Monday, September 21, 2009

The Autumnal Equinox

The cross quarter day in the fall is the autumnal equinox also called Mabon or Harvest Home. It is the second harvest of the year, the harvest of the fruits and the grapes. Like the spring equinox it is a time of balance between light and dark but this time with the tipping into winter rather than into summer. It is one of my favorite times of the year.

Every fall I look forward to what I call the Perfect Time of Year. The Perfect Time of Year is defined as a time when the leaves are changing but not yet falling, and though it's warm enough for shorts in the afternoon it is cool enough to want a sweatshirt in the morning and the evening. I thought it was going to come last weekend, but then it got up to 90 degrees for two days in a row. Too hot! This weekend, however, we had two perfect days. Fantastic!

Other signs of the season include a real change in the quality of the sunlight. The weather report claims it will be 90 degrees today, but this morning was cold enough for a sweatshirt. Once it was warm enough to take off the sweater it was still cool in the shade. The sun's movements in the sky are making evening driving a challenge these days too. My drive home includes the infamous Terwilliger Curves on I-5 south out of downtown Portland. The interstate makes a 90 degree turn from south to due west before turning south west and eventually south. It is known for it’s accidents and traffic snarles but I was shocked at how bad the traffic was last week. As I inched up on the turn I realized what was happening. All summer I would have to pull down my car’s visor as I made the turn to shade my eyes from the sun coming around the curve and out of the shadow of the hill. The close-to-equinox sun wasn’t just lighting the freeway, though, it was blinding drivers! The shortening days caused the coincidence of the low sun with the evening commute, and the equinox sun is sets directly in the path of the west facing highway. Those of us driving that one mile of road in that one hour of time were blinded to the point of driving 5 miles an hour on the freeway. Luckily, the wheel keeps turning and soon the sun will be setting before my commute, and further to the south. See, winter isn’t all bad.

As for the other solstices and equinoxes I woke up for the sunrise. I always enjoy doing something for the sunset the night before a sunrise morning and the Autumnal Equinox in Portland offers a perfect opportunity. Vaux's Swifts, a small swallow like bird, spend the summer in the woods and neighborhoods around town but come together in large flocks before heading south for the winter. In September these flocks roost in hollow standing trees or chimneys and get as large as the roosting sites allow. There is a school in NW Portland with a large chimney that supports a flock of swifts that can grow as large as 15,000 birds. It's a Portland tradition to pack a picnic dinner, a blanket (and cardboard for sliding down the hill if you are so inclined) and go to Chapman School to see the swifts come in for the evening. It is a breathtaking event with the sky filled with birds spiraling and swooping around. If you are lucky the hawk will show up for an evening snack sending the flock into a frenzy. Even more amazing is the thousands of people - yes thousands - who show up every night to be in awe of this event. The ooh and awws as the flock forms a tight spiral, the gasps as the hawk divebombs, the cheers as the swifts chase him off. The night I went the crowd actually broke into applause when the last swifts popped down into the chimney. It really is a sight to behold!

The next morning I woke up in time to catch the sunrise at a field I go to in the fall to collect wild fruit. Tumalo and I walked around as the sky turned from grey to gold and watched the rays of sunlight peek over Mt. Hood. I've been reading about Waldorf schooling and Michalemas recently (and will write a blog post about it soon) and the sunlight bursting over the mountain reminded me of a story by Reg Down that is told in Waldorf circles at this time of year. It is called The Most Beautiful Dragon in the World and is about a dragon who was very vain and tried to eat the autumn sun because he thought it was more beautiful than he was. The morning sun that day certainly looked to me as beautiful as any dragon could be.

What changes in the sun, the sky and the earth are you noting as autumn ramps up into full gear this year? Have you noticed the sun setting in odd places this month or seen animals getting ready for winter? What is beautiful to you about this time of year? Happy equinox!

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I enjoyed this post. This is my favorite time of the year too! Thanks for your comment on my blog. It's fun to see who is reading.