planted Banatka and Sirvinta, two heritage wheats which I have been harvesting for crafting and hopefully to have a wee bit of grain to grind for flour for a ritual bread later on. I also planted a variety of spring wheat, which is just now heading.

2016 YuleBock was quite skinny!
My main goal for planting wheat was to see if I could... and if so, to have fodder for crafting. Last year I attempted to make a Yule Bock but even after buying wheat at the Common Ground Fair AND from a craft store, he turned out kinda skinny. And I enjoy trying wheat weaving projects so having long strands with wheat on was something I wanted to play with. And over the past few weeks I have been harvesting it. First I cut any green stalk that "lodged" (what it's called when stems of wheat blow to the ground in wind and rain storms) and then continued to harvest as the stalks and grains dried. There are still a few standing in the garden ( or I hope they are, after the thunder storms of this late afternoon!) which I will harvest tomorrow.

I won't have the grains all sufficiently dried, threshed, winnowed and ground yet, for sure... but I am looking forward to seeing this whole process on miniature scale.

In process; I used cable ties to secure the
stalks until they dried.
I do, however, have a delightful wheat craft that I completed last week, a pentagram constructed from stalks of wheat and braided with a wreath form for support. Wheat weaving, like basket making, requires that the stalks be soaked in warm water to make them flexible and I was waiting for the project to dry completely before removing the black cable ties that I used to help secure things while it was being constructed.