Urban Almanac

Urban Almanac: December 2007

By Diane Olson

Day by day in the home, garden and sky. DECEMBER 1 LAST QUARTER MOON. Today the Sun rises at 7:32 a.m. and sets at 5:01 p.m. December's average maximum temperature is 37degrees; the minimum is 21 degrees. It snows an average of 13.7 inches.

DECEMBER 2 Turquoise, this month's gemstone, was among the first gems to be mined. Substantial deposits are found in Colorado, California, Nevada and New Mexico.

DECEMBER 3 Chickadees, juncos and dippers are moving to lower elevations.

DECEMBER 4 Tuck frost-heaved plants back in place, and mulch with three to five inches of bark, leaves or straw.

DECEMBER 5 Chicken soup really does work: Studies show that it suppresses the inflammatory white cells that produce coughing, congestion and other symptoms of the common cold. Homemade is best, but in a pinch, store bought will do.

DECEMBER 6 More houseplants die from over watering than from anything else.

DECEMBER 7 Halcyon Days begin. The halcyon is a type of kingfisher that builds its nest on the ocean. According to Greek legend, the halcyon charms the sea so that it remains unusually calm during its nesting season, the fourteen days preceding the Winter Solstice.

DECEMBER 8 Colds and flu are more prevalent during the winter both because foul weather drives everyone inside, providing more opportunities for germs and viruses to jump hosts, and because cold temperatures lower immunity.

DECEMBER 9 NEW MOON. I recently found a raccoon in my dining room, placidly munching cat food. I'd wondered why the cat's water dishes had been full of soggy grasshoppers and cat kibble lately; the raccoon, it seems, had been dousing its food. It's not known why raccoons submerge their food in water, though it's thought that water heightens their sense of touch.

DECEMBER 10 Don't let your pond freeze solid. Keep a pump or deicer running, or manually break the ice.

DECEMBER 11 Female pigeons can't lay eggs if they're alone-or if they think they are. In order for her ovaries to function, she must see another pigeon, though her own reflection in a mirror works.

DECEMBER 12 There's an orgy of dust mites in your bed-anywhere between 10,000 to 10 million of them-eating your dead skin and dandruff, fornicating, giving birth, defecating and dying. It's been estimated that 10 percent of the weight of a two-year-old pillow is composed of dead mites and their droppings. Maybe it's time to get a new pillow.

DECEMBER 13 Tonight is the Geminid meteor showers. Look to the northeast after moonset.

DECEMBER 14 The 108th Audubon Christmas Bird Count begins today and runs through January 5.  www.audubon.org/


DECEMBER 15 Women are in more danger from hypothermia than men because their bodies preferentially protect the reproductive organs, pulling blood from the brain, heart and elsewhere to warm the reproductive core.

DECEMBER 16 Belgian artist Jan Febre used the wing cases of nearly a million Asian jewel beetles to create a ceiling mosaic in the Royal Palace in Brussels.

DECEMBER 17 FIRST QUARTER MOON. The average person gains one to two pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

DECEMBER 18 Mars is at its brightest tonight. It's possible that Mars once had an atmosphere similar to Earth's, and it's almost certain that water covered part of its surface. Though none flows today, frost covers the north and south poles.

DECEMBER 19 Flocks of Canada geese are congregating around open water on golf courses and in parks. Canada geese are intensely loyal to flock members: If an individual goose gets sick or is wounded while traveling, two additional geese drop out of formation and follow it down to protect it. They stay until the afflicted goose either dies or is able to fly again.

DECEMBER 20 Porcupines, skunks and raccoons don't hibernate, but they do den up during cold spells.

DECEMBER 21 WINTER SOLSTICE. Winter officially begins at 10:08 p.m. tonight. Seasons aren't caused by the Earth's proximity to the Sun; in fact, in the Northern Hemisphere, winter occurs when they're at their closest. It's the tilt of the Earth's axis relative to the Sun's orbital plane that creates seasons.

DECEMBER 22 Tonight is the Ursid meteor shower, remnants of the Tuttle comet. Look to the north just before dawn.

DECEMBER 23 FULL LONG NIGHTS MOON. Mars and the Full Moon rise together at sunset tonight.

DECEMBER 24 Evergreens have long been cherished at this time of year as a symbol of rebirth. Holly, in particular, was once prized as a decoration for doors, windows and mantels, because not only was it alive and green, it also snagged evil spirits before they could enter the house.

DECEMBER 25 Icelanders have a legend of the huge and sinister Yule Cat, who ate lazy villagers who didn't spin enough wool. Slackers not only missed out on the yearly reward of new clothes, but were also threatened with the dread Yule Cat:

"When Yule Cat's voice resounded through the valley,

Parents hid their children

In the cellar with the salted herring,

For the Cat preferred the smell of human flesh to fish."

DECEMBER 26 Birds pass on songs from generation to generation, often on a gender basis-males to sons, females to daughters.

DECEMBER 27 Putting down salt doesn't melt snow and ice; it keeps melted snow from freezing again.

DECEMBER 28 Protect raspberry bushes and other tender perennials with leftover evergreen branches.

DECEMBER 29 Rats, rabbits and house mice can't vomit.

DECEMBER 30 LAST QUARTER MOON. Sages ands mints are beginning to leaf out.

December 31 The Sun rises at 7:51 a.m. today, and sets at 5:09 p.m. Women get drunk faster than men because our bodies have a lower percentage of water, which means, we reach a higher blood alcohol level more quickly.  Dorothy Parker, in acknowledging that she couldn't handle more than two martinis said, "Three, I'm under the table; four, I'm under the host." u

Diane Olson is a freelance writer, proofreader and wanna-be fulltime naturalist.

This article was originally published on December 3, 2007.