September 23 marked the Autumnal Equinox, the astronomical event when the length of the day is equal to the length of the night, about 12 hours each. We’ll be switching our clocks so that they “Fall Back” on Nov. 2. The days will continue to shorten
until winter solstice, Dec. 21. By spring equinox, March 21, the day length will once again equal the length of night. Summer solstice, June 21, celebrates the longest day of the year.
Thank the heavens our Earth is tipsy — if it weren’t, we wouldn’t have four seasons. Earth’s changing seasons have been pondered, written about, sung about and painted since the start of humanity.
Even if you don’t follow the Earth’s rotational patterns, look for other subtle indicators of fall. We enjoyed spectacular seabird migrations in August and September for a reason: The birds that summered in the North were moving south for the winter. Some migratory birds spend their winters here and have already started showing up at our outdoor water dish. Like some people, many birds are headed for sunny islands off the coast of Mexico. “Endless summer” birds, like sooty shearwaters, fly all the way to New Zealand to nest and raise their young. Six months from now, as the northern hemisphere approaches summer, they’ll make the epic voyage back to the Arctic.
October is the month for tarantulas — those big hairy spiders that march stoically across highways and backyard patios. No wonder Halloween celebrates the spider! Legend says that if tarantulas are walking uphill, the winter will be wet; if they walk downhill, the winter will be dry.
Cambria’s evergreen pines don’t lose all their needles, but other trees tell us shorter days are here, cutting critical time for generating new growth. Sycamores and liquidambars change color and eventually lose their leaves, entering winter quietude.
Our brains register the shorter days, too, and some of us feel that we have less energy. Our ancestors dealt with it by going to bed earlier, or by lighting candles or fires to provide more light.
Today’s electric lights keep the indoor sun blazing all night long.
Early civilizations had rituals to honor the changing of the seasons, some of which are still relevant today. One friend measures the girth of her trees at the equinox. She observed that the water shortage resulted in less growth this year. Another friend makes improvements to her home interior, starting with giving the wood furniture an extra dose of conditioner. Quilters often start holiday projects around the beginning of fall. Seasonal stewardship routines bring comfort and mark the passing of time. Another season, another year, another wonderful fall.
Michele Roest’s column is special to The Cambrian.