2012-08-20 – On the Jewish calendar, this is the month of Elul. I don’t really keep track of Jewish months in the same way that I know, every day, what day and month it is on the secular calendar. But the sky keeps track for me, because the Jewish calendar is synchronized with the cycles of the moon. I can look at the sky, if it’s not cloudy, and make a fairly good guess as to the Jewish date.
This morning, the sky told me Elul. Elul is the month when the stars first become visible on my pre-dawn walk to the train. This morning, although the sky was partially obscured by clouds, I could definitely see some stars. Briefly, in the east, I saw a bright star that was probably Venus. Venus is the brightest star and is even visible in the daytime, so I saw Venus last week. In the south and southwest I saw a few other points of light. The partial cloud cover made it hard to see a pattern, but I know from past years that the constellation Orion and the dog star Sirius are among the first stars I can see in that quarter of the sky in late August.
Another clue to the Hebrew date was the absence of the moon. Last week the moon was a waning crescent. That means that we have passed the new moon and there should be a waxing crescent in the evening sky. Jewish months begin with the new moon. (Islamic months are also tied to the lunar cycle, so the holy month of Ramadan ended at about the same time. I say “about” because, naturally, there are differences in how the two faiths sync their calendars to the lunar cycles. They never get too far apart, but they frequently diverge by a day or so.)
These are travel days for me. Last week I travelled to Grinnell, Iowa to take my son to college. This week I am travelling to La Crosse, Wisconsin on business for several days. I am on the train to La Crosse as I write this post.
Knowledge of the stars was once important for travelers, as they can help guide you to your destination. Not needed now. My train is not going to get lost. But it can be a help when you are on the Interstate. GPS directions are so one dimensional. Maps and stars give you a sense of place as well as direction.
I’ve been snapping pix out the window that I plan to use in this blog in the months to come. It’s very hard with my camera to get a picture of what I want out of the window of a moving train, especially with as much as a second delay between when I press the button and the picture is taken. I’ve had to try to anticipate the best scenes and snap before we get there. Most of them don’t turn out, but some do. So, if you come back regularly, you will eventually get to see them.
The conductor has just announced that the next stop will be Tomah, Wisconsin, the stop just before La Crosse.
You have time to think when you are on a train. 3G coverage doesn’t extend between many of the stations on the route. So I’ve been reading, looking at scenery, snapping pix, and thinking about all the recent changes in my life and my family’s life. That’s what Jews do in the month of Elul. Even secular Jews like me.