The Flowers and Fruits of Our Labor


August 7, 2019 at 12:13 pm PDT / 19:13 UT

The Sun Reaches 15 degrees of the Fixed, Fire Sign of Leo

picHow did July slip by so fast! The wheel of the year is turning once again, and we are fast approaching another seasonal milestone, the midpoint between solstice and equinox. One of the four "cross quarter" days which, along with the solstices and equinoxes, mark the progression of the Sun, the seasonal shifts of the year. Maybe it's my age, a well-seasoned 59, but it does seem these milestones come and go in a flash. Time keeps zooming by faster and faster.

In the Southern Hemisphere, the Sun has been climbing steadily higher each day, as it drops and wanes in equivalent measure here in the North. Even though cold, foul weather may last a few weeks more for our friends in the South, winter has lost its firm grip. In the Southern Hemisphere it is now Imbolc. Although it may be hard to believe, warm weather is just around the corner. Mother Earth is quickening, spring is now in the "Belly of Winter." But here, on the flip side of Mother Earth, the Sun no longer shines as high in the sky as it did just a few weeks earlier at Summer Solstice. What we have sowed, tended, weeded, watered and protected since the Vernal Equinox is showing the fruits of our labor. Here in the North, it is Lughnasadh, the halfway point from summer solstice to the autumn equinox, the beginning of the harvest season.


Illustration from a Medieval text depicting the Wheat Harvest

Lughnasadh is a traditional Gaelic holiday celebrated on August 1st, and is probably named after the Irish Sun god Lugh whose name means "shining one." Often depicted as a handsome youth, Lugh, befitting of a Sun god, was said to be full of life and energy. In the Celtic calendar, his namesake holy day marks the end of summer, which began for the Celts, not in June, but in May, at another cross-quarter day, Beltane. Lughnasadh is the beginning of autumn. From the astrological perspective, the actual midpoint between the June solstice and September equinox, falls smack dab in the middle of the fixed sign of Leo, at the 15th degree. This year, the Sun arrives at that degree on August 7th.

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Pleiades rising in the dawning sky,
Harvest is nigh.

Pleiades setting in the waning night,
Ploughing is right.

Forty days and nights in the turning year
They disappear.

When they shine again in the morning shade,
Sharpen your blade.

— Hesiod, Works and Days


picIn the summer, I often wake up before sunrise. It's easy to do in my bedroom which faces east and catches the earliest light. Above the dawn's glow, for the last couple of weeks a faint cluster of stars, the Pleiades, shines in the predawn eastern sky. As Hesiod noted so long ago, it is a marker for this time of year. While early August is especially associated with the wheat harvest, all the summer crops are now beginning to "kick in" with an abundance of fruit.

In Greek mythology, the Pleiades — Electra, Maia, Taygete, Alcyone, Celaeno, Sterope, and Merope — were seven mountain nymphs, daughters of the Titan Atlas. When they were pursued by the giant Orion, their pleas to be rescued were heard by the Zeus, who changed them into doves and set them among the stars. Their name is considered by some scholars to be derived from a Greek word meaning "plenty" which certainly correlates with this star cluster's long association with agricultural harvest. In astronomy, the Pleiades ("M45" - Messier object 45) is an open star cluster located in the constellation of Taurus. It is one of the nearest star clusters to Earth, which is why, even though faint, it is easy to spot in the night sky.

* * * * * *


EVERY YEAR AT THIS TIME, we also have an opportunity to catch a shooting star. In early August, the Earth moves through a portion of space that contains debris left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle, which circles the Sun every 133 years and leaves behind a debris trail. As we move through Swift-Tuttle's debris, some of the fragments hit our atmosphere where friction causes them burn up, transforming these small pieces of dust into brilliant "falling stars."

The Perseids take their name from the constellation of Perseus which lies in the section of sky from which the meteors emanate. Perseus was a hero in Greek mythology whose most famous acts were the slaying of Medusa and the rescue of Andromeda from Cetus, one of Poseidon's sea monsters. Perseus was conceived when his mother, Danaë, was impregnated by Zeus when he came to her in the form of a shower of gold, pretty similar to a meteor shower.

The Perseids are known for producing brilliant fireballs, and according to recent NASA research they produce more fireballs than any other meteor shower. Perseid brightness is due to their speed, hurtling through space at nearly 134,000 mph when they hit Earth's atmosphere, and their size about one-fifth of an inch across. Seems small but apparently that size is perfect for burning up beautifully as they zip over our heads.

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the Perseids offer the year's best meteor show, but they are also visible to a lesser extent in the Southern Hemisphere. You will have to stay up late however, for the best viewing comes between midnight and dawn. If you live in a city, you'll probably have to get away from its light pollution in order to see the meteors. The rule is you should be able to see all seven stars in the Big Dipper, otherwise there is not enough darkness to catch one of these shooting stars.

* * * * * *


My Garden this Morning

IN THE GARDEN, I can see plenty of evidence for what Hesiod observed so long ago. The green beans and zucchini are producing fruit faster than we can eat them. The sunflowers are blooming all over the place, including one we call the "sunflower tree" (photo above) which stands about 10 feet tall and loaded with flowers. I've been saving seed from my own sunflowers for many years now and have never seen anything quite like this one. Cucumbers, peppers and eggplants are just around the corner, with the first jalapeno just about ready to pluck. There are two, swelling, already huge "Cinderella" pumpkins, Rouge vif d'Etampes, a French heirloom, on a pretty, sprawling vine. Stretching out in all directions, it spills from its bed onto the garden path. The early Viking Purple potatoes are out of the ground, dried and ready for storage, but the russets are only now beginning to die back, not quite done. Homegrown potatoes, like tomatoes, far surpass those tired, flavorless tubers sold in the supermarket.

The garlic we pulled out of the ground just after solstice is completely dry and ready to braid, the best harvest by far, huge heads of fat cloves: a gift from the wild abundance of rain last winter. And trade-off I'll accept for that full flat of tomato starts I lost last April due to that same unseasonably cold, rainy spring. The fruit on the early slicing tomatoes and the cherry tomatoes are beginning to turn that telltale orange, ripening soon, and maybe tomorrow we'll pick the first one. The Berkeley Tie-Dyes, Green Zebras and sauce tomatoes will come later. Not bad for having to start over again with a late sowing this year.

For a month now, I've been pinching the tops off the basil plants to encourage bushier growth, with the trimmings yielding enough leaves to make batches of pesto, one of our favorite summer meals. The "coastal friendly" sweet corn I tried for the first time this year is almost ripe, such a beautiful crop. The sugar snap peas, that gave us so much food earlier in the season, have died back in the summer heat and graciously passed the legume baton over to the bush beans, which are at their peak of production right now. I planted them in a circle around a small stand of sunflowers and cosmos flowers. (How could an astrologer resist a flower with that name?)

For Lughnasadh, we'll build a small bonfire in our backyard fire ring surrounded by small redwood altars my husband positioned for me at each of the four compass points. My daughter and I will decorate them with the colors associated with the four directions: white (north), yellow (east), red (south) and blue (west). We'll place crystals, flowers, favorite objects and candles in holders of the corresponding colors, light the fire and the candles at dusk, and stay out as long as we can, bundled up against the cool night air and the mosquitos. If we're lucky we be visited by the owls, just waking up, their day beginning as ours ends.

Happy Lughnasadh! May this year's harvest season bring you much happiness and abundance.




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The color-composite image of the Pleiades is from the Digitized Sky Survey. Credit: NASA/ESA/AURA/Caltech

The photo of the night sky showing the milky way and meteor is from this article.

The illustration of the wheat harvest was taken from a medieval illuminated text (Thanks Irish Archeology for the image.)