Monday, January 22, 2024

The January Night Sky


I sat outside last night as dusk turned to dark, and the sky was adorned with the diamonds of winter. So many of my favorite images appeared before me…the waxing gibbous moon, Jupiter, Orion. It has often been said the coming is darkness is saved for the poets and musicians and dreamers of the world. I quite agree with that, but it also belongs to anyone who takes the time to look. All you need is a jacket, mittens and a pair of boots! The rest of obtained with no money or thought of the morrow, but a bit of patience.

It was my dad who brought the sky into my life by his own adoration. I remember as if it were yesterday when we were ice skating on a pond on the edge of Fort Wayne. My dad sat on the bench with a thermos of hot chocolate waiting for us to toddle over to him to grab a blanket and a cup of that steaming cocoa. On that night his appreciation of the night sky drew us all in as he pointed out the constellations and planets. It was before I was old enough to traipse out into the woods alone. It was before I was old enough to gather stars as friends and share my stories into the dark. It was before I knew the Universe was bigger than myself. I know that now.

I had a conversation with a friend the other day about the stark beauty of the winter night sky. But why I ask myself? What makes the winter sky more beautiful than summer nights? Is it my own imagination or is there some truth to this? I found a lovely article by meteorologist, Danielle Noyes, from New England. According to Noyes there are three main factors which causes these beautiful sunsets. I will just paraphrase her information for you. The winter nights are colder and much less humid which causes bolder colors. Cold air travels down from Canada, as we well know, and the air is usually cleaner in the Arctic or Canada. The last reason is the Earth is closer to the sun in winter. The setting sun is at a sharper angle during the winter months. So, I guess there are a few reasons we enjoy these sunsets so much.

Winter months also brings certain constellations back in view. One of my very favorites and now easily seen after dark is Orion. I love the mythology of the constellations and folks often think Orion is in combat with Taurus the Bull, but no such story exists for that. However, if you look closely, you can see the hunting dogs of Canis Major and Canis Minor. Orion disappears from our viewpoint in the summer months and comes back to us in Autumn. Now, after dark, it is easily identified in our night sky.

This week also brings us the full moon of January. The moon will be full on Thursday at 12:54 p.m. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, this full moon is known as the Wolf Moon. By January food is scarce for animals in the wild under the deep cover of snow so it is thought that wolves circle villages and howl in search of food. I think we are not in too much danger of howling wolves, but coyotes are another story. Perhaps late at night you will hear the coyotes howl until the snow cover is gone and food in once again available. It is a good idea to keep those chickens locked up during these cold months! Other names for this full moon include Spirit Moon, Canada Goose Moon and the Moon after Yule. Whatever you want to call it, make sure you do not miss this beautiful moon.

January brings so many activities that are only here in winter. Ice skating, skiing, ice fishing are just a few of the activities that bring us closer to nature. It is also a wonderful time to teach children about tracks in the snow. I know every morning I love to see who was visiting my garden during the night. Creatures do move about during the long cold nights. Poetry abounds in the mid-winter with readings by candlelight, or flashlight or firelight. Burns Night at Caleo will come and go warming our hearts and keeping such traditions alive.

John Stoddard, poet from the late 1800’s, once wrote, “The sunset embers smolder low, the moon climbs o’er the hill.”

Happy mid-winter.

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