As the Sun Crosses the Equator This Afternoon…

the autumn equinox officially occurs. It happens in 20 minutes at 3:20 PM ET here in Paradelle. Of course, we won’t notice anything happening at 3:20 PM or earlier or later in the day. Unlike this week’s Full Moon which you can see, you don’t see the equinoxes or solstices. Actually, you often don’t even feel them. The weather here feels very summerish this week and I’m glad, even though autumn is my favorite season.

As usual, my post is Northern Hemisphere-centeric. Today those in the Southern Hemisphere are moving out of winter and into spring.

Astronomers tell us that the ecliptic and the celestial equator intersect now as the Sun crosses the equator. That event pushes us into two seasons. Solstices initiate the other two.

Celtic year
Image by Witchgarden from Pixabay

Summer haze cools into fall. You can celebrate the Celtic autumn equinox festival, called Mabon. It’s part of the annual sacred Celtic celebrations, which date back to ancient times. Mabon marks a time to celebrate and rest after the labors of harvest. It is a good time to finish projects and also clear out emotional and physical clutter. Doing that can bring a winter that is peaceful and restorative.

Some extended summer in the north is welcome. A warm autumn is also a good thing, as is a gradual drop in temperature as we move closer to winter. Nature colors change to the yellow/orange/gold part of the spectrum instead of the vernal green. Days are shortening and nights are lengthening.

John Keats says to autumn in his ode,
“Where are the songs of spring?
Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

The music of autumn is:

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

But I’ll be like the optimistically-incorrect bees in Keats’ poem who see late flowers and “think warm days will never cease.”

Endless Summer

candle

Just a few minutes ago, at 9:30 a.m. here in Paradelle, summer ended. I didn’t see or feel anything unusual, nor should I have expected to see or feel anything with this astronomical event.

It didn’t feel like summer when I woke up. The temperature outside was 45 degrees.

Things do happen in nature as we approach and pass the autumn equinox. I read that the black-capped chickadee starts to frantically collect seeds and hide them in hundreds of places. I knew that squirrels and the chipmunks in my yard have been gathering acorns and other things too. I also read that researchers have found that those little chickadees’ hippocampus in their tiny brains swell in size by 30 percent as new nerve cells pop up there. The hippocampus is the part of the brain which is responsible for spatial organization and memory which they need to hide and later find those seeds.

I don’t know that anything changes physically in humans but I know in myself there always seem to be changes as the seasons change.

Some people celebrated Rosh Hashanah last weekend – a new year. That calendar is not connected to the equinox. The exact date of Rosh Hashanah varies every year, since it is based on the Hebrew Calendar, where it begins on the first day of the seventh month.

2020 has been a bad year. The pandemic has been a global problem but many personal problems have also occurred because of it or unrelated to it. I’m not Jewish but I would like a new year to start now.

But the problems of yesterday are not going to disappear because of a “new year” or the equinox.

My friend of 51 years, Bob, died a week ago after a long, slow battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was home with hospice for the month and he passed gently from this world with his wife and children there.

Five decades ago his wife loaned me her copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I was 16 and it was my introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. I have been exploring ever since. One thing that has stayed with me from that book is the idea of bardo which is the state of existence after death and before one’s next birth. Your consciousness is not connected with a physical body and experiences a variety of phenomena.

I don’t know that I believe in a next birth but Buddhists believe the bardo lasts for 7 – 49 days (7 X 7) during which time that consciousness can wander the Earth.  I have been lighting a candle every night at sunset just in case Bobby needs some light to find his way. I’m looking for a sign from him that I don’t really expect to appear.

Bobby was, among many other things, a surfer – a better surfer than I ever was back then. We bonded like brothers through surfing, music, playing guitar, cars and a crazy connection to the humor of Jean Shepherd. On the surf side, we both liked a surfing film from 1966 called The Endless Summer.

The film follows two surfers around the world in search of the perfect wave.  The film’s title comes from the idea that if you had enough time (and money),you could follow summer up and down the world (northern to southern hemisphere and back), and it would be endless.

Summer is not endless, nor is a life. The Earth makes its way around the Sun and tilts along the way in a manner that can be measured and predicted in a way that we can never do with our lives.  That celestial journey will also have an end. It’s the way of this universe.

We think of this day as the autumn equinox but it is really just a moment. A good life always seems to end too soon. Though there is no endless season, I think it’s still worth searching for that perfect wave. I think Bobby might have found it while he was here.

The plan is to have a “paddle out” -a traditional Hawaiian tribute to the life and legacy of people who passed away – on LOng Beach Island where he surfed most often. Bobby’s ashes will be set upon the waves and maybe the tides will carry them north and south and, at least symbolically, he will be in that endless summer.

Endless Summer poster public domain

Autumn 2020

seasons

It was quite cool last night. Time to bring in my houseplants that have been vacationing outside. My wife put on the heat this morning to take out the chill in the air. Last week the air conditioning was on. We must be at the autumnal equinox.

For two moments each year the Sun is exactly above the Equator and day and night are of equal length. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the autumnal equinox occurs on September 22 or 23. For 2020, it is Tuesday the 22nd. (In the Southern Hemisphere it was in March when we marked spring.)

No matter what the weather is in your corner of the world, a new season is beginning that will last until the next solstice in December.

The autumn tree foliage is brilliant and so is another autumn show. The aurora borealis, also called the Northern Lights, now are more likely to appear because geomagnetic storms are about twice as frequent as the annual average during the autumn.

 

There Are Many Autumns

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost

Four Seasons - Longbridge Road

The equinox is on Monday, September 23 this year. In Paradelle, it will be at 3:50 AM. Autumnal equinox is one of two moments in the year when the Sun is exactly above the Equator and day and night are of equal length. For the Northern Hemisphere, the autumnal equinox falls about September 22 or 23, and in the Southern Hemisphere the autumnal equinox occurs on March 20 or 21.

Following the astronomical definition of the seasons, the autumnal equinox also marks the beginning of autumn, which lasts until the winter solstice.

seasons diagram

A friend, knowing that I write here about the Full Moons, equinoxes, solstice and seasons, asked me if Native American tribes had names for the seasons as they did for the Full Moons. I had to admit that I did not know. And so I did some research.

Native and indigenous people in all ancient cultures around the planet were keen observers of the changes in the natural world around them and in the movement of the Sun, stars, and Moon.  Without telescopes and mathematical calculations (and in many cases without a written calendar as we know them), they still tracked the passage of seasons.

The Abenaki are a Native American tribe and First Nation. They are one of the Algonquian-speaking peoples of northeastern North America. The Abenaki originate in Quebec and the Maritimes of Canada and in the New England region of the United States. In their calendar, autumn is called tagwogo.

The Powhatan refers to any of the Indigenous Algonquian people that are traditionally from eastern Virginia. It is estimated that there were about 14,000–21,000 Powhatan people in eastern Virginia, when the English colonized Jamestown in 1607.  For the Powhatans there were five seasons. Early and mid-spring (cattapeuk); late in the spring until mid-summer (cohattayough); late summer (nepinough) was harvest time, and the autumn and early winter is called taquitock which was a time for feasts, religious rituals and time for communal hunts. The late winter and early spring is known as popanow.

The Cochimi had 6 seasons that pair with two of our months. Late summer is amadeapee which is approximately our September and October.

The Cree divided the year into 8 seasons. Late summer is megwan; early fall is tekwagun; late fall is migiskau.

Tilting Into the Equinox

Have a mooncake this weekend.

The Autumn Equinox occurs every year between September 21 and 24. On the two equinoxes every year the Sun shines directly on the Equator and the length of day and night is nearly equal – but not exactly. Then, our planet tilt away from the Northern Hemisphere.

Today is the day for 2018 that the Sun will cross the celestial equator. That is the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator from north to south. And we in the Northern Hemisphere will enter autumn.

We don’t celebrate the equinox as formally as it was celebrated in ancient times.  Most of our ways of marking the day come from our European ancestors. In Britain, they marked autumn on the Sunday closest to the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon is the Full Moon closest to autumnal equinox. This year that will be the Full Moon on Tuesday the 25th, so be a Brit and celebrate this Sunday.

During the French Revolution, the fall equinox marked the start of a new calendar year.

Japanese Buddhists celebrate Higan during both the Spring and Autumnal Equinox. The tradition came from celebrating the mild weather that usually occurs during the time of the equinoxes.

In China, the celebration also occurs with the Harvest Moon rather than the day of the equinox and the harvest of rice and wheat. Family celebrations also include lanterns and special foods including mooncakes.

Your autumn tradition may include apple picking, a hayride, raking leaves, apple cider donuts and, of course, pumpkin spice everything.

I Just Felt Autumn

I just felt autumn as the equinox just clicked over in the Northern Hemisphere at 4:02 PM. I queued this post for that time in advance so that I could stand outside and feel it.  Okay, it’s not true that you can feel or even see anything happen at that moment.  But…

The Autumnal equinox of September happens and the astronomical start of fall in the Northern Hemisphere (and spring in the Southern Hemisphere) for a brief time is “equal night” – a day of about the same length as the night.

For real, the Sun crosses the “celestial equator.” This is an imaginary line that marks the equator on Earth extending up into the sky from north to south.

It may not happen tonight or even the next few weeks, but the days and nights are somewhat cooler in Paradelle. The days are definitely getting shorter, though that is hard to observe on any daily basis. I already had to change the setting on the timer that turns on some lights in my house.

When I say that I felt autumn, it is because as I stood outside at that moment of equinox I saw the changes in the plants around me. My vegetable garden’s leaves are turning yellow. I will start pinching out some of the tomato plant’s flowers in order to send all the energy to the remaining fruits. Some of those will never turn red and I will pick them half-ripened to falsely turn red in the house. I’ll grab some green ones before the first frost (not due around here for about another month – but no one knows for sure) and make fried green tomatoes and pickle some of them.

The squirrels have increased their activity. The chipmunks seem even more frantic than usual.

The maple leaves are changing.

In the morning when I take my coffee outside to drink, I see a few insects clinging to the screens or window glass trying to grab some house heat overnight. I find a few insects in flowers that didn’t survive the night.

In Ancient Greek mythology, the equinox is associated with the story of the abduction of Persephone. She was taken from her mother, the harvest goddess Demeter, to the underworld to become the wife of Hades, the god-king of the underworld. Demeter eventually got her daughter back from Hades, but only for nine months of the year. So, every fall Persephone would return to the underworld to spend three months with Hades. During these months, Demeter refused to use her divine skills to make plants grow, explaining why we have three months of winter every year.

Mabon is a modern Neopagan celebration which takes place around the September equinox. It is one of the six Sabbats based on the cycles of the sun. The ceremonies are based on the myth of Persephone, and it celebrates the second harvest and the start of winter preparations.

Gather at Stonehenge or Castlerigg and watch the sunrise. Respect the impending darkness; give thanks to the sunlight.