Reading Nature’s Signs

Wow, it’s February already. I am always amazed at this time of year how fast time seems to slip by. It seems like it was yesterday we were celebrating Christmas; it was actually six weeks ago.  Six weeks from now we will be at spring’s doorstep.

groundhogThis weekend in Pennsylvania, hundreds awaited to see the groundhog emerge from his hole and predict what we can expect for the remaining weeks of winter. Punxsutawney Phil is only accurate 39% of the time , yet thousands have made the pilgrimage to see him since Pennsylvania’s official Groundhog Day celebration began in 1886. It makes me wonder whether we are interpreting what the groundhog is trying to tell us properly. Mother Nature does have a way of giving us hints and clues as to what to expect in the future; we just need to know what to look for.

The earliest recorded mention of the tradition of Groundhog’s Day dates back as far as 1841 in the diary of storekeeper, James Morris of Morgantown, PA wrote:

“Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas Day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow, he pops back for another six-week nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as winter is to be moderate.”

Candlemas

The origins of Candlemas are rooted in the pagan celebrations of this cross quarter day, the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  Speculation has it that the Catholic church created Candlemas to make pure roman paganism; for in Rome, pagans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia and walked the city with candles lit honoring Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and fertility. The church, of course, could not have that. Also, pre-dating Christianity in the Neolithic areas of Ireland and Scotland, the pagan celebration of Imbolc was celebrated by burning lamps and lighting bonfires in tribute to Celtic goddess Brigid. Brigid (or Bridget) is the patron saint of Irish nuns, newborns, midwives, dairy maids and cattle. She was later adopted by the church and named a saint. According to the Gospel of Luke, it was on February 2,  forty days after the birth of Jesus Christ, once Mary’s purification had been fulfilled and in accordance with the Law of Moses that she presented her first born male child to the Temple and to Simeon who held the baby and called him “the Light of the World”. This day is known as the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.  The celebration of Candlemas includes a blessing of all the candles that will be used for the rest of the year by the clergy, the candles representing Jesus Christ, ‘the Light of the World”.

Religion aside and back to the more natural world, February 2nd is an important date on the astronomical calendar. The midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, this day also marks the turning point of shedding the dark days of winter and gaining increasing light. Psychologically, this is a great day to make note of on the calendar if you suffer from seasonal depression, like some of my family members.  We’re halfway there and now we have a little more light each day!  The predictions on this day had mostly to do with looking at the signs of nature, the weather a particularly deciding factor: fair weather indicated the second half of winter would be cold and stormy.

Europeans who migrated to the New World brought their traditions with them, modifying things a bit where they needed – when in Europe, they had looked to the hedgehog to come out of his den, but substituted the groundhog since hedgehogs don’t exist in North America. In Ireland they used to look to bears emerging from their dens to indicate winter’s end; however, bears haven’t been in Ireland for 4000 years – so I believe the bear must have morphed into another smaller woodland creature. But regardless of whether you were Irish, English, Scottish, French, or Italian – everyone had something to say about Candlemas, February 2nd.

The English and Irish had a saying…

“If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter has another flight
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain
Winter will not come again”

The Scottish believed….

“If Candlemas Day is bright and clear
There’ll be two winters in the year.”

In Germany they have many saying….

Wenn der igel Lichtmess seinen schatten sicht,
So kreicht er weider auf sechswochen ins loch.

If the hedgehog sees his shadow at Candlemas
He will crawl back into his hole for another 6 weeks.

 

Ist’s zu Lichtmess mild und rein
Wirds ein langer Winter sein

If Candlemass is mild and pure
Winter will be long for sure

 

Wenn’s an Lichtmess
Stürmt und scheit,
Ist der Frühling nicht mehr weit,
Ist e saber Klarund hell
Kommt der Lenz wiohl nicht so schnell

If Candlemas brings
Wind and snow,
Then spring will soon show.
But if it’s clear and bright
Then spring won’t come so right.

 

The French…

À la Chandeleur, l’hiver cesse ou reprend vigeur

On Candlemas, winter ends or strengthens

 

À la Chandeleur, le jour croÎt de deux heures

On Candlemas, the day grows by two hours

 

Rosée à la Chandeleur, hiver à sa derniere heure.

Dew on Candlemas, winter at its final hour.

 

And the Italians said…

Per la Santa Candelora se nevica o se plora,
Dell’inverno siamo for a, ma se é sole o solicello,
Siamo sempre a mezzo inverno.

For the Holy Candelora, if it snows or if it rains,
We are through with winter, but if there is sunshine
Even just a little sun, we are still in the middle of winter.

Signs in Nature

Reading signs and knowing what clues in nature is always helpful, particularly in the garden.  Plants show signs of stress much the same way people show symptoms when their health is failing. Yellowing of leaves can be a nutrient deficiency but knowing which type all depends on how the plant is showing signs of stress. Yellowing at the tips and along the mid-rib could indicate a nitrogen deficiency; whereas yellowing primarily at the tips and edges is more likely a potassium deficiency. Meanwhile, vertical strips between the veins could mean there are problems with the magnesium levels. So even though, you see a sign – knowing how to read the is important.  The best thing to do is you see signs of stress in your plant is to test your soil.

Soil testing is simple and easy and you can find a kit online  – there are soil meters like the yoyomax Soil Test Kit pH Moisture Meter Plant Water Light Tester Testing Kits Garden Plants or Luster Leaf 1601 Rapidtest Soil Tester, Test Kit for pH, N, P and K – both are simple and easy to use and take the guess work out of interpreting Mother’s Nature’s clues that something is amiss.

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There’s a book called The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs in which author Tristan Gooley discusses some of the weather predicting lore and law.  We all know the classic “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning”  – but did you know it first appears in the Bible in the book of Matthew and attributed to Jesus? More likely you, like myself, are more familiar with the sailors taking delight or warning. Gooley points out this is a tried and true technique which is based upon two dependable truths: weather tends to come from the west, and a good red sky at sunset means good clear weather is coming . Also dramatic sunsets are a clue to the dust held in the air by high-pressure systems which also indicate prolonged good weather.  His book is fascinating and I highly recommend it.

Reading and researching nature’s folklore and laws is fun but I find the more time I spend outside, the more I learn the language of nature from nature, herself. It’s sort of like submersing yourself in a different place, learning the language and culture – except it’s right outside my on doorstep.

 

sources:

Celebrating Candlemas in Old Ireland

Ireland Calling

Groundhog Day- Stormfax Weather Almanac

History of Candlemas Day

February sayings and traditions