Autumnal Equinox September 22, 2016

Mighty Magnolia, Franklinton Center, Whitaker, NC

Mighty Magnolia, Franklinton Center, Whitaker, NC


Reflections on the Autumnal Equinox, September 22, 2016, 10:21am EDT

Hope V. Horton

How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the strongest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.
            —Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours*

It’s barely mid-September and the leaves are turning orange, yellow, and brown.  They are shriveling, shrinking, expiring as the dry, scorching conditions of past weeks strain the trees’ systems of sustenance.  Sitting at an outdoor café, I witness a windfall of leathery leaves as though nature is having a fire sale, sloughing off stock, tossing away stacks of sharp, dry pine needles, and letting go of sun-faded foliage in bulk amounts.

The Autumnal Equinox ushers in Mabon, the final season of the Celtic year.  It marks the moment when the sun kisses the celestial equator on the journey towards her southern outpost.  The whole Earth shines with about 12 hours of daylight, an illumination bestowed from pole to pole.  It is a moment when Earth returns to center as though her axis were upright; a period when we can re-visit the space between polarities and remember what balance and equivalence feel like.

The spiral of the year is bringing us back to the beginning, yet we are not in the same position in the cosmos in many ways.  For one, as the Earth orbits around the sun it is wreathed by a zodiac of constellations keeping sparkling company at night.  But these starry guests drift in and out of the evening’s soirée depending upon where the Earth’s axis is pointing.  This phenomenon is called the Precession of the Equinoxes, which means that the position of the stars is ever so slightly different each year at this time.  For over the course of about 26,000 years, the planet’s axis wobbles like a gyroscope due to the gravitational pull of the moon and sun, and this force changes our orientation to the stars.  Today’s pole star, Polaris, will yield to Vega in about 10,000 years, and if we’re still around then, we’ll be singing to the music of Virgo rather than Aquarius.  (For a simulation of this phenomenon, click here.) 

We humans operate on human time, and while the dust of stars and the elements of eons may be in our bones and blood, our hearts revolve in rhythms far more immediate and measurable.  A year ago, a cycle was set in motion that is coming to completion now.  Flowers and fruits of bygone seasons have yielded to seed pods, splitting open and delivering messages to the future in their own particular ways, some seeds drifting on the breeze like milkweed wisps, and others dropping straight to the ground like acorns.  We’ve hit the Solstice highs and lows, and the Autumnal Equinox invites us to shift into to neutral for a spell, calmly regarding all that the year has wrought and how that may influence what wants to happen next.

In this spirit, I reviewed how my own life path has evolved and noticed that in last year’s essay I wrote about a visit to the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier in Fredricksburg, Virginia.  This was one station on a journey to learn more about the divisive legacy of racial injustice and slavery that has afflicted this land since Europeans arrived on the continent some 400 years ago.  The essay ended with the question, “How can I keep turning towards wholeness with every step?”  I’ve read books, gone to workshops, conferences, and retreats, and talked with many people.  I’ve opened my ears to the sounds of suffering and searched my heart for the hidden harbors of oppression in my own being and in my family history, in so doing uncovering the names and ages of seven enslaved people sold by my Virginia ancestors in 1848. 

This stain does not wash out.  Rather, it spreads and re-colors the fabric of my life in shades of ochre humility, dun desolation, electric-blue rage, and crimson compassion.  I find myself in the midst of a re-orientation to everything, even the ground under my feet, because the same forces which divide us as humans also divide us from the environment.  

And now my thoughts turn to Hart’s Mill Ecovillage, the intentional community I’ve been working to co-create for nearly four years now. Last November, our forming farm community achieved county re-zoning and we are now mobilizing to buy 112 acres of land by December of this year.  Our relationships with each other and the land continue to evolve and teach us the way to go.  I sometimes sense in the core of my being a wisdom flowing through this process, almost as if the heart of the land were joined with ours, informing and guiding our leanings and decisions, bringing to us just what we need in order to keep going, day by day, year by year. 

It’s in these moments that I reflect on a question posed by botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Robin Wall Kimmerer: We may wholeheartedly love the Earth, but does the Earth love us back?  This query causes my axis to wobble.  Its gravity tugs on all the shields and masks and blinders I put on to engage in life as usual, for it reminds me that I’m born of the Earth and intimately woven into all that is, was, and ever will be.  Everything supports and influences me always, so why do I let myself feel separate and small and powerless, ever?  

In the words of Rilke, ”If we surrendered to the Earth’s Intelligence, we could rise up rooted, like trees.”*  The Equinox season invites us to see through that which divides us; to welcome and connect with everyone and everything; to gather seeds made of love and sow them everywhere.  In this way, we may become whole.  

*From the Book: Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the strongest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.
Each thing-
each stone, blossom, child –
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to Earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things teach us:
to fall,
patiently trusting our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.