Day and Night Are Equal

sun moon

Spring has arrived. For a very long time, spring has symbolized renewal and rebirth. It is more than just sunshine, buds and blossoms.

It is not so surprising that the ancient Romans saw this time around the vernal equinox as the beginning of the new year. Their Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night) is for the two moments of the year when both day and night are equally long. But the spring equinox is the start of new life, while the autumn equinox marks the ending of things.

Many religions have incorporated spring into festivals, traditions, and holy days. Easter and Passover are the ones that get the most attention but there are other celebrations of spring.

Persia’s Zoroastrian festival of Nowruz originated in the 5th century B.C.  It celebrates the beginning of the growing season with decorated eggs and plant seedlings.

The Chinese festival of Qingming, or “Pure Brightness,” occurs in early April and honors the changing of the seasons with offerings of flowers, food, incense, and money to one’s ancestors’ graves. It has been celebrated for about 2500 years,

Qingming continues to be a highly anticipated annual event. The Japanese custom of Hanami (flower viewing) is the Japanese appreciation of the spring’s beautiful but brief spring blossoms like cherry and plum. This celebration is about 1,000 years ago old. It was started by aristocrats, but now it is celebrated by everyone.

I have written about the vernal equinox for the life of this blog. I have looked at all the official celebrations and at some of the unofficial traditions, such as spring cleaning. It is the season of change. Plant some seeds, literally and figuratively. Take care of them. It takes time for a harvest.

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.

 

Such An Early Spring

spring flowers
Image by Queena Deng from Pixabay

In the midst of this COVID-19 virus pandemic, the coming of spring may not be noticed as much as in previous years. In exactly 12 hours from the time this article posts it will be officially Spring via the Vernal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. It slips into place at 11:49 PM ET. The lateness of that shouldn’t stop you from feeling spring all day.

We just moved our clocks forward an hour, so does that mean the equinox really will occur at 9:49 or have they adjusted that? I’ll trust the astronomers have done their homework.

This year is the earliest that the vernal equinox has occurred in 124 years. On the Gregorian calendar, the Northward equinox can occur as early as 19 March or as late as 21 March at Greenwich. This year’s slightly earlier 19th is the first time since 1896 that we mark it today.

Why does the start of the seasons vary? A year is not an even number of days and so neither are the seasons. Plus the Earth’s elliptical orbit skews causing the planet’s axis to point in a different direction. Astronomers call that precession. And the pull of gravity from the other planets also affects the location of Earth in its orbit.

The vernal equinox is really just a moment, but spring will be 92.771 days.

Vernal translates to “new” or “fresh” and equinox is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night) because the period of time each day between sunrise and sunset has been growing slightly longer each day since the Winter Solstice in December.

The vernal equinox has been marked by cultures for centuries as the turning point when daylight begins to win out over darkness. It seems like a reason to celebrate in some way.

Though I don’t think the pandemic will “miraculously” go away because the weather will be warming, I do hope that we “flatten the curve” in April and see the virus turning – and not just in spring and summer but continuing into autumn and next winter.

A Super Equinox Full MoonWorm

The March Full Moon is often called the Worm Moon due to the early spring appearance of worms reappearing and the robins and other birds that enjoy them.

In 2019, it occurs on March 20 for those of us in the United States, but in any location it will be less noticed for worms and more noticed for two other aspects.

It will reach fullness just ahead of the vernal/spring equinox, which is a nice coincidence. This full moon will also be the third and last last “super moon” of the year.

The rising full moon will look slightly bigger and brighter because it is near its closest approach to Earth in its monthly orbit.

Perhaps you are someone who believes there are no coincidences, and so this triple crossing of celestial events will have greater meaning.

To astronomers, it is just another full moon, though I did read that the full moon on equinox day will allow for some interesting calculations. This is something that occurs every 19 years.

If you measure the shadow cast by a perfectly vertical stick when the Sun us at its highest point (zenith) on equinox day, the angle will be your latitude.

Or you can just look up and wonder at the big, beautiful Moon of ours.

 

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.