Welcome to autumn. This post marks — as close as technology permits — the precise moment that summer ends and autumn begins.
The fall equinox 2016.
That precision, like a celestial click between one reality and another is an enticing metaphor in many respects. It offers a sort of predictability and certainty that appeals to our innate yearning for order. And yet, I wonder, how much of that precision is actually experienced and how much is mostly conceptual?
My midlife-obsessed mind flits from equal day/night to “middle age”, a psychological/physical click between the fountain of youth and the, well, gyre of mortality perhaps? Something.
But before flirting with the macabre let’s look under the hood of the fall equinox.
Equinox, the Reason for the Seasons
The minds and mettle at National Geographic handle matters equinoctial far better than I, so I’ll happily pass the baton.
The autumn equinox arrives at 10:21 a.m. ET (2:20 p.m. UTC) on September 22, officially marking the beginning of fall in the Northern Hemisphere and the start of spring in the Southern Hemisphere.
The word “equinox” comes from Latin and means “equal night,” referring to the roughly 12-hour day and night that occurs only on the two equinox days of the year.
This tidy split in our 24-hour day is linked to the reason Earth has seasons in the first place. The planet spins on an axis that is tilted 23.5 degrees with respect to its orbital plane. That means as Earth travels along its 365-day orbit, different hemispheres tilt closer to or farther from our sun’s warming rays.
An equinox is a geometrical alignment between the sun and Earth in which the sun appears positioned right above our planet’s equator. On these days, both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres experience roughly equal amounts of sunshine. It’s also only on the spring and autumn equinoxes that the sun rises due east and sets due west. (Source: National Geographic)
So there’s a reason for the seasons. The fall equinox isn’t just a handy reminder to swap out our racing slicks for snow tires, to gather and press our apples into hard cider, to tune up our telemark skis…
Science. Math. Half day. Half night.
There’s another sort of logic too, me thinks. Cyclical, seasonal logical. If spring is literally and metaphorically a birth/rebirth, then autumn is halfway around the cycle. The end of the beginning, and the beginning of the end. Seasonal midlife.
So I’m living through the equinox of my life. No cosmic click. Not even a nice, precise, and predictable moment. But a season.
I’m not super enthused with looking at midlife as the autumn of life, so I’ll shy away from getting too literal here. But it’s worth noting that I do love fall. For so many years as a student, and later as a teacher and coach, fall meant back to school. The end of carefree summer and the the return to structure, deadlines, etc.
But a few years ago I realized that autumn no longer tripped my anxieties. And ever since I’ve gloried in the immense satisfaction of September (and even, some years, October) sailing and cycling; putting boats, gardens, and orchard to sleep; composting and repurposing this season’s excess and decay for next season’s germination; readying fields and trails for snow and skiing;… Fall has become my favorite time of the year, a perfect four-way tie with spring, summer and winter!