Wheel of the Year

We’ve come to another “cross-quarter day,” the midpoint in the quarter of the year from the summer solstice to the fall equinox.  I know this as “Lammas,” a contraction of “Lady Mass” or some other special mass, evidence of the Christian church’s propensity for covering a festival with one of its own.  This syncretic approach disappeared with the reformations, both Catholic and Protestant, when distinctions and exclusions became the norm.  (The feast day for Mary, mother of our Lord, is August 15, not August 1, so the connection is uncertain.)

Lammas celebrates the early harvest, the wheat harvest.  In Pennsylvania, at the beginning of August I would be counting the weeks, then days, until Labor Day, when I expected the heat, or at least the  humidity, to be gone.

Whether the heat bothers you or not, this cross-quarter day, in the northern hemisphere, also marks the point at which the lessening of daylight becomes noticeable.  The evenings are getting shorter.  We are six weeks past the solstice, that wonderful long evening, and the sine curve of the year’s cycle has speeded up.  This used to be troubling to me because I was steeped in an abstract rationalism that treated days as calendar boxes, and named fall, defined as after the equinox, as the time when the days are “supposed” to get shorter.  My “book-learning” confused me.  To expect the universe to follow such rules, to be other than it is―that is what’s contrary to reason.

With its hot weather, shorter days and the imminent start of school all at once, August has sometimes seemed like the worst of all possible seasons; a sense of loss sets in.  But the farmer’s market is full of wonderful produce.  In Maine, it’s the season of corn and blueberries.  In southern New Mexico, it’s time to gather the eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes for a freezer full of ratatouille to serve over pasta.  And local peaches are ripe. Enjoy this first harvest season!

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