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Randy Holladay is a former Louisa County High School earth science teacher. His guest column, On & Off Earth, is published once a month. 

I had a feeling the bear would be early. With such a mild winter seemingly done, what point was there to sleeping in for a hungry bear? So, there he was, 40 minutes into spring, a large void in the yard, hoping to find and tear down the bird feeders but finding only a little seed on the ground. My early bear hunch had me taking in the feeders nightly. Sorry big guy, no snacks this year.

While the yearly bear visit adds a bit of caution and an added edge to my April walks, all of us face a more sinister enemy this April. As the other life forms we share this planet with continue doing what they do in spring, the coronavirus has caused dramatic changes for Earth’s human inhabitants. Frogs are still peeping, birds nesting, bears wandering, jonquils giving way to tulips, but even as dogwood blooms swell to the bursting point, human activity grinds nearly to a halt.

As we hunker down in our homes, and practice social distancing when we do go out, don’t forget that spring is a wonderful time of year and getting outside for some fresh air (often healthier than air inside a modern home) will likely benefit both your physical and mental health. More and more stories are emerging of fun, clever ways to get out and socialize —from a safe distance. Spread out some chairs in your yard and visit with neighbors and friends; our voices can travel farther than the virus.

As April progresses, our tilt toward the sun continues to grow, adding 66 minutes of daylight by month’s end. The sun’s angle also steepens (similar to mid-August), so don’t forget the sunscreen. The sun begins April in Pisces, moving into Aries on the 20th. The full (pink) moon, late on the 7th, is actually 2020’s true super moon (I was wrong in last month’s column). Late April may see Comet Atlas grow to naked-eye brightness (always a bit of a guess with a comet). It’s off the Big Dipper, but for now requires a telescope to spot.

The pre-dawn planet show continues with Mars just below Saturn as April begins. The red planet slowly slides east (left) of Saturn and bright Jupiter all month. Venus remains the bright evening star and on April 3 is inside the little star cluster, The Pleiades (aka Seven Sisters, or in Japanese, Subaru; hence the stars on that automaker’s symbol). The view will be stunning in binoculars! Venus continues to gain on Earth in the race around the sun and sinks lower in the evening sky throughout April, but gets even brighter.

On Christmas Eve in 1968, a photo of Earth rising, taken hastily as Apollo 8 astronauts came out from behind the moon, dramatically changed our view of Earth forever. That picture of our lovely little planet, coupled with the environmental activism of the 1960s, led in just over a year to the first Earth Day. April 22 marks the 50th anniversary of that first celebration. Much has changed over those 50 years, but the virus rampaging worldwide has given us a rather harsh reminder that all we have is Earth and we have to share the land, water and air with plants, viruses and bears. Stay safe, be smart, stay apart!

 

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