According to my trusty old Farmer’s Almanac, the Celts knew Feb. 1 as “Imbolc,” or Lamb’s Milk Day, because it signaled the beginning of the lambing season. And though I didn’t see any lambs today, I did encounter a rambunctious herd of City Grazing’s goats nibbling on mallow plants in the pasture between the SF Bay Railroad and the cement recycling plan. And City Grazing founder David Gavrich and a goat called Petunia were happy to give me a fine impromptu demonstration of how to control weeds in industrial areas in an environmentally friendly way, while some of the rest of the herd got a little, shall we say, frisky. And that's a sure sign that spring is on the way (even if it felt like it was already summer, two weeks ago), no matter what the Groundhog says tomorrow, Feb. 2, when he is scheduled to pop out of his burrow and, if it's sunny and he sees his shadow, indicate that we are in for six more weeks of winter.
“Celts also knew Feb. 1 as Brigantia, [who became St. Brigid in Christian traditions] named for their female deity of light and in recognition of their Sun being halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox,” my Farmer’s Almanac states. “A sunny day betokened unwelcome snow and frost until Lady Day [March 25]. Clouds portended warmth and rain that would thaw out the fields and have them ready for planting. Our Groundhog Day is a remote survivor of this belief.”
In the Bay Area, Groundhog Day seems even more meaningless than Lamb's Milk Day, given that our temperatures are positively balmy right now, especially compared to the East Coast, where folks are dealing with freezing rain and facing more snow in the coming weeks. So, perhaps it’s worth focusing on the fact that it’s also a new moon tomorrow (Feb. 2). This means you won’t be able to see the moon for a couple of days. And that the goats won't have any moonshine to help them in any frisky noctural adventures. But when the moon becomes visible again, it should look like a thin silvery smile at twilight. And, if you're lucky, you may be able to see the dark portion of the new crescent moon glow, as part of a phenomenon known as earthshine.
“This occurs because 38 percent of the sunlight that strikes Earth bounces back into space; some of this earthlight bathes the lunar surface," my almanac states. "About 10 percent of that light bounces off the lunar surface (which is not very reflective) to create the visible glow (earthshine) on the Moon’s dark side.”
Either way, Feb. 1 will have daylight for 10 hours and 20 minutes. This means we are midway between the winter solstice, when days were only 9 ½ hours long, and the spring equinox, when the days will last for over 12 hours. If you were a farmer—or a goatherd that would be significant. And the folks at City Grazing told me the only reason there have no baby goats this year is they got the billy goats fixed after last year’s bumper crop of 32 goat kids! But if you’re not into goats or earthshine, Feb. 2- 18 is one of the best sets of fishing days for 2011, again, because the moon will be between new and full. Enjoy.