September 24, 2011

The autumn equinox

Yesterday, September 23, was the autumn equinox, the day on which the hours of darkness and daylight are almost exactly the same. From now on the nights will lengthen into winter; at the North Pole the sun will not rise again for six months.

The Romans dedicated a feast day to Pomona at the autumn equinox, the goddess of fruitful abundance – specifically orchard fruits, at their best at this time of the year. In Japan, people remember their ancestors at both the autumn and spring equinoxes, while closer to home, several ancient traditions still surround this time of the year, many marking the end of the harvest – for instance, the making of corn dolls, the slaughter of a fatted goose and the observation of the harvest moon.

I never mind seeing a season out; I always feel excited about the changes to come. Every part of the year has its own beauty, distant enough from each other that you greet them anew each time. Listen to the wild excitement in Gerard Manley Hopkins' voice, from Hurrahing in Harvest, written in 1877:

Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty the stooks rise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?