What a perfect time to post my first blog: Autumn Equinox. Ah, autumn. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, that means cooler days and crisp evenings, warm colors and a sudden glancing shift in the afternoon light. Salads and caprese are swapped for soups and roasted veggies, the wind has a brisk quickening. All around, it seems, there's a brisk quickening in the activity of humans and animals alike. The bright prints of summer seem almost garish, the thick, nubbly texture of a favorite sweater comforting. I can't think of a better moment to share a new adventure.
So what is Autumn Equinox exactly -- aside from the first day of fall in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of spring in the Southern Hemisphere?
The Science Side
Day and night are basically of equal length — about 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. In fact, equinox comes from the Latin words for equal (aequus) and night (nox). After Autumn Equinox, nights are longer than days until Winter Solstice, at which point the days steadily start increasing in length until Summer Solstice. The change in length of days and nights — heralded by the equinoxes — has much to do with the fact that the earth actually tilts on its orbit around the sun. This tilt (about 23 1/2 degrees, to be more exact) results in the Northern Hemisphere tilting away from the sun in winter — hence the colder weather — and towards the sun in summer (so, yes, warmer temperatures). Check out these great links here and here for more information on the astronomy of equinoxes.
We also begin to see many changes in the natural world around us. The wind shifts in a more westerly direction with a few whooshes down from the North, too. Plants, trees, and growing things begin to ripen and prepare for dormancy. Birds and butterflies migrate on a mysterious annual journey south. Animals, in a seeming madcap flurry, dash about storing food, gorging on food, and preparing for the long, cold months ahead. Look around and see what changes you can see — and feel — around you!
The Fairy Side
Traditionally, Autumn Equinox has been a time of celebration: a culmination of the hard work of the fields, a last push to gather in the crops and prepare for the cold days ahead. Feasts and gatherings feature the bounty of the land. You can see this even today in fall festivals and fairs, hay rides, Saturdays of apple picking, visits to the pumpkin patch, back to school bonfires: all a celebration of the Earth’s bounty with a particular autumnal flair.
Symbols of fall are typically symbols of the harvest, such as oaks and acorns, corn of varying types, squashes and pumpkins, the flicker of a warming fire, the glow of crimson and golden leaves, the overflowing horn of plenty. In the past, these symbols were connected to fairy, and offerings to the fair folk at this time of year were tokens of the season: honey, acorns, milk and even wine — symbols of the bounty of fall.
Both sides — science and fairy — come together in not only a reckoning of the natural world and its processes, but in acknowledgement of shared hard work and appreciation for the natural world of which we are a part.
This year is particularly portentous in that the Harvest Moon -- the full moon most connected to the Harvest -- occurred just a few days ago on September 14.
So What is Milo up to?
Milo is helping with the final garden harvest with his mother; visiting the pumpkin patch —they shoot gigantic pumpkins out of a cannon! — rip-tearing down bike paths, bike wheels stirring up a swirl of crimson, gold, and earth-colored leaves; soccer, a few more mad dashes around the field before the turf freezes.
Jolene, on the other hand, if she were in the wild, would be rooting around in soft soil and preparing to hibernate. Milo has noticed Jolene digging around in her aquarium and added some extra mounds of soil to help her feel at ease.
I myself am preparing for fall as well: sending spent plants to the compost, turning the compost a final time or two, mulching beds and prepping for winter's dormancy and time of introspection, repair. Indoors, we're saying goodbye to summer clothes that no longer fit and assessing our cold-weather threads to stave against what the almanac predicts to be a doozy of a hearty winter. I'm planning for bonfires and s'mores, cooking chili and moving from cold teas to hot. The food dehydrator is fired up and chugging along, so the house smells of drying herbs (today, thyme and oregano).
Indeed, the seasonal domestic activities are reflective of the earth’s natural processes, filled with the turning of the year on the daily, autumn-style. There is a certain sense of satisfaction as the garden pots are cleaned and stored in the shed, as spent blooms are cut down and garden tools stored away. Even in simply bringing the sweaters out from storage, or freshening the caulk on the windows against winter's chill, I feel a connection to the harvest days, to joining in another turn of the wheel of the year.
It's melancholic to see the blooms fade to the earth, see the proud stalks cut low in the early chill, but also somehow restorative, hopeful, in the shift from growing to harvest, because the spent blooms and dry stocks will come next season’s fertile soil.