September 22 was the autumnal equinox. Here in South Carolina the weather has felt like summer throughout September, but that day there was just a touch of Fall in the air. I know many people welcome the cool, crisp days of Autumn, but for me, they come with wistful sadness that the carefree days of summer are over.
Though I’m sure I learned it in school, I realized I wasn’t absolutely certain of the definition of equinox, so I looked it up. Wikipedia states: “An equinox is an astronomical event in which the plane of Earth’s Equator passes through the center of the sun which occurs twice each year, around 20 March and 23 September. On an equinox, day and night are of approximately equal duration over the earth’s equator.”
I wanted to know more, so I surfed around the internet and found an article entitled: All you need to know: September Equinox by Deborah Byrd in Astronomy Essentials/September 26, 2016. (What did we do before the internet?) One of Byrd’s observations that interested me most was that because early humans spent more time outside than we do, they used the sky as both a clock and a calendar. She writes:
“Our ancestors built the first observatories to track the sun’s progress. One example is at Machu Picchu in Peru, where the Intihuatana stone, … has been shown to be a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods. The word Intihuatana, by the way, literally means for tying the sun.”
I continued to surf my way through a few more articles that talked about equinox traditions. No surprise that autumnal equinox celebrations, for obvious reasons, are associated with harvest time and involve giving thanks for a successful harvest.
One article that made me pause stated, “It is a time to give thanks for the summer and to pay tribute to the coming darkness.” Hmmm. The idea of paying tribute to darkness stumped me. Then I wondered why, if we experience almost equal day and night, is this phenomenon named equal night and not equal day? (The word equinox drives from Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night).
The day before the equinox I finished reading Anna Quindlan’s Miller’s Valley. This wonderful book, the life story of Mimi Miller, recounts her life’s journey, from her earliest recollections of growing up on her family’s farm to a glance backward in an epilogue where she reveals her age as 65. In her lifetime Mimi experienced her share of both joy and sorrow
One of the most painful chapters for me involved helping her mother pack up their house to move. While I read that chapter I had a memory of a stack of books on the desk in my living room in New Jersey. That recollection was so vivid that I remembered one book in particular, how the curtain hung behind the desk and how the rhododendrons looked through the window. And in that moment of recollection I felt a profound nostalgic ache for the home of 25 years that I left behind and a part of my life that was over.
At the same time, I looked around my condo, grateful for this new home, so happy to be here for this new chapter of my life. How is it possible to feel an aching, longing for the past and complete pleasure in the present simultaneously? Equal day…equal night. Bittersweet. Perhaps I, like our solar system, can hope to achieve balance only once a year. The rest of the time I will give thanks every day for the light and try my best to honor the darkness. Farewell, Summer. Welcome, Fall.