Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Morning: The Tree

Here's the wonderful Christmas tree at Cedar Bluff. We pick up a tree from Hilltop Nursery in the Verona Hills each year. Doug Guza cut this fir for us and Scot McPherson helped Ed bring it into the great room and set it up. Ed and I strung lights on it; Peter and Clay hung the ornaments. This photo is from the first morning of the fully decorated tree.

Early in the morning, before first light, the tree is almost mystical. For me it is a Wondrous Light in the dark of Winter.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Windmills in the Moonlight

We're coming up to a second full moon in December on the 31st. Full moons are always a great time to be observing the eastern horizon. The moon looks large against the horizon when it first appears and its color varies according to the atmospheric conditions. Sometimes it is golden; sometimes orangey; sometimes yellow. Here in Huron County we have the wonder of the Lake Huron shoreline on the east side of the county where full moons are wondrous and huge.

Windmills now dot our landscape in two places in the county. The Ubly area has the highest towers and larger bladed windmills. Ubly is part of the rolling Verona hills area of Huron County and the 46 windmills range over several miles of hilly countryside. M-19 would be the state highway to access this windfarm. From Ubly you could drive north on M-19 to Purdy Road. Take Purdy east to Verona Road and then go south on Verona Road to Atwater Road. Finish the loop by taking Atwater west to Ubly. This drives takes in a good share of the wind farm. The drive along Atwater Road west of Ubly gives views of the windfarm, too. Here's the link to the MDOT map section  that includes Huron County.

On the western side of Huron County, the Harvest Windfarm run by John Deere is located between Pigeon and Elkton on much flatter land than the Ubly windfarm. Here 32 windmills occupy the area north of M-142. You can also see the three smaller windmills that provide power for the Laker Schools buildings when you drive along M-142 between Elkton and Pigeon. These windmills are located on the west side of the Elementary building and were the first operating windmills in Huron County. Read more about the school windmills.

Drive through the Harvest Windfarm by taking M-142 from Elkton to Gagetown Road. Turn north one mile to Richardson Road. Turn east and drive along Richardson Road to Elkton Road. Turn south on Elkton Road to return to Elkton.

Huron County has excellent county trunk lines so if you will find plenty of paved roads that crisscross both of these windfarms. I like to park my vehicle, open the window and turn off the engine. In the still evening you can hear the whoosh of the giant blades and get a sense of how the turbines "pull" the power from the wind.

About watching moonrises: Here's the link to the U.S. Naval Observatory's website that allows you to determine what time the moon will rise at any latitude/longitude coordinates that you plug into the program.

Keep in mind that a full moon rises at approximately the same time that the sun sets. The moon will rise as far to the north (in the winter) as the sun sets to the south. So, in December the sun is setting about as far south as it does all year. That means that the moon will rise as far north as it can. Think of directly east as 90 degrees and south is 180 degrees. The moon will rise at about 60 degrees. This plane is called the azimuth. You can check for the exact azimuth on the US Naval site, too. I'm showing that the moon will rise at about 58 degrees on Dec. 31st for Pigeon.

If you are watching the moonrise over Lake Huron and have the coordinates of the rise for the spot from which you are watching, the charts will be extrememely accurate. We sometimes see the moon rise at the minute that the charts indicate. Away from the shoreline you will have trees and hills and buildings that change the chart data so that the time of moonrise will vary by as much as 10-15 minutes.

If the weather is cloudy on the day of the full moon, remember that the moon rises about 45 minutes to an hour later each day. So check out the moonrise for several days either side of full moon to determine what time you might see moonrise while the moon is quite large.

Here is the data for Elkton on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009.

Sunset: 5:05 pm EST
Moonrise: 5:05 pm EST
Latitude/longitude for Elkton: Longitude W83.2; Latitude N 43.8

The photo that accompanies this blog post is of the Harvest Windfarm and was taken on a very cold December day when the moon was but a sliver. Notice that the glow of the sun lingers after sunset. Photographers call this kind of light "magic light." It doesn't last very long, but it is a wonderful time of the day to be out among the white giant windmills that are Huron County's contribution to the green energy movement here in Michigan.

One more thing about a clear full moon night in Huron County. If there is snow on the ground, it will seem like the sun has not set as the full moon illuminates the landscape. So even if you miss the sunset and the moonrise and the magic hour, full moon nights have a resonance all of their own. It is hard to sleep because it is so bright outside. You could turn off the headlamps on your vehicle (well, this is hard to do anymore!) and drive in the moonlight. We can only imagine what it must have been like before rural electrification on full moon nights, out driving in a horse and buggy. Such a closeness to nature our grandmothers and grandfathers must have felt as they rode home under the silver skies.

I can't resist one more observation about full moon nights. I'm a native of Wisconisn so our family has travelled between Michigan and Wisconsin quite a bit. Late one December, after Christmas, we left our farm south of Pigeon around noon and were just crossing the Big Mac Bridge as the sun set to the west over the Straits and Lake Michigan. It was a full moon night so the moon was rising over Mackinac Island. The Straits were iced over and the combination of golden sunset washing from the west across the ice and the large full moon rising in the east was more than magical. Ah, what can we say! Michigan has its wonders and The Straits of Mackinac on a clear winter's night -- well, you should go there and experience it for yourself. It's, as Tim Allen would say, pure Michigan.