Saturday, February 19, 2011

Two Moons

What a winter this has been! Since the beginning of the year, weather has been the topic on everyone's mind. As I sit here in my warm, cozy home office and look outside, it appears as if a bomb has gone off in my yard.

It was right around the full moon last month when we suffered our first major ice storm. Sitting inside during  the evening, we could hear the ice tapping on the roof. True to form, the weather men had been predicting a really bad scenario. Well, this time, it turned out they were absolutely right. After an hour or more of nervously looking outside, my husband and I heard what sounded like a steady series of loud explosions. Finally, we had to go outside to see what had happened. Precariously walking on a thick glaze of ice, we traversed the driveway and the front walk. All three of my 25 foot tall curly willow trees (Salix matsudana 'Toruosa') had snapped off at the top! 10-15 foot long branches were either lying on the icy ground or bent over, completely twisted apart. A phrase went through my mind: the moon of the popping trees.

A few decades ago, I was seriously into studying native American culture. It always stuck with me as really cool that they named their moons. I set about surfing the internet looking for this phrase. Wouldn't you know it, it popped right up on this site:  It turns out that this is what the Northern Cheyenne called the first moon after the winter solstice. The Lakota called the January full moon the moon when the trees crack because of the cold.  My take on it was that the sap in the trees was frozen solid and then the ice, coating these especially weak-wooded plants, simply made them explode. I found it comforting to know this has been happening in America for a long time. But I still had a mess on my hands. The following morning, the extent of the damage was amazing. Not only did the three curly willows lose their tops, half of a large sugar maple in my lower back yard split in half and landed on my pussywillow patch.
It is now the week of the February full moon. In the interim, we have gotten so much snow that my entire landscape has been hidden. A few weeks ago, I put on my tallest rubber boots and ventured out to the back yard to pick pussywillows. I sank to my hips (and I am close to six feet tall!). It was hard work, but worth it to have a vase filled with living branches opening in my house. This week, the blessed snow melt began as temperatures rose up into the 50's three different days. My landscape has slowly been revealing itself. Shrubs are emerging. The pattern of my 14 raised beds is now apparent. Yesterday, I took advantage of the warm sun and the shrinking snow to go out and cut Forsythia, Abeliophyllum, Chinese witch hazel (which was in bloom it turns out!), and winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum). I put those same rubber boots back on and was surprised that the snow was still so deep that I sunk to over the top of my boots many times. But I prevailed, and there are now vases on every available surface in my dining room and office filled with flowers and budded branches.

The moon was full yesterday, February 25th. The wind picked up to 50 miles per hour last night and blew away the warm weather. Now it is bitterly cold again. I was curious. What did the native Americans call the February full moon? Well, the Abenaki called it makes branches fall in pieces moon. Yup, that's happening again. Many of the still-dangling branches of my curly willow are snapping off and falling to the ground. The yard is a mess, littered with debris on top of the snow. The Eastern Cherokees called it the bone moon. That was because, by then, there was so little food, people would gnaw on bones and make bone marrow soup. The Wishram called it shoulder to shoulder around the fire moon. If I was living in a tipi, that's exactly where I would be right now.

Luckily, I am cozy and warm inside my house. Flakes are swirling through the air, the wind is howling, and I plan on spending the day working on a garden design. Spring is less than five weeks away, and it always comes, even if it is a bit late. In fact, the full moon in March is on the 19th, the day before the spring equinox, and the day before Natureworks reopens for the season. The Eastern Cherokees called it the wind moon.  The Eastern Comanche called it the hot and cold moon. The Shawnee called it the sap moon. All clearly apply to March in Connecticut. I can't wait!

Nancy DuBrule-Clemente