My favorite poet, Emily Dickinson, wrote: “There is a certain slant of light -” (she was writing about winter afternoons, but I’ll take a liberty here). The wheel of the year turns once again, and we are already at the Autumnal Equinox. The light has changed to that heartbreaking slant of fall, and between bouts of San Francisco’s summertime cold and Indian Summer heat, I can feel the approaching winter’s first chill.
Today, as on the vernal equinox heralding spring, the sun rises due east and sets due west, crossing the sky right at the equator. Earth rotates straight, rather than tilting, on its axis. Night and day are nearly the same length. The autumnal equinox signifies the finiteness of long summer days, and with its longer nights and lowering sun, comes the migration of butterflies and birds to their southerly winter homes. The 2012 autumnal equinox also brings September’s first quarter-moon, anticipating its huge, full harvest moon.
People throughout the ages celebrate seasonal changes at sacred sites worldwide. A recent discovery was unearthed at the 12,000-year-old Spout Run Paleoindian site in Clarke County, Virginia. The site’s three concentric rings align with the fall sun. Also, as a local archeologist discovered, a triangular rock formation seems to align with the sunrise, and on the equinox, the sun forms a halo behind anyone standing on the site’s two footprint-shaped petroglyphs.
Traditionally (in the Northern Hemisphere), this day signifies the start of the fall harvest. A time to reap the apples and other ripe crops that have been nourished by the earth, and in turn will feed us. Then comes time to clean up and store for the winter, preparing for the new year, and planting new crops – when the cycle begins again.