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Poor Will's Almanack: August 23 - 29, 2016

Tyler Sprague
Flickr Creative Commons

Having dropped below the celestial equator in the first week of late summer, the sun has now left the stability of Leo and entered the more volatile sign of Virgo, the first of the most violent periods of change in the second half of the year.

At the transition between Leo’s great plateau of heat and color in July and Libra’s sudden collapse of the forest canopy in early fall, Virgo brings the first turning of the leaves and the first chance of frost.

Under Virgo, the latest flowers of the summer – the burr marigold, zigzag goldenrod, tall goldenrod, Jerusalem artichoke, broad-leafed swamp goldenrod, small-flowered asters, virgin’s bower, New England asters and autumn crocus – bloom and decay.

Yards and paths fill with leaves. Sometimes the black walnut trees are completely bare by the first days of Virgo. The horse chestnuts follow, then the cottonwoods, then box elders. Judas maples, betraying the messiah of June with red and orange, foretell October.

Influenced by Virgo, yellow jackets come to feed in the fallen fruit, and great colonies of ants often begin migration. Murmurations of starlings swoop over the fields, and long flocks of grackles and blackbirds follow the harvest. Robins congregate in the woodlots, gathering for migration. Peaches, blackberries, second-crop raspberries, plums and elderberries sweeten, then close their seasons. Hickory nuts, buckeyes and pecans fall to earth.

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the fourth week of late summer. In the meantime, look for the signs of Virgo all around you.

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Bill Felker has been writing nature columns and almanacs for regional and national publications since 1984. His Poor Will’s Almanack has appeared as an annual publication since 2003. His organization of weather patterns and phenology (what happens when in nature) offers a unique structure for understanding the repeating rhythms of the year.