May Day

May Day
Michael Ellis

The Druids, the priestly class of the ancient Celts, divided the year into 8 parts. They had the usual solar divisions – the two equinoxes and the two solstices – but they also had what are called cross quarter days. That is, halfway between the solstices and equinoxes. For us June 21 is the beginning of summer but think about it. On the first of summer the days are getting shorter what kind of summer is that? To the Druids June 21st was the middle of summer. On this day they burned the bones from all the animals that had died the previous year. This bone fire is the origin of our bonfire.

From the summer solstice halfway to the fall equinox was the cross quarter day called Lamas. This word means loaf of bread. The first grain harvested was made into a celebratory loaf on the first of August. This day marked the end of summer and the beginning of fall.

The fall equinox was the midpoint of autumn and the next cross quarter day was Samwain. We know this today as Halloween and this was the biggest day of the Druid year – New Years Eve. So November 1 was the beginning of winter and the beginning of the next year. At the winter solstice was mid winter – now celebrated as Christmas. The next cross quarter day was Candlemas. This was the beginning of the Druid spring and recognized by us in the quaint custom of Groundhog Day. But to the ancients it was the promise of milk flowing in ewes and the sap rising in trees.

Next is the vernal equinox or mid spring and finally we get to the last cross quarter day in the yearly cycle – May Day. This day was devoted to the essential nature of male and female. The union of the sexes insured fertility of crops, animals and humans and many lascivious activities occurred then. I am always amused by the vision of innocent children gaily dancing around the maypole. I am sure their parents would not appreciate being told that they are celebrating the phallus and its union with Mother Earth.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

California Marine Life Protection Act

California Marine Life Protection Act
Michael Ellis

The near shore and intertidal region of the California coast is one of the richest in the world, probably exceeded only by coral reefs. California’s “ocean economy” –activities that derive at least some value from the sea – contributes $43 billion annually, more than the state’s agricultural sector. Recognizing this the State enacted the California Marine Life Protection Act in 1999 to protect and enhance our ocean environment. Last fall the Fish and Game Commission established the first section of the statewide network of marine protected areas between Santa Barbara and Half Moon Bay. The next area under consideration is goes from Half Moon Bay to Pt. Arena.

There are three different proposals under consideration on how to implement this important act. All share some important similarities but two of them provide crucial habitat protection.

Among the many highlights common to these proposals are protection for iconic places such as Pt Arena, the Farallon Islands, and Pt Reyes, but it is also important to protect the nearshore habitats such as Duxbury Reef in Marin and Saunders Reef in Mendocino County. These two biologically diverse areas especially need protection due to years of heavy fishing – their rockfish populations deserve a chance to recover to their former abundance. If they are not included, California’s rich ocean heritage is not adequately protected.

A Blue Ribbon Task force meets in April to recommend one of the three proposals to the State Fish and Game Commission.  They should choose the strongest possible option for the marine environment of Northern California.
More than one hundred years ago, our country had the foresight to develop a national park system. Some call it the best idea America ever had. Today, in California, we take places like Yosemite and Kings Canyon for granted and no one thinks they’re too big. But there are Yosemite’s and other treasures just off our shores in the marine environment. And now it is our turn to match the vision and wisdom of our forebearers and create a new legacy for our children and grandchildren.
With a Perspective, I’m Michael Ellis.


Michael Ellis

The San Francisco Bay area is chock full of natural wonders and I rarely complain about the lack of anything. But there are three things definitely missing here — warm nights, fireflies, and good electrical storms.

I read somewhere that the Bay area only averages three lightening days per year, the Great Plains has 45 and Florida has 90. But if you really want to hear thunder go to Uganda, they have 242 days of thunderstorms! So why are the conditions so poor around here for electrical storms? Well we simply don’t have one of the main ingredients — warm, moist air. We mostly have cool air, in case you haven’t noticed.

When warm, moist air mixes with cold air, gigantic clouds called thunderheads are created. Filled with millions of gallons of water and towering eight miles high these clouds build up tremendous electrical charges. They are positive at the top and negative at the bottom. Lightening is simply the giant spark that arcs between the two charges. And it most often occurs within the cloud.

But occasionally the ground under the cloud becomes highly charged. When this charge becomes so great that it overcomes the natural electrical resistance of the air, a spark called a step leader hurdles down from the cloud. This leader meanders about in many pathways and when it gets about 90 feet above the ground a massive spark leaps up to meet it. This electrical charge moves up through a tree or other tall object. This giant burst of energy traces all the errant paths of the step leader and lights them up all at once, creating the familiar lightening bolt. If you can’t remember anything else remember this – that lightening goes up! This flash is five times hotter than the surface of the sun. The air is immediately superheated and the resulting shock wave we hear as thunder.


This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Knowledge Vs Information

Michael Ellis

In Yosemite is a fantastic geologic feature called Lambert’s Dome. It is made up of an ancient ocean seafloor that was subducted under the leading edge of the North American plate, plunging down miles into the earth where the entire mass was melted. It then floated up a bit and slowly cooled over creating a gigantic block of solid rock we call granite. Ten million years ago this megalith was lifted up by tectonic forces, creating the Sierra Nevada and exposing the rock to the erosional forces. Due to freezing and thawing many granitic exposures become weathered into smooth domes hence this one in the High Sierra country.

OK, I just gave you the facts. Last month I hiked to this dome, stretching my body onto the rock in the heat of the midday – blue, blue sky above me. I could feel the energy of the suns nuclear furnace and I imagined this rock 50 miles below me as a molten mass. Suddenly I realized that the interior of the earth is still hot because of the left over energy from the formation of the solar system. The sun, which is cooking me from above, also cooked this rock. With my hand I felt the hardness and graininess of the granite and then there was something smoother – a large vein of quartz. Aha, this white streak in the rock came up through the granite from below as a hot molten liquid, filling in the cracks and then cooling. It felt like glass. Like glass made of silica.

With my eyes still closed I picture this rock lifting up, up, up, rising more than 3 miles above sea level and then the ice ages begin. For the last million years huge masses of ice have crushed and then released this rock, over and over again. Water filled the cracks, freezing, expanding, splitting the rock asunder. Pieces wash off, drifting ever downward, flowing toward the Pacific.

The point is that my intellect took backseat to my gut. I have FELT Lambert’s Dome and just maybe gained a bit of knowledge in that wildflower meadow.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.


Michael Ellis

I am a pagan at heart. And for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere festivities like Chanukah and Christmas are all about bright lights and heat radiating out into the darkest of the days. But long before there was a Santa Claus or Macys the ancient Romans were celebrating Saturnalia. This seven day festival began on December 17. It was named for the God of Agricultural whose name literally means “to sow”.
Candles were lit to insure the return of the sun’s power after the solstice. It was a time of equality between menslaves danced with masters and the poor and the rich mingled. An early law made it clear: “No discourse shall either be composed or delivered, except it be witty and lusty, conducing to mirth and jollity.”

This festival was meant to insure crop fertility in the coming year.

A few days after Saturnalia was the Roman festival of the Kalends. To paraphrase Libanius, the famous Greek sophist of the fourth century –
“The festival of the Kalends is celebrated as far as the limits of the Roman Empire …. Everywhere may be seen carousals and well-laden tables; luxurious abundance is found in the houses of the rich, but also in the houses of the poor. The impulse to spend seizes everyone. He who the whole year through has taken pleasure in saving and piling up his pence, becomes suddenly extravagant. People are not only generous towards themselves, but also towards their fellow-men. A stream of presents pours itself out on all sides. It may justly be said that it is the fairest time of the year…. The Kalends festival banishes all that is connected with toil, and allows men to give themselves up to undisturbed enjoyment. The festival also teaches not to hold too fast to money, but to part with it and let it pass into other hands.”
It is getting to sound a lot like Christmas….

Yes indeed my fellow revelers let that money flow to the poor and your good spirit soar freely. Happy Holidays and have a fantastic 2008 ….

this is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.