Saturday, September 10, 2011


            Where were you ten years ago tomorrow? Tim and I had just arrived at the site we meant to prepare for sod when we heard surreal reports on the radio about planes flying into the Trade Towers. My man of action restarted the truck’s engine, and hurried to the bank to withdraw some cash—a State Department veteran, Tim has a good grounding in worst-case scenarios. After topping off the gas tanks in both our vehicles, we settled in at home to watch those horrifying images on TV, and wait.

            Sunday, September 10, 2011, is the tenth anniversary of the day the world changed for complacent America. Never again would war be thought of as something that only happens in other places.

            We have kind and generous friends who let Tim and me use their apartment in Battery Park City in New York. The door is difficult to open because of the rattling the building endured as the Towers fell. The front window overlooks what was at first a debris-filled hole from which the memorial gradually rose. I remember staring out that window at those poignant twin spotlight beams.

We haven’t visited the city for a few years. I’m ready to go back now. My son, Sean, will graduate from art school there this coming May. Maybe they’ll have finished working on the downtown portion of West Street by then. It’ll be good to see a building and a park where that ugly, sad hole used to be. It’ll be good to remember, and good to remember it’s good to keep moving forward.

Take a minute to think of all the people who died that day ten years ago, and the families whose lives were instantly, irrevocably, eternally altered. Never forget them, and never stop moving forward.


Shine on, shine on Harvest Moon...
             The Harvest Moon goes full at 5:27 am EDT on September 12th. How do I know it’s the Harvest Moon? Traditionally, the name goes to the full moon falling closest to the autumnal equinox. At this time of year in the northern Hemisphere, the moon’s trajectory forms a shallow angle to the eastern horizon. The result is that, on the evenings around the moon going full, it appears to rise only a few minutes later than it came up the night before.

So what? you ask. Doesn’t it do that anyway?

Well, not exactly. It probably will not surprise you to learn that I track moon cycles as part of my weather fixation. Here are graphs plotting the curve of the difference in minutes between rise and set on consecutive days for September of 2010 and March of this year. I’m not entirely sure what they mean, but there are more dots closer together at the top of the curve during last year’s Harvest Moon (September 23) than during March 19th’s “Super” Moon. The farther north you go, the differences get smaller, until, when you get above the Arctic Circle, the Harvest Moon actually appears to rise earlier on successive evenings. At any rate, all this “extra” light is a boon to farmers laboring far into the night to get the last of the crops in before frost. Or that’s the story, anyway.

Moon cycle graph March 2011

Moon cycle graph September 2010

Some planting-by-the-moon folklore: I put in pole beans last weekend, because planting during a waxing moon is supposed to help crops that grow up; contrariwise, I’ll wait until Monday to set out my potatoes, because waning moons traditionally aid in the establishment of root crops. I don’t really think it makes any difference one way or the other, but I’ll try anything once.


Comet Garradd
            In other celestial news, two cool events should be visible to casual viewers for most of September. The first is the continued presence of Comet Garradd, easily visible with binoculars. That’s not a typo: the comet is named for Australian amateur astronomer Gordon Garradd. A Google search turned up many listings for Comet “Garrard,” which is just wrong. Easier to say, but wrong. Do the right thing and pronounce Mr. Garradd’s name correctly.

Supernova 2011fe
in a galaxy far, far away
            The other skylight, for which you’ll need a telescope, is the supernova occurring in Galaxy M101, good ol’ SN2011fe. Astrophysicists are wetting their pants over this one because it’s a Type I supernova. That means it reliably produces “standard candles” of light by which interstellar and intergalactic distances are measured. The current estimate is that Galaxy M101 lies about 21 million light-years away from us—SN2011fe should help refine that calculation.


Azalea caterpillar
calmly defoliating an azalea
            From the celestial to the terrestrial: keep an eye out for azalea caterpillars. Tim found a pair of them on a client’s Azalea indica on Thursday. You wouldn’t think it, looking at the picture here, but they blend very nicely into the foliage until there are so many of them that there’s no foliage left. If you find any, hand-pick them off the plant and squish them. The caterpillar’s spines are soft and not toxic in any way. (I remove them barehanded, but recommend gloves for the squeamish among you. I’m one of the squeamish about the smushing part, so that’s Tim’s job.) Keep in mind that, if you find one, more than likely there are others. I’ve never known a moth to lay a solitary egg. That’s inefficient.


Centipede grass seedhead
            Finally, for those of you with centipede grass lawns, it would behoove you to allow the seedheads to ripen before mowing at this time of year. It’s nature’s way of increasing the density of your stand, and absolutely free.

Speaking of mowing, I am happy to report that Tim has made it through the worst of the hot weather without having to cut our grass once. If our water bills were not zooming through the stratosphere, he might even have thanked the fiscal idiots who run our town.

Thanks for dropping by, and please spare a minute for remembrance tomorrow.


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