The Vernal Equinox and the Moon of the Worm

The Vernal Equinox and the Moon of the Worm Photo from wikipedia.org
18 February 2010 Written by 
Published in Star Gazing

Spring is a season of nature reawakening from winter's long dormancy. By the modern calendar, it begins with the vernal equinox (about March 20). This is the day when the sun's vertical rays cross the equator, and daylight / night time hours around the world are theoretically about equal. Daylight hours continue to increase by about three to five minutes a day, reaching a peak of daylight with the summer solstice of about June 21.

It is not coincidental that Easter and the equinox are closely associated. Keeping the vernal equinox stable around March 20 on the calendar was a major goal of Gregorian reform of the calendar in the 16th century. For Christians, the celebration of Easter, between March 22 and April 25, is an affirmation that spring is finally here. Others would give that distinction to St. Patrick's Day of March 17. This is the largely secularized Saints Day where green symbolizes the shamrock, Ireland, and spring,often accompanied by parades, music, and frequently, by over indulgence in green beer.

 

Cabin Fever and Spring Fever

The increasing light and warmth of this annual reawakening of the natural world affects the human spirit. Winter brings "cabin fever." This could be loosely defined as a sense of restlessness, often with irritability, caused by being confined indoors for several weeks due to the cold and stormy weather. Most people stay at home more in the weeks following the Christmas holidays leading to less social interaction. Severe cases of cabin fever have in recent years been designated as a syndrome called seasonal affective disorder or S.A.D. While many people suffer mild winter blues, for a few this can develop into major depression. In severe cases, light therapy may be beneficial.

In the normal course of events, cabin fever evolves gradually to "spring fever." The warmer weather with longer days provides a natural cure by encouraging greater activity. "Spring cleaning" both inside and outside the house is a long custom of hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It can be an obsession with some people. Spring fever breaks as one adjusts to the change from winter dormancy to the greater normal activity level of spring.

Daylight Savings Time

Daylight savings time extends by an hour the evening light when the clocks spring forward an hour at 2 AM on a Sunday close to Solstice. The exact date for the change has been variable in recent years. Glenn Hauser more accurately calls this "daylight shifting time", as it does not actually "save" any time. It merely shifts an hour of daylight from early morning to the evening.

The idea of daylight savings time goes back at least to Benjamin Franklin. It was first introduced in the US in 1918, though repealed after World War I. It came into favor again as "War Time" in the 1940s. After the War until the 1960s, there was no federal law regulating daylight savings time. States and localities decided whether or not to observe the practice. This confusion led to much debate, and finally federal standardization in the 1960s. From 2007 forward the change was on the second Sunday in March at 2 am local time, reverting back to Standard Time by setting the clocks back an hour at 2 am on the first Sunday in November.

This semi annual shifting of the clocks remains controversial with somewhat dubious claims of saving energy and improving quality of life with more evening light. In recent years, there have been claims of the transition having negative effects on health, with sleep disturbances, an increased risk of car accidents, and lost productivity. Some studies seem to indicate an increase in heart attacks with this shifting of the clocks as the body adapts to rising an hour earlier.

Nature Awakens

In our modern industrialized world, many factors limit the sensitivity most people have to the gradual natural changes of season. Though increasing daylight and warmer temperatures are obvious, more subtle changes in natural landscape are often not recognized by those in urban / suburban environments. Much of this is related to spending too much time inside.

Increasing greenery, animal migrations, nesting of birds and birth of young in mammals, breeding of amphibians, the phases of the moon and the ever changing night sky, the return of bees, mosquitos arrival attracting bats, are all signs of the natural cycles that happen every year. It is amazing how much close observation will reveal.

Despite what the calendar says, the onset of spring in the northeastern US varies from late February to April. In the Mohawk Valley, March, April, and May are generally considered spring months. However, in the Tug Hill Plateau and southern Adirondacks, spring does not begin in earnest until April, March being more of a winter month. Whenever it actually begins, spring brings improving weather and a corresponding increase in outdoor activities.

The Worm Moon or the Maple Moon

All seasons are marked by one or two important events of local agriculture directly related to the natural cycles of solstice and equinox and changing seasons. This usually celebrates a period of abundance of a particular food. For hunter gatherers this could include migrations of deer, large flocks of birds, or a run of shad or salmon. Fruits in season, meager crops of cultivated corn, beans, and squash, wild strawberries, raspberries or blueberries, and the coveted sweets of honey and maple -- these were the essential diet of the native Iroquois.

The vernal equinox provides near equal daylight and darkness, but there is a wide range of temperatures within the normal range. March is blustery cold one day, mild and sunny the next. The temperatures can range from below zero to over 80, pulsating back and forth between winter and spring. This unstable transition is maple season, providing sap, the basis of maple sugar products. This tasty sweet was almost certainly known to the Iroquois before European contact. An important agricultural tradition still occurs during these late days of winter and early spring with the collection of maple sap and producing of syrup.

As mentioned, the date of the full moon on or after the solstice determines the date of Easter, and Europeans called it the Pascal Moon. These days shift against the equinox. From 2008 to 2010 it fell on March 21, 10, and 29. This resulted in 2008 Easter falling on March 23, the earliest since 1913.

We'll end with a recognition of the spring moon as known by the Indians. The Moon of the Worm is a common name, as worm castings are coming to the surface in the soil. Other variations among Eastern Indians include the Full Crow Moon, the Full Crust Moon, and the Full Sap Moon. These names all denote an indigenous sensitivity to the changes in plants, animal behavior, and weather occuring at this time of year.

The onset of spring is quite unpredictable. The month before April may be sunny and warm one day and have a wintery blast of snow and ice the next. What follows is an appropriate motto for this fickle month of March.

Wind whips as it will
with blustery chill,
March marking transition to spring.

The moon of the worm,
but not very warm,
this tempest of winter's last fling.

Sources

Glenn Hauser, as mentioned in many editions of his popular World of Radio program on domestic and international broadcasting stations. Web Site: http://www.worldofradio.com/

Daylight Saving Time, a series of Web pages that are a public service of the Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement (IDEA) http://www.webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/b.html

Scientific American, Jordan Lite in 60 second science blog
http://www.sciam.com/blog/60-second-science/post.cfm?id=daylight-saving-time-spring-forward-2008-10-29

The Natural world Full Moon Names and Dates
http://www.snowwowl.com/rlmoon.html

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Roger Chambers

Roger Chambers is a regsitered nurse, working in geriatric nursing for over 30 years. Since 1997 he has tended a large organic garden at his urban home. He has traveled widely in the US and Canada, Europe and Latin America.

He has had several articles in hobby publications on shortwave radio, and several poems in local arts journals and newspapers. An avid fan of birds and the Adirondack Mountains, at present he is largely focused on natural seasonal changes, holidays, and associated local fairs and festivals.

Roger resides in the beautiful Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York.

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