The Autumnal Equinox

I’m always amazed how quickly things change when the official first day of fall arrives.  The equinox (the date when day and night are of equal length) only happens twice a year, spring and fall.  Here in the northern hemisphere, the spring equinox signals we’re DSCN0162heading toward the long days of summer, culminating in Midsummer, or the summer solstice.  The fall equinox means  the shorter days and longer nights are accelerating toward winter, peaking at the winter solstice, or the shortest day.  Then the days slowly get longer again.  The cycle is as old as the earth itself, I suppose.

Here’s a cool infographic that explains why this happens:  http://www.livescience.com/31264-season-season-earth-equinoxes-solstices-infographic.html

Fall is a melancholy time of year, but to me it’s the most beautiful.  I love it that summer goes away in a burst of bright colors before the bleakness of winter.  The leaves haven’t started changing yet where I live, but the weather is slowly cooling, and it’s harder to get up before 7 a.m. when the sun rises.

As a child I remember looking forward to Halloween and Thanksgiving.  I didn’t look forward so much to standing out in the dark, waiting for the school bus in the morning!  I remember seeing the sun come up from a school bus window as the bus wound its way through the hills of the countryside, mist rising from the hollows.

And here in Sleepy Hollow Country, Halloween has turned into a big celebration!  I’m still stunned to see busloads of tourists coming down Route 9.

Let’s enjoy the brilliance of fall.  Winter comes soon enough.

The Return of the Light

800px-Christmas_tree_bauble[1]A lot of us find the holiday season difficult.  As the days get shorter and darker, some folks get more and more depressed.  In ancient times people sought for explanations of the seasonal changes.  Why did the days get shorter?  Why did they then begin to lengthen again?  What is the pattern of all this?

Astronomy evolved from the search for answers and from observation of the natural world.  Many of the world’s religions celebrate the winter solstice, when the shortest day of the year leads to lengthening again.  Many religions and cultures have a festival of lights, whether it’s Hanukkah or Diwali, the winter solstice or Christmas.

Why do we long for the light and fear the darkness?  Is it because we as humans don’t see well at night, so darkness became a source of fear?

This year seems particularly dark, especially with the horrible massacre of children in Newtown, Connecticut.  And there have been several other mass shootings this year.

Next Friday, Dec. 21, is the solstice.  Let’s hope that this holiday season will help us turn to the light, as the days begin to lengthen and we celebrate Christmas.

And I am calling us all to action.  Enough darkness.  Enough killing.  There is no legitimate reason for any private citizen to have an assault rifle or a semi-automatic pistol.  Let’s work to outlaw these weapons of massive death!