Changing Seasons by John Copeland

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Changing Seasons by John Copeland

Autumn days come quickly, like the running of a hound on the moor
– Irish proverb
 
 
You feel the change in the air?  The sun’s rising a bit later, it’s setting earlier, the evening’s are growing cooler and our metal roof is already echoing with the reports of falling acorns.  Here in the Santa Ynez Valley the past few mornings have been cool and a little foggy, making our dogs very frisky as they accompany me through our olive groves.  In other parts of the valley crews are working diligently gathering in this year’s grape harvest.  
 
Even if you don’t spend much time outside, you’ve probably noticed the harbingers of seasonal change; Halloween displays are already up in many stores, and in a few you may have already seen a few arrays of Christmas ornaments.  Both Earth and commerce are providing us with the sure signs that the seasons are changing.
 
Today, Saturday, September 21st, is the “last day of summer” for us in the northern hemisphere and my niece Katie’s birthday.  Sunday, September 22nd is the Autumn Equinox.  Here in California, Fall will be ushered in at 1:44 pm PDT.  If you’re living in the Eastern Time Zone, Fall arrives at 4:44 pm EDT and 2:44 CDT if you’re in the center of the country.  
 
And if you happen to live in the southern hemisphere, you’ll be experiencing the Vernal Equinox and the first day of Spring.  There is either an equinox (autumn and spring) or a solstice (summer and winter) on approximately the 21st day of the last month of every quarter in the calendar year. 
 
In the language of science, the Equinox is defined as the point where the Sun appears to cross the celestial equator from north to south. The celestial equator is the circle in the celestial sphere halfway between the celestial poles. It can be thought of as the plane of Earth’s equator projected out onto the sphere.  
 
For those of us who are not so scientifically inclined, on the Equinox, at the equator, the center of the Sun will spend a nearly equal amount of time above and below the horizon. Now, not many of us live at the equator, so for us in the Northern Hemisphere at the Autumn Equinox, the hours of daylight are longer than night by 7 to 10 minutes.  
 
Now you may have guessed that the word Equinox is Latin, and you’re right.  It comes from two Latin words aequus (equal) and nox (night).   You might logically think that Equinox would mean that day and night were equal.  It’s not until a couple days after the Equinox that day and night are finally equal.  Here in Santa Ynez, CA, day and night are equal on September 26th.  You can check for the exact date where you live by looking up sunrise and sunset times. The reason this doesn’t occur at the Equinox has to do with the sunrise and sunset being measured by the edges of the sun and not the geometric center of the sun and the diffraction of the sunlight as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere. 
 
However, if you want to get up early on Sunday, and there aren’t clouds or marine layer, you can see one of astronomical alignments of the Equinox; the sun will rise directly in the East.  Now you need to go outside again at the end of the day and you’ll see the sun set directly in the West.  This occurs only twice a year, on both the Fall and Spring Equinoxes.  On these two days you can find the exact cardinal directions of East and West using the sun. 
 
I like to also think that the Equinox is also about balance and the Autumn Equinox occurs as the sun enters the astrological sign of Libra, the scales.  The Autumn Equinox in the northern hemisphere is the Vernal Equinox for the southern hemisphere.  Another way to say this is that when fall begins for the northern hemisphere, spring begins for the southern hemisphere.  If part of the globe has opposite seasons than the other half, then the reason for the seasons is NOT because of how close or far away we are from the sun.  It is related to the tilt of the Earth on its axis.
 
As the North pole begins to tilt away from the sun, cooler weather comes to the northern hemisphere because the sun is no longer giving its direct rays to this part of Earth.  In winter when the North Pole is tilted its farthest away from the sun, we have the least amount of daylight hours and the coldest weather.  You can even notice the angle of the sun and how it never gets as high above the horizon.
 
The Autumn Equinox is closely associated with harvest time.  September is the month of the Wine Moon, the lunar cycle when grapes are harvested, pressed and put away to become wine.  The full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox is also known as the Harvest Moon, since farmers would also harvest their crops during the night with the light of the full moon to aid them.  If you happened to be outside the past couple of evenings, the full moon hanging in the sky is both the Wine Moon and Harvest Moon.
 
Every agrarian culture I’ve read about, past or present, had a way of celebrating the year’s harvest. Today’s celebrations are the descendants of the ancient ones. Most of them were observed between the Autumn Equinox and Halloween or Samhain, on October 31st. They often link the cycles of death and life, honoring the dead as well as the harvest. In many cultures, these things are intertwined.
 
The word harvest comes from the Anglo-Saxon word harvest, which was their word for Autumn.  Over time it has come to mean the season for reaping and gathering grain and other crops.
 
In Northern Europe, during ancient times, grain stalks were tied together symbolizing the Harvest Lord and burned.  The ashes were scattered upon the earth. The Harvest Queen, or Kern Baby, was made from the last sheaf of the harvest and bundled by the reapers who would proclaim, ‘We have the Kern!’  The sheaf was dressed in a white frock decorated with colorful ribbons depicting spring, and then hung upon a pole.
 
By the time of the Middle Ages, the Christian Church replaced earlier Pagan equinox celebrations with Michaelmas, the feast of the Archangel Michael, on Sept. 29th.  His feast was celebrated with a traditional well-fattened goose which had fed well on the stubble of the fields after the harvest.  In many places, a there was also a tradition of special large loaves of bread made only for that day.  The harvest had to be completed by Michaelmas so the new cycle of farming would begin.  It was also a time for beginning new leases, rendering accounts and paying the annual dues.
 
The Autumn equinox was “New Year’s Day” on the French Republican Calendar, which was used from 1793 to 1805.  The French monarchy was abolished and the First Republic was proclaimed on September 21, 1792, making the following day the equinox day that year, the first day of the “Republican Era” in France.  
 
The September equinox marks the first day of Mehr or Libra in the Iranian calendar.  It is also an Iranian festival called Jashne Mihragan, which dates back to the distant days of Zoroastrianism.
 
Here in the United States, autumn is a time to celebrate with a variety of fall and Harvest Festivals, like Danish Days this weekend in Solvang.  People enjoy fall festivals as they sense the closure of a great summer season and the coming of a long winter.  The fall festivals are often the last of the outdoor events until spring.  Just getting there is half the fun.  So, get out and enjoy them.
John Copeland
Rancho Olivos
2390 N. Refugio Rd.
Santa Ynez, CA 93460 

 

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Santa Monica Healing Arts
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