The vernal equinox approaches. Time to step into the light!
SECULAR SPIRITUALITY: Author Bart Everson will participate in a discussion with the theme “Can we derive a secular spirituality from the seasons?” from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 17, at the Jefferson Parish Library, 4747 W. Napoleon Ave., Metairie. The discussion will be moderated by Charlotte Klasson, board president of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association. Everson will draw on ideas outlined in his book “Spinning in Place,” which presents a this-worldly approach to spirituality for the scientifically minded. (more)
PAGAN ROCK: As the live oaks release pollen, so Half Pagan releases a fine dusting of musical irritants to aggravate your soul. We finally got our first album done. Give us a listen at HalfPagan.com. Better yet, join us at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20, at Dmac’s Bar and Grill, 542 S Jeff Davis Parkway, New Orleans. We’ll play the whole album, but it’s a short set, so don’t be late. And come hungry — Dmac’s has a fabulous kitchen! (more)
There’s a postcard show at Skewer Gallery (located inside Kebab at 2315 St. Claude) which opens this Saturday, 9 September 2017. My daughter and I will have several postcards on display. (Mine all have an autumnal equinox theme.) All postcard art will be on sale for $5 with proceeds going to support L’eau Est La Vie Camp and efforts to stop the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. Make it a part of your second Saturday art stroll. Have some dinner too.
I’m honored to be reading my work at Antenna Gallery at 3718 St. Claude on Wednesday, 13 September 2017, for Letters Read: Regrets. This series focuses on “current and historically interesting letters written by culturally vital individuals.” If I am known for anything, surely it is my cultural vitality. Free and open to the public.
Come out to Banks Street Bar on the autumnal equinox to catch the debut of Half Pagan — my musical collaboration with Michael Homan. That’s Friday, 22 September 2017 at 8pm. Come early, we’re playing a short set.
Speaking of the autumnal equinox, if you are in Bloomington be sure to snag a copy of the current issue of The Ryder magazine. I’ve got an article in there on the subject. The rest of you can read see it online or better yet buy my book — it will be at a reduced price (Kindle only) until the equinox.
Here’s a review of the essay from one reader, who happens to be my father-in-law:
Loved “The Other Equinox.” Truly entertaining and well-written, and of much interest indeed! I love the weave of the themes of metaphor and gratitude, and the notion of how a certain childlike innocence (trees as entities, etc.) might actually involve a higher truth. Most of all, I loved the way it came off as highly intelligent yet down to earth. Done your pappy-in-law proud, son!!!
Brand new: In honor of The Daily Show, the autumnal equinox and our 22nd wedding anniversary, I present this song to my wife. It’s a Death Cab for Cutie cover, with backing instrumentals by the Homan family house band (Michael, Gilgamesh, and Kalypso).
Last weekend we celebrated with Lamplight Circle, this morning I visited my daughter’s class (to read a book, do a science demo, share a treat, and make a gratitude chain), this evening we feast with family and friends, this weekend we hope to commune with nature at Bayou La Terre. And, on an intensely personal note, at this juncture I dedicate (or rededicate) myself to my personal mission/vision of awakening to Gaia, which is manifesting especially through a renewal of activity with the Greens. More on that soon.
If you’re reading this, thanks for being a part of my life, and I hope you may enjoy this equinox in your own way.
Bart Everson, media artist in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, will present “equinox mandalas: a digital media arts process” THURSDAY (April 23) from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. in the Art Village Lecture Room (Building 43) at Xavier University of Louisiana. All are welcome.
This year the vernal equinox coincides with a supermoon and a solar eclipse. We won’t be able to see the eclipse from our part of the globe, but it’s cool to think about nonetheless. Sister Moon is asserting herself at a time usually associated with Earth and Sun.
It’s about that time. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about: the equinox. No, not that equinox — the other one.
I thought I had little or nothing to say about the subject. As is so often the case, once I got to writing, I discovered how wrong I was. The result is a column so monstrously large, it had to be split in two.
It’s been a year since I wrote anything here. Did you miss me?
Did you even notice I had stopped? I thought I’d made myself clear when I wrote about stepping into the dark, but apparently I was too subtle. I’ve spoken to a few readers who didn’t understand its implications.
I’m curious to know how many people will even see this, since the site has been fallow for a year. If you’re reading this, please leave a comment and let me know. You may be brief; a simple anonymous “Yo!” will suffice. But say something, won’t you? You don’t even have to read the rest of this article, which is too long anyhow.
I have still been writing lo these many months. I just haven’t been writing here. But I have been writing a lot. Some of it is ephemera: status updates, tweets, comments on blogs and the like; no matter how thoughtful, no matter how substantive, these still feel insubstantial, like chaff that is lost in the breeze.
I had some essays published in a series of e-book anthologies called Voices from the Grain, but that seems to be defunct now, or dormant. You can read my articles for Yule, Ostara, and Beltane. See also my article for Candlemas which was published in a different venue because the ebook didn’t “make.”
But mainly I have been attempting to focus on fiction writing. It’s very different, and hard work to boot, but I’m hopeful that eventually I will have something of substance, a story worth reading by my own standards at least. Maybe, someday, I’ll have something to share.
In the meantime, this is surely an auspicious time for an update in the classic confessional style which I’ve always employed here. It’s the autumnal equinox again. It’s a good time for reflection and introspection. Also, the equinox marks the point at which I stopped writing here a year ago.
Since then I’ve continued to celebrate the eight holidays that make the Wheel of the Year, finding them a rich field of inquiry. They open up so many questions. They offer a continuous series of opportunities to reflect on cherished values and the deep mysteries attendant to our place in the cosmos.
There are many ways to interpret the Wheel. For example, the solstices divide the year into halves. From the winter solstice to the summer solstice the days get longer; from the summer solstice to the winter solstice the days get shorter. So in terms of light, the year has a waxing half and a waning half. The holidays in the waxing half celebrate desire, while the harvest festivals in the waning half are a time for gratitude. That’s one way to look at it.
The Wheel recapitulates the life cycle. I’m somewhere past the summer solstice of my life, moving into the cross-quarter: my Lammas, my Lughnasa. Perhaps I’m there now, perhaps I’m still approaching. Perhaps that’s why that holiday has resonated so deeply in my soul and been so precious to me. Of course we may experience gratitude and desire every day, throughout the year and throughout our lives, but I feel an undeniable sense of passage, of tipping forward. Gratitude comes easier to me now. The flames of desire and ambition still burn, but it takes a little more effort to keep them stoked. I remember being young. This feels different.
And now it’s time once again for the equinox, the second of the three harvest celebrations. I associate this holiday with gratitude, balance, and the mysteries of darkness. Without darkness there is no wonder. For this, I am grateful. I have not yet reached the autumnal equinox of my life. At least, I don’t think so. I’m looking forward to it with hope and trepidation. I’m sure not in any rush.
Bring the Crisis
I’ve come to understand my recent spiritual crisis as a transition between life-stages. We hear a lot about the midlife crisis, spoken in ominous tones, as if it’s a singular discrete event unique to the middle years, as if it’s something dreadful. But that’s not quite accurate on either count. What is life but a series of crises? And what is a crisis but a change, an opportunity? Without crisis there is only stasis. If we wish to grow, to develop as human beings, to reach our potential, then we should embrace the crisis.
That’s what I’ve done. That’s what I’m doing. My personal crisis has been documented in my writings here over the last several years. I’m happy to report that the crisis is ongoing. I feel that I have undergone, and am still undergoing, a spiritual revolution. It has been a process of transforming the self which seemed to begin almost spontaneously. At some point I recognized it, grabbed it with both hands, and started shaping it myself, to keep it going, and to guide it.
It has been, for the most part, a wonderful and joyous thing, shot through with strains of bittersweet and melancholy. But then my whole life has been that way. It’s just part of my character, part of my way of experiencing the world. But these recent years have been particularly joyous.
Some may wonder what I’m even talking about. It might help to pull this out of the abstract and give some concrete examples of changes that have manifested in my life. These are things that have taken root over the last four years or so:
I meditate daily. Or almost daily. Certainly on workdays. It’s hard for me to articulate how this affects my life. I’m not sure if meditation is the catalyst for other changes, or the result. Most likely I suppose it’s an iterative process. Meditation is part of my practice that deepens and strengthens and integrates other aspects of my life. You hear people talk about meditation as peaceful and relaxing, and so it can be, but I also think it’s much more than that.
I stopped drinking. I noticed I was drinking more and more but enjoying it less and less. Maybe years of steady moderate-to-heavy drinking changed my body chemistry. Maybe I’ve come to cherish certain aspects of cognition which drinking does not promote. Maybe it’s a combination of the two or something else entirely. I can only say I felt the need to quit, so I did, as of Mardi Gras this year. I’m not a strict teetotaler, but almost. I’ve gone from drinking every evening to drinking only on special occasions, at intervals of a month or two. And usually after those special occasions I wonder, “Why do I bother?” Alcohol is rapidly losing its appeal.
I’ve made changes to my diet. A couple years ago I made a conscious effort to start eating less, to cultivate a sense of hunger. I started to place a big emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, not just for me but for my family. More recently, after watching Forks Over Knives, Xy and I decided to stop buying bird and mammal meat. Our three motivating factors might be labelled health, earth, and ethics: that is, a healthier diet, a lighter impact on the planet, and the aspiration to inflict less cruelty on other living beings. (We agreed we might make an exception for animals raised in a more humane fashion, but we haven’t actually acted on that.) We still eat a lot of fish, though, and I find myself eating other meat occasionally when it’s already bought and paid for by someone else.
I have gotten into a regular exercise program. I started jogging. Then I added yoga. Then calisthenics. I would rotate through these three daily, then rest for a day and start over. I did that for about a year. Combined with the lack of alcohol and dietary changes, I lost about 25 lbs. over the past two years. Now I’m actively trying to build muscle mass through eating a high-calorie, balanced diet and lifting weights four days a week.
I can hear the objection: You’re just on a self-improvement kick. It’s nothing more profound than that. Further, one might note that these changes are all very self-centered. And it’s true that many of my recent efforts have had an intensely inward focus. Yet despite appearances I do actually have a social conscience. It’s not all about me. In fact, my relations with others, my family in particular, have been a prime motivator.
Since I stopped writing here, during my daughter’s first year at her new school, I found myself visiting her classroom repeatedly to celebrate the Wheel with them. Without planning it, I developed a miniature curriculum around these seasonal holidays, one part science, one part cultural awareness, and one part spiritual development. I read them books about the solstices and equinoxes, gave demonstrations with oranges and lamps, baked treats for them, told them stories and did rituals. I had a blast and I think the kids enjoyed it too.
My interests in these matters have also driven changes in my professional life. I’m no longer strictly a technical/creative specialist. In my role as a faculty developer, I now make an effort to recognize the whole person. My repertoire has expanded to include subjects like time management and work-life balance. I regularly facilitate discussions on sensitive topics. I’ve conducted workshops on mindfulness and other types of meditation. I wrote a grant that sent three faculty members to a week-long seminar contemplative pedagogy, and we have formed a learning community here on campus. Last week, we met in the Meditation Room in the newly constructed Katharine Drexel Chapel. A decade ago I would never have imagined this.
So what’s it all about? You could say I got religion, I suppose. Sometimes that’s what I call it. But our society has such strange ideas about religion. My approach, devoid of supernatural notions, might be seen as secular. Sometimes that label seems safer. I can only report that my experience of life over these last years has been suffused with a sense of wonder, awe, humility and love.
If I had to sum it up, I’d say at the root is the simple idea that I am part of a larger whole. And so are you, Dear Reader. We are all children of the Earth.
Does the Earth constitute a coherent whole, a self-sustaining system, an organism of sorts? I’m still sorting through the science and philosophy on that question. But whatever the exact nature of Gaia — mythical, archetypal, empirical, fantastical — my heart is filled with reverence for Her. I recognize that all my efforts and motivations spring from Her. She is the source of my very essence. I try each day to participate in Her more fully. For this, I am grateful.
A year ago I set myself a project, an experiment, a journey, a spiritual quest. I wanted to discover, uncover, delineate and define my religion. I wanted to deepen, strengthen, and integrate everything in my life. I wanted to live with greater intention.
And I wanted it all to happen on a one-year schedule. It sounds pretty silly when I put it like that. But sometimes we need silly conceits to prop up our most serious ambitions.
So anyhow, the year has gone round again. Here we are back at the equinox. The planet keeps revolving around the sun. Our journey is not finished. Not yet.
I’ve just read back through what I posted here since the last autumnal equinox. I aimed to post with less frequency but greater depth. And I did that, at least for a while. For the first six months, anyhow. I probably would have done better to break some of those massive posts down into sections and post them in serial fashion. But whatever.
It might seem I lost focus over the summer months. I did indeed get distracted by our travels, and the ROX party, and Persephone’s new school, and Isaac. I wrote about those things, but didn’t explicitly integrate them into the narrative of my quest. It would have required a little more effort to make those connections, and I didn’t make that effort. I got lazy.
But there’s more to it. A key piece of the puzzle, for me, was the question of theology. I published an essay on how my thoughts were evolving, but that was extremely tentative and exploratory. I continued to think and work on that over the summer, but I didn’t write about it. The time did not seem ripe, and my thoughts were far from clear.
Finally, a couple weeks ago, things crystallized somewhat. It was not a soul-shattering epiphany. It was more like a few ideas quietly clicking into place. Yet the ramifications are profound, at least on a personal level. I’m now prepared to make a basic statement of belief and identity.
While I’d like to articulate those thoughts, I’m not sure this site is the best venue. I’ve poured my heart out here for the last eight and half years. I think it’s time for a break. I suspect that if I stop writing here, I will be able to funnel that energy into writing something else, somewhere else, and I have some vague ideas about that. I think I’d like to write fiction for a while.
Every year is divided into a light half and a dark half. From now until the vernal equinox, the nights will be longer than the days. Right now we are losing one minute and 47 seconds of light each day. Over the last twelve months, I found I enjoyed the light half of the year more, but that the dark half was more productive. That dark half begins again now, with the autumnal equinox. Glenys Livingstone writes about the autumnal equinox as a time for “stepping into the creative power of the abyss.” So it felt last year. So again this year. New beginnings require old endings. I feel the need to step into the dark awhile, and harvest dreams.
Now we enter that half of the year where the days are longer than the nights.
The equinox came this morning at fourteen minutes past midnight. I have to make an effort not to fixate on that single moment. I was asleep anyhow. Better to extend the celebration. The equilux was last Thursday here in New Orleans. Why not start there?
I got a second equilux this year, as I flew up to Philadelphia. The equilux, that day when sunrise and sunset are most nearly twelve hours apart, varies by latitude. It comes a day later there.
I went to Bryn Mawr College for the fifth Mindfulness in Education conference, which culminated in a full day of (mostly) silent meditation. I’ve never done anything quite like that before.
In retrospect, it was a great way to celebrate the equinox. Mindfulness surely cultivates balance. But I missed my family.
Then I came back home, and kept Persephone home from school Monday, so we could celebrate the equinox together. In addition to baking our weekly bread, we dyed eggs to decorate an “egg tree,” prepared a vernal-themed feast for dinner, and ran to the doctor for the girl’s four-year checkup and vaccinations. The meal was delicious: spring greens with sprouts, quiche, and charoset for desert. I also made black and white cookies, but didn’t get them done until later that night. By the time I finally hit the sack I was quite exhausted. I bit off a little more than I could chew. Not very balanced.
In the spirit of purification, I haven’t had anything to drink since Mardi Gras. (Well, actually since the weekend after Mardi Gras, but really, who’s counting? We had a visit from Ed the Meat Poet and I popped a cork.) I’ve been tapering off the coffee too, down to just a few swallows this morning. I hope to start on some dandelion-chicory root tea later this week. The idea of a seasonal detox session is appealing to me. In the same spirit I’ve even looked into fasting, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that quite yet. I am eating less, but that’s a topic for another post.
And if the spirit of the season can be maintained why not continue until Hellacious Saturday? Or Easter? Or Passover? Or forever?
Six months ago, at the autumnal equinox, I dedicated myself to a full year of discovering or uncovering my religion. This is the halfway mark, the inversion of that time across the mirror of the year. The dark half of the year is behind us for now, the light half ahead. The past six months have been fruitful, but my spirits have often flagged. I haven’t written about that much. The idea was to post less often and to write more thoughtfully, but to remain continually engaged in that process. Instead I’ve lapsed into periods of complete disengagement. Perhaps I need that reflective exercise to maintain a proper perspective.
It’s always a good time to begin again. Looking forward, I feel a buoyancy.
It’s a precise moment that happens twice a year, when the equatorial plane of the earth intersects the center of the sun. That’s the equinox. This year it came at 4:04 AM (local time) on the morning of Friday, September 23rd. For this moment only, the earth’s axis was not tilted one way or the other with regard to the sun. Sounds complicated, but it’s easy to illustrate with a flashlight and a globe, and I’m happy to demonstrate to anyone who cares to listen.
My understanding of the solar holidays continues to evolve. I used to have a vague idea that the solstices were a time to celebrate nature, while the equinoxes were a time to celebrate our humanity. The solstices represent the extremes of the sun’s wandering path across our skies. (See the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and the arctic circles for more details.) The equinoxes represent the halfway point between these extremes. And who cares about halfway points? We humans do.
That’s what I used to think based on sheer intuition. That was before I knew about the cross-quarter days, which are even more deeply human and culturally constructed. Now I see the equinoxes as somewhere in-between, a time to celebrate and reflect on the balance between nature and culture. Equinox means “equal night,” i.e., the time of year when day and night are the same length, or nearly so. Dark and light in equal measure.
Living in the subtropics, I don’t feel the same sense of bittersweet melancholy I associate with autumn in the temperate zones, but there’s no doubt the squash harvest is coming in with a vengeance. There are a lot of harvest festivals around the world that occur around this time of year. Some, like Harvest Home and סוכות (Sukkot) don’t fall precisely on the equinox, but others like 추석 (Chuseok) and Mabon do.
Here in the United States our big harvest festival is Thanksgiving. I have some issues with the holiday. Leaving aside the usual political grousing, it’s too late in the year. It’s too close to the winter solstice and Christmas and all that. It’s too nationalistic. It’s annoying when people call it “Turkey Day.” Above all it’s too gluttonous. But then most of our major national holidays seem out of balance.
We invited some friends over for an equinoctial feast. I took the day off to prepare the meal: jicama, curried tomato bisque, cornbread, stuffed squash, Haver cookies. I kept Persephone home for the day too. Our friends are vegan; cooking without eggs or butter was an interesting exercise for me. They brought sweet potato muffins and some roasted squash as well. We had plenty to eat.
But I’ll say this about a vegan banquet. It just didn’t feel as heavy as meat and animal by-products. It felt entirely moderate, not excessive. At the end of the meal I felt full and satisfied but not overstuffed.
So I think it is possible to celebrate balance and celebrate the harvest at the same time. I think that’s more conducive to a spirit of thanksgiving than eating a bunch of turkey and collapsing in a food coma.
I had a short grace prepared, but I forgot to say it.
Maybe I should have started at Lammas; the completion of one revolution would seem to be a propitious time for starting another. Maybe the solstice would have been the best time; I made a case for that a few years ago.
Time slips away. Now I’m thinking the equinox might be the very best occasion. This is a symbol of balance, which is central to my aspirations.
Gus diZerega makes a convincing argument that balance is a key spiritual value in certain traditions, on par with salvation and enlightenment in others. Gus is writing from an explicitly Neopagan perspective, but note that balance is also one of the main principles of Taoism.
One of my favorite films of all time is Koyaanisqatsi. It shows that as a society, we are living a “life out of balance,” which is what the title means in the language of the Hopi.
It’s a powerful statement, made without words or any conventional narrative structure. It manages to be intensely beautiful at the same time. Highly recommended. I just wanted to touch on the fact that balance is not merely an inner experience. When our lives are out of balance, the consequences are manifest in the material world.
But how to find that elusive sense of balance? Patrick McCleary recommends a number of simple practices: breathing exercises, meditation, prayer and prioritization.
To me setting priorities is the best way to start. Although it can be the toughest to accomplish.
This advice caught my attention because I’ve been doing a number of those things already. In particular I’ve been prioritizing.
So here I am, at a point of resolution and determination, of self-authorship and self-transformation. I’ve been sifting through what it is that I feel I need to do now, and over the year to come.
Three things keep coming out on top:
Naturally, one might be inclined to ask, “What the hell are you talking about? Deepen what?”
Everything. My actions. My relations. My daily habits and practices. My inner and outer life.
And most of all, I want to be full of intention.
This may seem vague at first glance, but it’s really just abstract. There’s a difference. What’s missing is the next piece, which I’ll get to eventually, the concrete practices that put these into action.
But hold on just a minute. Isn’t that religion? A set of practices designed to develop our natural faculties for meaning, purpose and values? But I have no religion. I’m an atheist, an anarchist, a spiritual rogue.
So I’m setting for myself a one-year project. When I was younger, a year seemed like a long time. Now I feel like I could do anything for a year. I could stand on my head for a year. Instead of standing on my head, I’ll dedicate myself to this, make a project of it, give my best sustained effort to realizing these intentions. And at the next equinox, we’ll see where things stand.
I’m no longer scared of the R word. If religion is the wrong word for what I’m about, I’m perfectly happy to discard it. Words are important, but it’s the intentions behind our words that matter most. I’m using the term broadly, as I’ve come to realize the variety of religious experiences is beyond all my preconceived notions. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” This will be a year of discovering my religion. Or inventing it.
In coming to this pass, I’m inspired by Project Conversion, so I’ve got to give props to Andrew Bowen. For the current calendar year, he’s converting to a different religion each month. Right now he’s a Sikh. He calls it “twelve months of spiritual promiscuity.” I’ve been following his story for the better part of the year so far, and it’s truly an amazing journey. I wouldn’t miss a day.
While I can’t hope to compare, I kind of wish I had a handy handle, a catchy catchphrase, something fun that other people could wrap their minds around. “My Year of DIY Religion” or “The 49 Stupidities of Editor B” or something like that.
But I don’t. And that’s fine too. If it’s meant to have a name, that can come in time. Maybe I’ll know what to call it when we come back to the autumnal equinox again.
Of course, I’m open to suggestions.
Xy and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary on Sunday. As a gift I gave her a necklace.
It’s called Seeds of Demeter, a beautiful piece of work by Rhonda King. (Buy her jewelery.) Demeter is, of course, the mother of Persephone and the goddess of the harvest, so I feel this piece resonates with both the time and the person. I gave it to Xy with wishes that she will reap a beneficial “harvest” as she labors to teach her students.
I also took that occasion to talk briefly about the many ideas that have been swirling around me lately, of which I have written here. One might think the person closest to me would know all about this, but it’s not so. We’ve always given each other plenty of mental space.
I appreciate the freedom in our relationship, but I do worry. I worry for Xy’s general welfare. I worry about potential fractures and fissures. In this as in all things I will seek a tighter integration, to strengthen and deepen the bond between us. My soul has been on fire with joy, and I yearn to share that. It’s tempting to draw on another equinox metaphor of light and darkness, but I will forebear.
As I fumbled my way through my intentions, with far less eloquence than even this tortured prose may suggest, I realized just how far we are from a Married Master Mind. But I also see the promise and the possibility. We have a lot of work to do.
I’d also hoped for a little loving tenderness, but the time wasn’t right. We ended up with something a little more torrid and wild, a passion almost violent in its intensity. Not what I’d had in mind, not at all. But oh well. I’ll take it.
Certainly marriage is a balancing act.
Earlier, I alluded to an odd factoid: The day of the equinox doesn’t necessarily have exactly twelve hours between sunrise and sunset. It might, or it might not, depending on where you live on the planet. In New Orleans, that day was yesterday, September 27th. Sunrise was at 6:51 AM. Sunset will be at 6:51 PM.
Some people, astronomy buffs I suppose, have started bandying about a new word to describe this day: the equilux. I like the idea. The equinox is a fuzzy concept in most minds. Why not make it fuzzier? Even better, I like the idea of extending the celebration from equinox to equilux, with our anniversary right in the middle. Now more than ever, we need more time to find balance in our lives.
Tangents & Footnotes: This is where I’ll add afterthoughts and anything else that may come up.
The neologism “equilux” is hardly well-established, which may cause confusion. Case in point: The Ehoah philosophy proposes Equilux as a new name for the vernal equinox, as well as the beginning of the year, as part of the beautiful Pandion calendar.
Our equinox celebration was a little chaotic, because the guys who are re-doing our driveway showed up somewhat unexpectedly to pour concrete.
Nevertheless, we persevered. We had a few friends and neighbors over. I invented a simple cocktail of champagne, Sence rose nectar and wild hibiscus flowers in syrup. The flavor was probably more appropriate for the vernal equinox, but hey — these were the items I had on hand from Tales of the Cocktail. So I just pretended we were in the southern hemisphere.
(I almost forgot to mention that this was the end of my alcohol-fast, which began after Lammas, roughly. I called it a “sobriety binge.” This was not my first such venture nor my last, I’m sure; it seems like a good idea to give my liver a break from time to time; in this case I was motivated by a concern that my tolerance was getting too high. But a doctor I visited recently seemed to interpret this bout of abstinence as a danger sign. Me, I always thought the danger was when a person can’t stop drinking.)
I’ve taken note of the equinox for years, and often yearned to celebrate it, but I think this may be the first time I’ve actually done so. It felt good. I even made a little demonstration for the kids. Gauge held the flashlight while I tilted the globe back and forth. But through the general chaos I’m not sure anyone actually absorbed the concept.
Meanwhile the guys outside were pouring concrete until well after dark. I raised a toast to them, but they didn’t notice me over the roar of the cement mixer.
I also discovered my own sister has no idea what an equinox or solstice is. I will have to give her an astronomy lesson next time I visit.
Another circle of friend gathered at the Fly and improvised a ritual with “marching drums for music and some cut wild flowers to toss into the river,” which sounded cool.
In addition to the equinox, it was also the first night of Sukkot (חג שמח!) and the Harvest Moon. A festive time by several measures.
So how did you celebrate?
I will write more about the whole driveway odyssey once the project is finished.
We decided to celebrate the vernal equinox by planting a tree. We just so happened to have a pomegranate tree which was a gift from M. Homan and family for Persephone’s second birthday.
Of course, the vernal equinox is traditionally regarded as the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. It’s a time of year positively fraught with significance. In Greek mythology, spring begins when the goddess Persephone returns to the upper realms and is reunited with her mother Demeter. So this seemed perfect.
The equinox fell at a most convenient time, about half past noon Saturday, and that’s when we planted the tree. I had Persephone throw a few rosemary leaves into the hole before we put the tree in, symbolizing our wishes for luck, rejuvenation, cleansing and energy.
We are still concerned about the toxic levels of lead (and who knows what else) in the soil around here, so we took pains to make sure the girl didn’t touch any dirt and we cleaned up carefully afterward. I was skeptical about planting a fruit tree in soil that may be contaminated, but my reading on the subject indicates that while toxins accumulate in the roots, they don’t tend to make it up to the fruit.
The Homan family was unable to join us for this little celebration, but they loaned us a shovel. When we passed by their house this morning, the entire family was planting trees. I also have it on good authority that a bunch of students from the University planted 200 trees yesterday. All in all, a good weekend for trees in New Orleans.
Here’s a mix of fourteen tracks for the equinox, about an hour of music, a mystical blend of jazz, electronica, a little hip-hop and some raging heavy metal (sorry Beth) including music by John Coltrane, Death Cab for Cutie and Heaven Shall Burn.
I kind of feel sorry for the autumnal equinox. Of all the four corners of the year, it seems to get the short shrift. It just doesn’t conjure the same excitement as the vernal equinox or either of the solstices. Not sure why.
When a certain theology professor wished me a happy equinox yesterday, I pointed out that he was about 30 hours early. He wondered how this was possible, and I pointed him to an old entry on this very blog. His reply?
I’ll just continue to mark the solstices and the equinoxes with the 21st. You’ll be the only person who will know that I’m living a lie, at least on some days.
So much for scholarly integrity! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go sacrifice a goat.
The autumnal equinox takes place today at 10:44 AM Central Time. It seems to me like the autumnal equinox gets short shrift. The solstices are celebrated (Christmas, Midsummer) and of course the vernal equinox is the subject of an enduring myth. But the poor old autumnal equinox gets no traction in the popular mind. I wonder why that is.
PS: Driven by some strange impulse, I shaved my beard that night for the first time in three months. I’m beginning to see a pattern.
The autumnal equinox approaches. It is only a couple hours away.
I’ve sometimes had arguments with people who think the seasons always begin on the same day every year. They don’t. Instead, they shift around a little bit. Autumn begins with the autumnal equinox, which sometimes falls on the September 22nd and sometimes on September 23rd, at least lately. I understand that if you look at a longer calendar the autumnal equinox may fall as late as the 24th.
I remember speculating in the past that day and night must be of (almost) equal length on the equinox, and that this must be true no matter where on the planet you are. But this was just based on some reasoning I was trying to do in my head, based on my extremely tenuous grasp of astronomy, and I wasn’t sure I had it right.
Huh. So in Anchorage, the sunrise and sunset are closest to 12 hours apart on the 24th. In Austin, it will be the 26th. In New Orleans, it will also be the 26th. In Missoula, it will be the 25th. All this according to weather.com, anyway.
Note that none of those days is the actual day of the equinox. This confused me. My understanding was that day and night would be of equal length on this day, everywhere on the planet.
For terms of measuring the length of day on the equinox, sunrise starts when the sun is half way above the horizon and sunset is when the sun is halfway under the horizon. Using this definition, the length of the day is precisely 12 hours.
This led me to theorize that typical sunrise and sunset times (such as on weather.com) are calculated differently. And, indeed, the following passage from Stars and Planets by Peterson Field Guides seems to bear this out:
Although day and night are theoretically equal in length on the days of the equinoxes, that would be true only if the sun were a point, not a disk, and if the earth’s atmosphere did not bend sunlight. However, the top of the sun actually rises a few minutes before the center of the sun’s disk–the point used in calculations. Also, the earth’s atmosphere bends sunlight, so we can see the sun for several minutes before the time sunrise would occur and after the time sunset would occur if the earth had no atmosphere.