Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Barley Moon
Singing Moon
Hazel Moon
(As best as I can decipher by enlarging the above page from Angela Jayne Barnett's Celtic Luna calendar, the poem says:)

"Best I love September yellow
Morns of dewstrung gossamer
Thoughtfull days without a stir
Rooky clamours, brazen leaves,
Stubble dotted o'er with sheaves -
More than spring's bright uncontrol
Suit the Autumn of my soul."

Thanks to Cindi, who helped me decipher the poem and provided me with the two last verses as well as the name of the poem and its author: "Beech Turns Yellow" by Scottish poet Alex Smith.

What a special couple of days we are experiencing! The autumnal equinox for 2010 occurs at 10:09 tonight Central Daylight Time. (The first FULL autumn day is tomorrow, Thursday, Sept. 23.)

AND, the September full moon rose at 5:27 p.m. CDT today, and will be officially full at 4:17 a.m. tomorrow morning.

The last time the autumn equinox and the September full moon occurred at the same time was in 1991, and it won't happen again for another 19 years - in 2029!

If that wasn't splendid enough, the planet Jupiter is very close to the earth right now. On Monday, it was closer than it will be again until 2022. It is still in our vicinity and will appear as a bright star near the moon tonight and tomorrow. If you're lucky enough to see it under a clear sky, Jupiter should provide a spectacular show.

Although we can't do so every year, this year we can properly call September's full moon The Harvest Moon. (The definition of Harvest Moon is the full moon which is closest to the autumnal equinox, and one year out of every three it falls in October.)

Supposedly, The Harvest Moon is so bright that people could harvest their crops by the light of the moon, as shown in this 1833 painting called "The Harvest Moon" by Samuel Palmer.

Another name for the September moon is The Full Corn Moon, because corn is supposed to be harvested at this time. Native Americans also called this month's moon The Acorn, Chestnut or Nut Moon, The Yellow Leaf Moon, The Drying Grass Moon or The Rice Moon (named by the Chippewa - or Ojibwe - Indians, who harvested their wild rice during this month). The old English name was The Barley Moon. The Celtic name was The Singing Moon. The Chinese call it The Chrysanthemum Moon.

The autumn equinox was known as Alban Elfed by the ancient Druids. Although it is often called Mabon by modern pagans and shown by that name on the Celtic Wheel of the Year, the Welsh word Mabon was not adopted for this purpose until 1970.

The old festival of Harvest Home or Harvest Homecoming was celebrated at this time. Despite the bad publicity generated by Thomas Tryon's novel, "Harvest Home", which involved human sacrifice, Harvest Home was the pleasantest of holidays. It was a big celebration featuring rituals, games, plays, bonfires, feasting on food and drink and decorating with flowers, leaves, fruits and berries.

Admittedly, Harvest Home does involve the concept of sacrifice, but one that is symbolic only. The sacrifice is that of the spirit of vegetation, or of the barley, in which case it is called John Barleycorn, grown strong over the summer, cut down in his prime, ground up and brewed into beer, where he lives again.

In some regions, a corn dolly was made from the last sheaf of corn (English name for wheat) harvested. The corn dolly often had a place of honor at the banquet table, and was kept until the following spring, when it was plowed back into the ground in hopes that this would bless the new crop.

The following is an old English Harvest Home song:

"Hooky, hooky, we have shorn,
And we have bound,
And we have brought Harvest
Home to town."

In olden times, prisoners taken in battle would often be released in the autumn to avoid having to feed them in lean winter months. Kit Berry, author of the Stonewylde series of books about a modern pagan community, printed a cool suggestion in her autumn newsletter for a ritual to release all our prisoners.

"Not literal prisoners, but issues and regrets we've held onto for too long and should let go of. Find some autumn leaves, and mark on each one a symbol to represent the prisoner (for example a dollar sign for money issues). Meditate and focus on the prisoner, then burn or bury the leave to symbolize the release of all it represents. Apparently this ritual can be very liberating!"

(For a link to Berry's Stonewylde Autumn Equinox newsletter, go to:

Happy Harvest Home, everyone.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Serves you right that you're melting,
Mother Nature, you biatch!

I had planned to end my long blogging drought on September 22 with a nicely-illustrated post about the almost-concurrent autumnal equinox and the September full moon, followed a few days later with a post featuring beautiful images of the Goddess of Autumn with flowing russet hair and bittersweet-hued dresses.

Instead, I feel compelled to write a post about the incredible, almost unimaginable fact that it has been snowing for hours! Yes, snow, on September 17. I cannot argue with meteorological historians - it HAS snowed in North Dakota in September before. However, I have lived in North Dakota all my life and I have never seen snow in July, August OR September (and only once in June). My husband insists that I have - it's a long-standing mini argument of ours - but I know I would have remembered SNOW IN SEPTEMBER!!!

This snowfall has played havoc with Folkfest! Let me explain Folkfest. Bismarck and the surrounding area were settled largely by a sub-group of Germans - those who call themselves Germans From Russia. These were German residents who were enticed by Catherine The Great of Russia to settle in the rich farmlands along the Black Sea in the 1700s. In the late 1800s, they were again enticed - this time by the promise of homestead lands in the Dakotas of the United States.

These German-Russian communities were tightly-knit and determined to maintain their Catholic religion and German language and customs, and they remained purposely isolated even into modern times in North Dakota. A certain area in south central North Dakota has come to be known as Kuchen County, or The German Triangle, with the towns of Strasburg, Linton and Wishek as the three points of the triangle.

The crowded Bismarck Street Fair
on a typical warm, sunny fall day

Kuchen County or The German Triangle is also the home of three points of the triangle of German cuisine: kuchen (KOO-gen, a pastry with custard or fruit fillings); fleischkeichle (flysh-KEE-kluh, a deep-fried meat pie); and knoephle (NIFF-la) soup, a dumpling- or dough-dotted chicken stock-based soup with many variations, including potatoes, cream, and sometimes meat, usually ham.

(And if you ever come to Bismarck/Mandan, the best knoephle soup is at Fried's Family Restaurant in Mandan, which recently, to my and my sister's deep chagrin, is no longer open on weekends - Saturdays usually being the only time we can get together. Fried's knoephle is creamy, not watery, with lovely fluffy dumplings instead of gummy, doughy clumps. Delish!)

Oops, sorry, my taste buds made me digress! Like in many U.S. communities settled by Germans,  it was natural for Bismarck (originally Edwinton but re-named in honor of Count Otto Von himself) to institute an Oktoberfest celebration, a salute to the harvest and heavy on food and beer. I remember my first Oktoberfest in Bismarck in 1981. My husband and I sat huddled at a picnic table in the parking lot of a sports bar (ironically, O-Brien's), the day cloudy, grey, very cool and spitting a bit of rain. Our beer and bratwurts (sans sauerkraut, this combination being another German must-have) were quaffed very quickly before we gave up and left.

Just a few years after we moved here, the good leaders of Bismarck, having  years' of experience with crummy weather in October, decided to move Oktoberfest to the third weekend of September and rename it Folkfest, in honor of not only Germans but the Native Americans, Norwegians, Swedes and Irish folk, to name a few, who helped establish our city.

Turkey legs and funnel cakes, two staples
of the Bismarck Downtowners' Street Fair

Over the years, Bismarck's Folkfest organizers have dreamed up a great many activities, including a Folkfest Queen Pageant, free brats and kraut lunches, a parade, beer gardens and a homemade-river-raft competition. In fact, when I worked for the Tribune, it was my chore to organize the Trib's Folkfest extra tabloid, which required hours of backbreaking work. (Poor me!)

But the mainstay of Folkfest has always been the Downtowners' Street Fair, where for a Friday and Saturday each fall, several square blocks are cordoned off and dotted with countless food and craft booths. With the transformation from Oktoberfest to Folkfest, we saw many a wondrous addition to the menu, including buffalo burgers, Norwegian lefse, Swedish rice pudding, Indian tacos, fried walleye on a stick and wild rice or Wisconsin cheese soup being the prime contributions from non-German Upper Midwesterners.

But the food offerings didn't stop there. Participants could choose from Asian satay, barbecued giant turkey legs, Chinese chicken wings or fried catfish! When I worked in the Wells Fargo building downtown, I and my co-workers could step right outside three times a day - at coffee breaks and lunch times - and be immediately wrapped up in the street fair experience. We'd return to return to work replete, amid clouds of home-grown raspberries and ice cream, deep-fried cheese curds, pulled pork sandwiches, pizza, kettle corn and soup in a bread bowl. It was an orgy to which we  completely and unashamedly succumbed!

Those who were not turned into rotund roly-polys by all that food could be seen carting homeward the latest in fall crafts - autumn wreaths, Halloween and Thanksgiving ceramics, "The Witch Is In" signs, cozy apple pie potpourris. The days were usually bluebird blue, warm and sometimes even hot (which unfortunately drew pesky yellow-jacket wasps toward the delectable food).

As I watched TV from the security of home at noon today, I saw that the first day of 2010 Folkfest was being made miserable by cold rains, but fair participants were gamely roaming the streets and checking out the booths. By the 5:00 news, we heard that due to the SNOW, vendors were being allowed the heretofore unheard of policy of closing at 6 p.m. rather than 8 if they desired. But still, there were those hardy Nodak pioneers visiting the few booths still open. "What's a little cold rain and snow?", they seemed to be saying.

I'm not going to Folkfest tomorrow. It promises to be a dry but chilly 55 degrees F. I've seen about 25 years of hot and sunny, or at least cloudy and mild, Folkfests, so I can miss a freezing one. But I can be sure that there will be many, many hardy souls out there having the time of their lives and saying, "Flip you Mother Nature, you can't hold me back! I'm the daughter/son of sod-busters and I can take anything you dish out!"