Autumn Equinox: darkness and light

Autumn Equinox: darkness and light

Maple tree leaves are gradually taking on their scarlet hue. Fields and open roadsides are splashed with the signature gold and purple of goldenrod and aster. The diverse chorus of birdsong has been replaced by singular squawks from crows, and animal activity is becoming more difficult to spot. Fall is officially upon us in the Catskills.

Yesterday was the autumn equinox, a special moment in Earth’s annual cycle. An “equinox”, meaning “equal night”, occurs when there is roughly twelve hours of both daytime and nighttime.  This moment of nearly perfect balance between light and dark happens twice a year – once in spring and again in fall. After this autumn equinox, nights will continue growing in length and daytime will continue shrinking, until we arrive at the darkest day of the year in the winter solstice.

Yesterday also marked the end of our garden’s main growing season. Many plants such as peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants cannot tolerate below-freezing temperatures. Because we experienced frosts over the last few nights, the decision was made to pull the produce off of the plants to prevent rotting. While this occasion transpired earlier than usual this year, it seems appropriate that the big harvest was synchronous with the autumn equinox.

The few final ripe tomatoes hang off of its withered plant

After all, the equinox teaches us that all living things eventually meet the darkness. Leaves wither and fall to the ground,  plants die back, and some animals burrow down and disappear. In the garden, an interesting juxtaposition occcurs in which decay and bounty exist together. Vegetables are mournfully pulled off of dying plants, and these deteriorating plants will soon be moved into the compost pile. And yet, out of this moment of mortality we yield baskets full of squash, tomatoes, peppers, zucchinis, and more.

As we enter the season of expanding darkness, let us gather and digest the rewards of all the effort put into our season of light. The summertime can be full of frenzied, exciting, boundless energy. The initiation of autumn is the time to reflect on all of that activity and ponder the path that the summer’s busyness has taken us down. When we allow ourselves to pause, we invite more stillness and rest into the darkness ahead. Perhaps we can strive to find, even for a moment, our own perfect balance of action and reflection. We may compost our old worn-out energy to be renewed and utilized in a different way, creating fertile ground for our future endeavors. This is the work we do in order to be reborn anew in a few months when lightness, once again, takes over the dark.

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