Tuesday, September 22, 2009

EQUINOX & LEAVES

We have reached another equinox—the instant at which the center of the sun crosses declination, or the celestial equator. Though it was not always the case, we moderns now employ equinoxes (along with solstices) as our dividing lines between seasons. That means summer is over today…or will be at 5:19 p.m. EDT hereabouts, which—according to the almanac—is also the moment when autumn officially begins.

You often hear folks say an equinox is when days and nights are of equal length. Twelve hours of daylight, twelve hours of darkness. Sorry to disappoint, but this is just not the case. You’ll have to wait several more days for that balance to occur.

In spite of what you’ve likely been told, day and night are never the same length on an equinox anymore. There are several reasons for this imbalance. While the refraction of sunlight as it passes through the earth’s atmosphere has some effect, the main culprit which created the rift stems from the way sunrises and sunsets are currently pinpointed—along with the way we calculate an equinox.

The one-time fact is now just a quaint fantasy. The truth is, on an equinox, the days are always a bit longer than the nights. The original etymology of the word “equinox” is no longer valid.

Not that it matters in any meaningful way—seasons are just words we use to generalize our location along the great circular route of that annual journey we call a year.

Is today’s equinox day identical to last year’s or the one before that? Will next year’s equinox be the same?

Of course not. No two years, no two days, no two moments are ever exactly alike. Each and every second since time began has been unique…and therefore precious.

An hour ago I stood at the edge of the river and watched a handful of leaves being carried along on the slow current. A few weeks ago you rarely saw a leaf on the water, but each day now their number visibly increases. Three weeks hence the water’s surface will be carpeted by multicolored leaves from countless trees upstream.

There’s something satisfyingly eternal about seeing leaves float down a September stream. Observing their passage somehow welcomes me into time’s continuum.

I quite aware my own days on this earth are limited. Yet I can’t believe I’m the first man to stand on the banks of this lovely sycamore-lined stream and mark a new autumn by noting the leaves already slipping downstream. And I hope I’m not the last—that those who come after will treat this fine old river with love and respect…and will also find solace in greeting the season with a pause to watch leaves.

27 comments:

giggles said...

Enter my favorite time of year!!!

And no wonder I can't balance the egg on it's end!!!! The myth is crushed!!!

Can I, good sir, ask you a HUGE favor??????

Over at my place I have posted a request, which is self explanatory, and I was wondering if you, and some of your good readers, especially your readers from parts of the world far, far, away, might be so kind as to indulge my request? My kids are doing a project for class and are looking for some facts about different places around the world.... And I know you have regular readers from around the world. Me? At my place? Not so much.... I am hoping you and yours could help me (and my kids) out.... Many thanks!!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Ahh…an autumn aficionado who's now found the tale of and equal equinox to be about as real as the Great Oz.

I will, indeed, wander over to your blog and comply with your bidding—Ohio being a foreign and mysterious land rumored to be inhabited by talking Buckeyes.

Perhaps, if you promise to set out milk and cookies, other, more distantly located Riverdaze readers will also favor you with a visit and provide your young'uns with whatever facts necessary.

We're all for education…and in fact, most of us actually have one.

giggles said...

Oh, yes. Cookies...I will have cookies!!! Do you think chocolate chip will be acceptable to everyone????? I do bake a mean chocolate chip cookie....a twist on the traditional toll house recipe.... Or perhaps I should make buckeyes, in your honor??!!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Oh, for sure buckeyes! (Though chocolate chip and/or oatmeal would be perfectly acceptable.)

FYI, I filled out the survey, although I'm apparently off the grid, hopelessly abnormal, when it came to most checkbox choices. (Do I still get a cookie?)

Sydney said...

Oh Lovely lovely writing! You are so talented, my dear Grizzled.

I relax when I come here and read, and leave refreshed as if I had soaked my ankles in the cool water rushing past in your river.

Sydney said...

PS: I wrote about the same subject here, but it's altogether whiney compared to this, lol.

http://newyorkerinhouston.blogspot.com/

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

SydneyX2…

Thank you for your nice words. I'm just glad you like visiting and reading…and quite pleased you find the experience pleasant and relaxing.

Re. the ankle dipping…the river is not all that cool yet, though no longer tepid.

As to Houston and your blog post about this first day of fall there…your piece is fine, not whiney; but better you than me when it comes to living without the distinct seasons.

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ -

Let it be known - I balanced an egg on it's end at 5:20 this evening - and I took pictures to prove it. My Mom has been balancing an egg twice a year for as long as I can recall as a kid - it is SO true!! :-)

I loved your informational post about the equinox - explained in such a way that I can actually get it. phew.

Love you
Gail
peace.....

Wanda said...

On my walk in the woods today and photographing old names carved on the Beech trees, some dated 1930 and 1952 and others my son did 20 years ago and ones my grandsons have done just recently...I wondered if years from now...would another woman stand there some day and take photos of the same trees in the fall of the year.
Is this line of thought a seasonal autumn thing or the autumn of one's years?

Jenn Jilks said...

It's here. It's here! Things should quiet down now! I am so relieved.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Well there may be others down the road (of time) who stand on those banks and observe the changes - but I very much doubt there will be another who courts, loves, respects and honours it quite like you.

But we're getting way ahead of ourselves. You are still there with the river and all its flora and fauna and we're depending on you to keep documenting your observations and devotion.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Huh, I've never tried the egg balancing stunt, and barely recall ever hearing about it. Now, both you and Giggles have mentioned it in your comments—though with opposite results.

Guess I'd better read up on this business tomorrow. Can't let another unequal equinox pass without giving it a go.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

I wouldn't be at all surprised is, half a century down the pike, another woman did record those carvings—though probably not with a camera as we know them—and wonder about those who made them. I've certainly stood by plenty of beech trees and read names and dates and wondered—and done the same thing with stuff scrawled, scribbled, carved, penciled, and painted on barn walls and foundations, attic rafters, basement joists, etc. And it's not all that much different really than the hieroglyphs and pictographs the ancients carved and painted on rocks.

It may be something to do with age, and more pronounced by autumn and the turning seasons…but I mostly think there are just certain people who look at such things and ponder the connectedness of time and life; it is, I believe, a component of the artistic soul.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jenn…

Just when the northcountry dons its most beautiful party dress—and the fishing gets really good—everyone up and goes home. How smart does that makes most folks?

But you're right…you can now relax and enjoy.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bonnie…

Trust me, I have no desire to bid farewell to my beloved river even a moment prematurely. I love watching the seasons here spin round and round…and love sharing the journey with all who care to come along.

Bernie said...

I know it is Fall but today it hit 31C...close to 90F. Just a beautiful day that I so enjoyed but I am awaiting our true Fall, one of cool days, colorful foliage and cozy evenings. Perhaps it is being in the autumn of my life that aids in the appreciation of my favorite season but I think your poetic words shows me even moreso why I love Autumn...:-) Hugs

giggles said...

I imagine you hopelessly abnormal, relaxing by your river....how lovely.... Of course you get a cookie...if I can figure out how to get them thru the innertubes!!!
Thanks!!

Scattering Lupines said...

I am excited about being a little farther north for Fall this year. We were living in Florida this time last year and did not see signs of Fall until February. I've heard we will actually get some Fall elements now that we are in NC!

Carolyn H said...

Griz: There's nothing quite so humgling and yet also satisfying in a weird kind of way as realizing the leaves will turn and float down the river long after I've no longer here to see it happen.

Carolyn H.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

Your weather is a perfect example of why I'm always amused by mankind's foolish arrogance…thinking we can legislate, schedule, name, and scientifically define nature and seasons. As if a calendar or almanac ever contained and programed autumn! Fall will get here—and up there where you are—when it wants to, and not a moment before.

Your life may have entered its autumnal phase, but that just means you have two whole seasons ahead—and now is when you harvest the best, and afterwards you get to savor.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Forget innertubes…UPS works just fine!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Carolyn…

"To everything there is a season…" a season for autumn's leaves, spring's ephemerals, my river, your mountain woods…and us. All have our place and moment in time's eternal continuum.

Humbling, indeed.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Scattering Lupines…

I've spent a lot of time in North Carolina, most of it in the western highlands. There, of course, it regularly snows up in the mountains. And the autumn colors are some of the most spectacular anywhere.

So even if your part of NC never quite makes it to looking like a postcard scene from Currier & Ives, you'll be able to take a weekend drive across state and enjoy autumn (and genuine winter!) at it very best. And I urge you to go see, say, the Snowbird Mountains or the Nantahala Gorge about mid-October…it definitely won't look like Florida!

KGMom said...

Scribe--a wonderful musing on the passing of seasons. Of course, it is our position on the earth in relation to the equator that makes this demarcation of seasons so noticeable.
Several years ago, my daughter was in Ghana, and I visited her. That country's proximity to the equator made for nearly equal hours of day and night--all year long. I would dread that forever.
The other thing Ghana had was the hamarttan. This event is so much a part of their lives, they include reference to it in hymns, changing words to English hymns--"We Plow the Field and Scatter." The hymn says--"He sends the rain in winter, the warmth to swell the grain..." They substitute "The hamarttan in winter..." etc.
I trust you used this lovely post as a basis for one of your columns?

The Weaver of Grass said...

Scribe - when that river of yours is truly carpeted with your wonderfully colourful leave sof autumn - please take lots of photographs - I am sure it will be a sight well worth seeing.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGM…

Strictly speaking, it is the earth's axial tilt of 23.44 degrees that gives us the seasons. If it weren't for this little bit of tilt, the weather would be exactly the same, day after day, for that latitude wherever you lived. Some places would be hot all year long; others cool; those closer to the poles cold. Seasonal variations wouldn't exist.

I wouldn't like the lack of seasonal variation you experienced in Ghana—or the infernal/eternal hot weather! I am going to have read up on hamarttan, as I'm unfamiliar with the word and event.

I've written of the equinox in columns, but I've never in this view and manner. I don't tend to pull ideas and/or bits and pieces of either one for the other. What happens on the blog stays on the blog, and vice versa. Besides, I'm too much the motor-mouth writer to need to share material with myself. :-))

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

I promise for sure to take lots of floating leaf photos and share the best ones here. Have no fear!