In Sunshine or In Shadow

Tomorrow marks the first day of fall, the autumnal equinox. The day the sunshine starts to fade, and all the flowers start to die. The day the world begins to slide into the shadow of another cold, dark winter. Tonight, in my Northern hemisphere, I’ll say farewell to the summer of 2012. Rest in peace, beloved season. I’ll miss you.

Most folks look at me like I have three heads when I tell them my favorite weather is ninety-five degrees and ninety-five percent humidity, under a clear, cerulean blue sky. What can I say? I like to sweat … and I like to feel alive. I’ve always loved hot, sunny summer weather, and I’ve always disliked being cold. Wait, that’s not quite right. I’ve always detested being cold.

It’s no wonder Weatherly’s lyric, “‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow”, from that hauntingly beautiful Irish ballad, Danny Boy, always leaves a lump in my throat, but perhaps Robert Frost said it best:

Fire and Ice
by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Danny Boy
by Frederic Weatherly

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the roses falling
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

But when you come, and all the flowers are dying
If I am dead, as dead I well may be
You'll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me.

And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me
And all my grave will warm and sweeter be
For you will bend and tell me that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

With warmest regards,
Rob

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Once in a Blue Moon

August 31, 2012 – Last Blue Moon Until 2015

There was a full moon on August 1, 2012, and today, August 31, marks the second full moon of the month. Using the commonly accepted calendar definition of a Blue Moon, tonight’s moon will be the last Blue Moon for nearly three years, as the next one won’t happen until 2015. But if you side with the Farmers’ Almanac definition of a Blue Moon, the next one won’t happen until 2016.

No matter which definition you ascribe to, Blue Moons happen because the lunar month, which is always about 29-1/2 days, don’t exactly match up with our Gregorian calendar months, which vary from 29 to 31 days. (I still have to count knuckles.) Confused? Here’s a brief explanation.

In the English language, the earliest recorded uses of the term “blue moon” had religious connotations, but the 19th and early 20th century history of the term is a bit closer at hand.

Farmers’ Almanac Blue Moon

The four seasons–spring, summer, fall, and winter–divide the year into quarters, and each season usually has three full moons. Ancient cultures around the world have always named each of the full moons. Farmers’ lives are dictated by the passing of each successive season, and in North America, the farmers have names for every season’s full moons, too.

  • Spring starts on the Vernal Equinox
    • Early Spring, or Egg Moon
    • Mid Spring, or Milk Moon
    • Late Spring, or Flower Moon
  • Summer starts on the Summer Solstice
    • Early Summer, or Hay Moon
    • Mid Summer, or Grain Moon
    • Late Summer, or Fruit Moon
  • Fall starts on the Autumnal Equinox
    • Early Fall, or Harvest Moon
    • Mid Fall, or Hunter’s Moon
    • Late Fall, or Oak Moon
  • Winter starts on the Winter Solstice
    • Early Winter, or Old Moon
    • Mid Winter, or Wolf Moon
    • Late Winter, or Lenten Moon

But very little in a farmer’s life is ever easy. Because of the difference in length of the almost uniform lunar month and the varying lengths of our Gregorian calendar months, a fourth full moon creeps into one of the seasons, every once in a . . . while. These absurd, extra full moons threatened to disrupt the farmers’ meaningful “early-mid-late” naming convention, but by necessity, farmers are very resourceful folks. So any time a season had four full moons, the THIRD one was called a Blue Moon, so the last full moon of that season could continue to be called the Late Moon. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Maine Farmers’ Almanac always listed blue moon dates for farmers.

Calendar Blue Moon

Don’t worry, this is a much shorter explanation.

In 1946, in an article he wrote for Sky and Telescope magazine, James Pruett misinterpreted the 1937 Maine Farmers’ Almanac, which described years with blue moons as having “… eleven months with one full moon each and one with two.” Pruett wrote that he interpreted this to mean the second full moon in any given month was a Blue Moon. This “non-traditional” definition became widely adopted when it was broadcast on a popular radio program in 1980. Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, either.

By the way, a Blue Moon isn’t really blue. Today, the phrase “Once in a Blue Moon” is taken to relate to absurdities, impossibilities, and events that only occur on rare occasions.

Full Moon

August 25, 2012 marked the passing of Neil Armstrong, a truly great American and a boyhood hero of mine. Neil’s family issued a statement shortly after his death:

"For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a
simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and
modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see
the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong ...
and give him a wink."

I will never be able to look up at the moon again–whether it be an Egg Moon, a Harvest Moon, a Lenten Moon, or a Blue Moon like tonight’s–and not give Neil a thought, a thanks, and a wink.

The Stone Mountain Highland Games and Alex Beaton

Stone Throw

During our time in Georgia, my family would always look forward to October and the Stone Mountain Highland Games near Atlanta. We would watch the highland athletic games and dance competitions, falconry and sheepdog herding demonstrations, and pipe and drum bands competing from all around the country. At least once in your life–on a grassy field in the middle of a beautiful evergreen forest–I hope you get to hear Amazing Grace and Scotland the Brave played by a massed band of hundreds of bagpipers and drummers. The drones will give you goosebumps, and the chanters will bring a tear to your eye, they will.

Massed Bands at the Stone Mountain Highland Games

Deep into the woods, past all the colorful clan tents displaying their crests and tartans, we were always drawn to the music stages. With a canopy of blue sky and pine boughs overhead, and a nip in the October air, Celtic music rang from the likes of Clandestine, Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas . . . and from Alex Beaton.

Alex Beaton at the Stone Mountain Highland Games in 2007

Alex cuts a dashing figure on stage, with his wavy salt and pepper hair, gray mustache, and a broad smile hovering above his white Polo shirt and tartan kilt. When he begins to play, the music flows from his fingers, through the acoustic guitar around his neck, and out to his rapt audience. (For some reason, the first several rows of folding chairs in front of Alex’s stage are always packed with smiling women of all ages.) In between ancient warrior ballads and bawdy pub tunes, Alex often tells stories from olden-day Scotland, like the Massacre at Glencoe in 1692, or the First Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. Those well-told stories always end with a sideways glance at the audience, a grin, and in Alex’s powerful baritone brogue:

“I remember it well!”

The people of Scotland and Ireland share a common Celtic ancestry, and they share a common musical heritage. Born to a Scottish father and an Irish mother, Alex Beaton is a guitar-playing folksinger and storyteller who has been entertaining audiences all around the world for over forty years. I’ve had the pleasure to listen to Alex perform live at the Stone Mountain Highland Games, and to shake his hand and tell him how much I enjoyed his music on several occasions. I listen to one of Alex’s many CDs almost every day, so I still feel a connection with this gregarious Scot.

About a year ago, it was with great sadness that I learned Alex had fallen at his home near Nashville, and suffered a severe spinal cord injury. After a long stay at the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta and more rehab work near Augusta, I understand that Alex has returned to his home and is even doing some traveling, although he’s still confined to a wheelchair and working hard to regain more and more movement. If you feel moved to send Alex a card or note, a few dollars to help with his mounting medical expenses, or drop by his website and buy a CD or two, I know he and his family will deeply appreciate your kindness.

If you enjoy traditional Scottish and Irish folk music as much as I do, here are a few of my other favorite artists:

Do you have a favorite Scottish or Irish folk musician or favorite tune? If I had to pick, mine might be Alex Beaton’s rendition of Maggie. I’d love to hear about your favorites, too. And if you happen to drop Alex a card or a note, please give him my best wishes for a swift return to the stage. I, along with all of his many fans, miss him most dearly.

Rob at the Cal Erin Forge, Stone Mountain Highland Games