Celebrating the Solstice and Endless Summer

poster

As a year ends, we often look back on what we have experienced. That review may bring to mind what we have accomplished and good memories. It may include regrets, things undone, and things we wish we could forget.

In this month’s writing prompt at my Poets Online e-zine, I noted an old poem (1784), “New Year’s Verses” by Philip Freneau, in which he blesses the calendar maker who came up with the idea of a year.

Blest be the man who early prov’d
And first contriv’d to make it clear
That Time upon a dial mov’d,
And trac’d that circle call’d a year;

Do you bless or curse the coming of winter?

December is filled with holidays that mark the Winter Solstice and the end of the year. That solstice is the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the shortest day of the year. But you only have to move south of the equator for it to be the start of spring. and winter won’t arrive there until June.

In my brief youthful surfer days, the film The Endless Summer was a cult classic documentary. In 1966, I had that day-glo poster on the wall at the foot of my bed and stared at it every day. The surfers in the film were in search of the “perfect wave” but what interested me more is that their travels showed that you could follow summer around the globe. It could always be summer if you moved from hemisphere to hemisphere.

That was a few years after I had figured out the chords to The Beatles’ “I’ll Follow the Sun” which in my mind was saying the same thing. I didn’t keep surfing and never really progressed very far on the guitar and never did get to follow the Sun. I suppose it became more of a metaphor than a reality. Follow your bliss. Head for the positive.

Though some of us in the North might be sad to see summer and autumn ending and winter starting since ancient times astronomical winter and the solstice was a joyous celebration. After the solstice, the days get longer building daylight hours until the vernal equinox and the start of spring.

Societies globally have held festivals and ceremonies marking winter solstice which was seen as the day of the Sun’s rebirth. Symbolically, fire or light is often a component. Other symbols include things representing life and death, the rising Sun, and the Moon.

A good example is Yule which was a celebration of the ancient Norsemen of Scandinavia and it ran from the solstice through January. You might know about Large Yule logs which were set on fire at one end.  More modern and tamer versions have taper candles inserted into a smaller log and decorated with evergreen clippings, holly, mistletoe, or ivy.

log burning

Bonfires also figure into many ceremonies in order to encourage the sun’s return. There is a large fire traditionally burning on Mount Fuji each year.

Hanukkah is another happy celebration that features light via the fire of candles or oil lamps.

In the Hopi tradition of Soyal, the Sun Chief takes on the role of announcing the setting of the sun, after which an all-night ceremony begins with the kindling of fires and dancing.

The Winter Solstice arrives on the 21st mid-afternoon here in Paradelle.  If that isn’t appealing, head south and enjoy summer’s arrival.

The winter solstice (also called the hiemal solstice or hibernal solstice) occurs when either of Earth’s poles reaches its maximum tilt away from the Sun. This happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere. For that hemisphere, the winter solstice is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, when the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky. If you are at the North Pole on the 21st, you’ll experience continuous darkness or twilight.

I don’t love winter, but I have lived with it all my life. The four seasons are strong reminders of cycles – birth, maturity, aging, death, rebirth. There is something about losing summer that makes its return all the more miraculous to me.

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.”

Autumn Comes But Twice a Year

autumn sunrise

Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

I suspect your calendar says autumn will arrive on September 22, but it arrived on the first of September along with some violent weather that arrived in Paradelle.

By the meteorological calendar, the first day of autumn is always  September 1 and the season ends November 30. The meteorological calendar defines the season quite cleanly as spring (March, April, May), summer (June, July, August), autumn (September, October, November) and winter (December, January, February).

Most of us were taught that the seasons change with solstices and equinoxes.  Those are the astronomical seasons that follow the position of Earth in relation to the sun. Meteorological seasons follow the annual temperature cycle and match our Gregorian calendar.

The dates of the Equinox and Solstice aren’t fixed due to the Earth’s elliptical orbit of the Sun. The Earth’s orbit around the Sun is closest (perihelion) in early January. In early July,  it is most distant (aphelion). That always seems odd to people. Closer is not warmer. Farther is not colder.

On the autumn equinox, day and night are of roughly equal length. Nights become increasingly longer than the days – something you are no doubt are already observing. The pattern reverse with the spring equinox.

So, when is it really the start of autumn? For those of us living on the top half of the Earth, I say it is with the autumn equinox when the northern hemisphere begins to tilt away from the Sun. That means less direct sunlight hits us so temperatures cool.

The end of summer in September – and hopefully early October – is one of my favorite times of the year.  In some years and in some places in the north, we may get what has become known as “Indian Summer” – that imaginary season that occurs when temperatures are more summer than autumn from late September to mid-November.

I love it when summer gets a second chance. Sometimes the universe doesn’t play by the rules of meteorology and astronomers.

Spring and All

Spring slips into place today. There is a good chance that where you are now doesn’t look or feel like spring. In Paradelle, it still looks like winter but for a few buds on trees or shoots poking out of the muddy ground. Of course, you might be south of me and it looks like summer, or far north where winter still reigns.

Spring 2021 in the Northern Hemisphere will begin on March 20 and ends on
June 20. By that last day of spring, it will probably look and feel like summer here.

In William Carlos Williams’ poem, “Spring and All,” the opening is rather ominous.
By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast—a cold wind.

Williams wrote the poem not long after T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” was published. Eliot’s poem also opens with a not-so-favorable view of early spring.
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Eliot goes on to use an image of winter that is not typical:
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

When we brought my first son home from the hospital, it was the first day of spring and the daffodils, crocuses, and wood hyacinths were covered with snow.  Spring is a fickled season.

In literature and mythology, spring usually concerns themes of rebirth and renewal with symbols from the season. Spring also refers to love, hope, youth and growth. The seasonal symbolism for this period may also allude to religious celebrations such as Passover or Easter.

Today is that moment that is the Vernal Equinox. Vernal translates to “new” or “fresh.” The two equinoxes come from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). The time of daylight between sunrise and sunset has been growing slightly longer each day since the Winter Solstice in December. Of course, we messed with the celestial plan last weekend with Daylight Saving Time.

I still try to mark the vernal equinox as it has been seen for centuries as a turning point. It is not the only turning point, but daylight does defeat darkness, and that is a reason to celebrate.

Soon, I hope the only things like snowfall here will the storm of blossoms from cherry and other spring-blooming trees.

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

Happy 4th of Aphelion

sunset

It is July 4, 2020 and Earth is at aphelion. That means the planet is at its most distant point from the Sun. Here in Paradelle, it happened early this morning. Aphelion comes from the Greek words apo meaning away, off or apart and helios, for the Greek god of the Sun.

The fact that for most of the Northern Hemisphere it is a hot summer day today should make you realize that the distance of Earth from the sun is NOT what creates the seasons. The seasons result from Earth’s tilt on its axis and today the Northern Hemisphere is tilted most toward the Sun giving us the heat of summer.

Despite diagrams you may have seen, Earth’s orbit is not quite circular – but close – so the distance from the sun doesn’t change much. If you ask most people how far we are from the Sun, the common answer is 93 million miles (150 million km) which is our average distance. Today, Today we are about 3 million miles (5 million km) farther from away from when we are closest in about six months.