OK, here’s a trick question. In what month does the summer equinox occur? If you guessed June, or any other month, then you were, in fact, tricked by the question. There is actually no such thing as a summer equinox. There is a summer solstice, which of course does occur in June, but equinoxes only occur in spring or fall. In fact, this year’s fall equinox occurred just this week on September 22nd.
The easy way to remember that an equinox only occurs in the spring and fall (never in summer or winter) is to understand the etymology of the word equinox. The word comes from the combination of two Latin words that mean equal and night. Each year in both the third week of March and the third week of September there is a point at which there is an equal amount of light and darkness, equal amounts of day and night. From the time of the fall equinox through to the winter solstice the nights get longer and the days get shorter, a fact that is reversed between the time of the spring equinox and the summer solstice.
I love the season of fall and not just because I enjoy football, apple picking, the stunning colors of the changing leaves, the World Series, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. I also love fall because it is a time when I find myself turning inward, reflecting on the changing nature of life in general, and on my life in particular. The poet Bonaro Overstreet says that autumn is “a symphony of permanence and change.” Turning inward to reflect on what has changed, or what is changing, also provides the opportunity for me to focus on that which is changeless, that which is permanent.
Fall is a time of transition. It’s not just the trees that are transitioning here in the northern hemisphere, the geese and other wildlife are preparing for the impending winter months as well. The geese as well some other animals move great distances, making an external, literal transition of place. Trees and other animals, stay and make an internal transition as they shift their energy from external growth and creation to various expressions of internal protecting and stewarding.
I find that I too benefit from doing a similar kind of interior transitioning in the fall, as I both let go of what has been, and hold fast to what remains, learning to be appreciative of both. Another quote from Bonaro Overstreet comes to mind as I do this, “Autumn asks that we prepare for the future – that we be wise in the ways of garnering and keeping. But it also asks that we learn to let go-to acknowledge the beauty of sparseness.”
Our lives indeed are comprised of equal parts light and shadow, a balance of day and night, an ongoing “symphony of permanence and change.” As we begin the transition of this fall season, may we all be wise in the “ways of garnering and keeping” and also in the ways of letting go and discovering the “beauty of sparseness.”