On and Off Earth - May 2021

Randy Holladay

A mostly cool April, wrapping up with a little heat wave, reminds us that summer awaits on the other end of May. While I have not forgotten that summer’s heat and humidity is barreling towards us, I do seem to have forgotten just how brilliant the dogwood blossoms are every year. Were they this pretty last year? I think they were, but photos and memories just can’t replace the real thing. Get out for a walk and enjoy them while they last.

In about three weeks, my last group of ninth graders, the Louisa County High School class of 2021, all grown up now, will take their big graduation walk, receive their diplomas and move into a world filled with more unknowns and uncertainties than any of us could have imagined four short years ago. I hope that I can safely  be there to see and celebrate that big day with them.

A colder winter and cooler spring pushed the annual bear visit back into late April after his March appearance last year. I didn’t see the big guy but was alerted to his presence by my dog. No feeders were out, but to show his displeasure he pulled down the wire they hang on anyway; it fends off the squirrels but not the bear.

Also, as per usual for April, I have spotted a couple of black snakes. Yes, a couple; wrapped around each other, no doubt discussing family planning. A few wild azaleas, lovely and rare, scattered throughout the woods, are winding down their blooming run as the mountain laurel and lady’s slippers begin to show their colors.

With the lush green of new leaves, color splashes from May flowers and warmer days – why stay inside? May beckons to get out for a walk or bike ride, get a garden in the ground and fill the air with the smell of fresh cut grass. And there is plenty of daylight; by Mother’s Day, May 9th, 14 hours span the gap between sunrise and set. 

Our natural satellite, the Moon, trapped by Earth’s gravity so much so that we only ever see one side, does wander and drift a bit from our planet’s tug. Its orbit is tilted about five degrees from the Earth/Sun plane; some months above Earth, some below. But, twice a year, it has to line up with the Earth and sun and that is when we have eclipses.

The first eclipse sequence of 2021 begins with May’s Full Flower moon, early morning on the 26th. Sadly for us, the moon will have set just before it grazes Earth’s shadow. The West Coast and Hawaii see the entire eclipse. Two weeks later, on June 10th, the partial shadow of the moon will be visible here, a partial solar eclipse. You’ll need to find your eclipse shades from 2017 to watch it safely. More on that next month.

In other off-Earth news, May’s Full moon occurs with the moon close to Earth, at perigee, and King tides will cover the beach at high tide and expose vast expanses at low; factor that in if visiting the shore. Venus and Mercury are visible, but very low in the west after sunset. Mars is still easy to spot, well above them but not nearly as bright as last summer. Jupiter and Saturn are the brightest “stars” in the eastern predawn sky. The sun moves from Aries into Taurus on May 15th.

Memorial Day, late this year on the 31st, is the normal kickoff to the summer season but more importantly, a day of remembrance. With hundreds of Americans still dying every day from COVID-19, and thousands more around the world, we still have much to do to return our country and world to what will be a new version of normal. Only together, will our future, normal world be safer, happier and healthier for all.

Randy Holladay is a former Louisa County High School earth science teacher. He can be reached at oldrockguy@gmail.com.

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