We lie on the brink of change. Great storms are brewing. This is the
week of equinox, when the Earth stands up straight to the
sun before it begins to tilt again, northern hemisphere tipping outward.
At this moment everything hangs in balance. The hours of day and night
are nearly even. There's some powerful physics at play.
remember Oregon Coast fishermen, charter skippers and commercial
trollers, standing around the bait shop scolding the weather. The worst
storms and the most unpredictable catches occurred at equinoxes, they
said. Nasty storm clouds would rise out of nowhere and turn the ocean
black, threatening lives. Then, quick as cream in a cat's mouth, the
clouds would be gone. Skies would clear. Fish would bite.
Equinoxes are times of special powers. Calendars are created around
them; crops are planted by them.
For the Catholic Church, the date of vernal equinox is critical. The
Sunday following the first full moon after equinox is always Easter.
The Council of Nicea, in 325, established March 21 as vernal equinox.
But that was on the Julian calendar, which was about 18 hours per
century too long. By 1852 the true equinox had slipped 10 days,
actually occurring on March 11.
Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar to return the equinox to March
21. The day that followed October 4 in 1852 was October 15.
course it hasn't always been this way, spring in March and autumn in
September. Twelve thousand years ago, when paleolithic hunters were
pursuing woolly mammoths, the seasons were reversed. And just 6,000
years ago the pyramid-building Egyptians were witnessing summer in our
April and winter in our October.
Earth wobbles as it spins. This wobble, called "precession," slowly
changes the shape of our seasons. Our descendants will change the
calendar again and again, like Pope Gregory, to keep the start of
spring in March, or else in the year 14990 it will begin in September,
where the autumnal equinox is now.
This precession of equinoxes leaves me dizzy. The cycle of seasons is
but one rotation among many. The Earth wobbles as it spins in orbit
around a star that circles the center of a galaxy that is itself moving
at incredible speed through the depths of space.
The moment of equinox is a time when all of nature shuffles nervously,
feeling the collective tug of all these cycles as the Earth reaches the
end of one movement, pauses briefly, and starts anew.