Urban Almanac

Urban Almanac: December 2009

By Diane Olson

Day by day in the home, garden and sky.
by Diane Olson DECEMBER 1 Today the Sun rises at 7:32 a.m., and sets at 5:01 p.m. December’s average maximum temperature is 37 degrees; the minimum is 21 degrees. Average snowfall is 13.7 inches. The average duration of continuous snow cover along the Wasatch Front is 29 days.
DECEMBER 2 FULL LONG NIGHTS MOON. Look for a paraselene, or moon dog, whenever you see high, thin, cirrus clouds near the Moon. Moon dogs are saucers of reflected moonlight hovering to the side, sometimes attached to a halo. The sunlight version is a parhelion, or sun dog.
DECEMBER 3 Cold-blooded creatures are, for the most part, taking a nice long snooze. Toads have long since shoved their way into the ground, and snakes are tangled into knots in dens. Some fish, including carp and bass, also hibernate, burying themselves in mud. Others head for deep or rapid waters where they eat each other, or patiently await a warm day’s insect outing.
DECEMBER 4 The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a colder-than-normal winter, due to low sunspot activity. Sunspots are temporary dark spots on the Sun caused by intense magnetic activity that inhibit convection, forming cool spots.
DECEMBER 5 If the weather allows, now’s a good time to prune summer-blooming shrubs and cut back berry bushes and perennial flowers.
DECEMBER 6 Turn the compost pile one last time and cover it with a tarp to prevent nutrients from leaching out.
DECEMBER 7 Poinsettias need six hours of indirect light and a warm room to flourish. Don’t let them stand in water. The Aztecs called the poinsettia cuetlaxochitl, meaning “skin flower,” and used it to both produce red dye and reduce fever.
DECEMBER 8 LAST QUARTER MOON. www.dailycoyote.net. Check it out. And buy the book. (It would make a great gift.)
DECEMBER 9 Australian aborigines drink liquefied green tree ants to relieve cold symptoms. Probably tastes better than Robitussin.
DECEMBER 10 Birds love peanut butter. Smear some on a bagel, roll it in raisins, nuts or birdseed, and hang it from a tree.
DECEMBER 11 Don’t let your pond freeze or the fish will suffocate. Run a pump or de-icer, or break the ice daily.
DECEMBER 12 Got a gardener on your holiday list? www.seedsofchange.com has excellent tools. Their hand trowel rocks.
DECEMBER 13 Tonight’s Geminid meteor showers should be a good show. Look to the east, just after midnight.
DECEMBER 14 The 110th Christmas Bird Count: Citizen Science in Action, runs today through January 5. www.audubon.org/Bird/cbc
DECEMBER 15 Christmas trees can consume a quart of water per day. Make sure yours is adequately hydrated.
DECEMBER 16 NEW MOON. Recent studies suggest a feedback loop between our faces and our feelings. People who can’t frown because of Botox injections seem to be happier, on average, than people who can frown. I suggest forgoing a face full of toxins and just smiling more.
DECEMBER 17 Look for Mercury to the left and just above the crescent Moon tonight. Early Greek astronomers believed Mercury to be two separate objects: one visible at sunrise, which they called Apollo, the other visible at sunset, called Hermes.
DECEMBER 18 Relative to body weight, a hummingbird’s brain is bigger than ours.
DECEMBER 19 Cool gifts for nature lovers: birdseed, feeder, house (those made with rough wood give birds a better grip) or bath; field guides; garden books; macro and micro scopes.
DECEMBER 20 Go for a walk, preferably with a dog. Borrow one if you don’t have your own.
DECEMBER 21 WINTER SOLSTICE. Today is the shortest day of the year, as Sun reaches its farthest point south. For the next three days it rises and sets at the same time, then begin its journey back to the northern hemisphere.
DECEMBER 22 Ilex vomitoria, a type of holly plant, was used by Native Americans to make a highly caffeinated ceremonial stimulant known as “the black drink.” After consuming large quantities, users often purged themselves by vomiting.
DECEMBER 23 American dwarf mistletoe is a common parasite that grows on conifers. As its berries ripen, they build hydrostatic pressure, and eventually shoot out a single, sticky seed at 50 mph, as far as 50 feet. Once established on a new host, it sends out bark-penetrating roots to pirate water and nutrients. Though toxic to humans, mistletoe berries provide high-protein winter fodder for deer and elk.
DECEMBER 24 FIRST QUARTER MOON. Pogonophobia is a fear of beards. Pogonophobes, beware of Santa tonight.
DECEMBER 25 In Venezuela, it’s customary to rollerskate to early morning Christmas mass.
DECEMBER 26 Pot up some more bulbs now to offset the January doldrums.
DECEMBER 27 Dark-eyed juncos, sometimes called snowbirds, feed primarily on weed and grass seeds during the winter. They often form large, hierarchal winter flocks, with larger birds dominant over smaller ones and older birds over younger ones.
DECEMBER 28 Look for the Moon passing through the Pleiades star cluster tonight. An open cluster of relatively young blue stars, the Pleiades have been known since antiquity. Homer mentions them in the Iliad and Odyssey.
DECEMBER 29 It generally takes a storm about 24 hours to travel from the west coast to the Wasatch Front.
DECEMBER 30 For a good time, read “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex,” by Mary Roach. The funniest science book ever.
December 31 FULL BLUE MOON. A blue moon is a second full Moon in a month. One occurs, on average, every 2.7154 years. The Sun rises at 7:51 a.m. today, and sets at 5:09 p.m. Happy New Year to you all. Thanks for reading.

Every day
I see or hear
that more or less
kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for—
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world—
to instruct myself
over and over
in joy,
and acclamation.
—Mary Oliver

This article was originally published on November 30, 2009.