The Autumnal Equinox

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(Photo courtesy of the Iowa DNR Instagram)

September brings the autumnal equinox, which marks the beginning of fall. An equinox occurs twice each year when the sun crosses the equator and day and night are approximately the same length everywhere on earth (hence the name: from Latin aequus, “equal,” and nox, “night”). This year, the autumnal equinox falls on September 23rd — at 8:54 p.m. CDT, to be precise.

After the equinox, the days begin to get shorter and the nights longer, with later dawns and earlier sunsets. Traditionally, it has signified harvest time, which is why the full moon near the autumnal equinox is called the Harvest Moon, for the extra light that allows farmers to work late. (Cue Neil Young here.) Given the harvest, food festivals are common across the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year.

Shorter days bring crisper weather and a subtle change in light as the arc of the sun shifts toward the south. Birds and butterflies begin migrating south as well, while the more home-bodied creatures start putting on their winter coats and gathering provisions for colder weather. The leaves and grasses begin to change into a kaleidoscope of oranges, browns, purples, reds, and golds.

Acknowledging these seasonal rhythms is a way of “going with the flow.” For those of us who may be dreading the cold of winter, the equinox reminds us to focus on the present moment and revel in the fall colors and comfortable weather while they are still with us. Here are a few ideas for observing the fall equinox in your own way:

● What “harvests” have gathered in your life thus far this year? Take stock of the abundance in your life and record them in some way — through journaling, art, or some other form of expression.
● As animals prepare for winter, so do we. What provisions do you need for the coming winter? What needs to be thrown out (literally and figuratively) to make way for a new season? A fall cleaning — not just of our stuff but also of our calendars, our mental clutter, and so on — can help us start winter lighter.
● Bring fall indoors, with fall flowers and grasses, and essential oils, candles, and soaps with fall scents.
● Spend time outdoors, whether preparing a garden for winter or taking advantage of eastern Iowa’s many parks and trails.
● Fall crafts using such natural items as acorns and corn husks are popular during this time year. Here is a twist on that tradition: When exploring outdoors, see what treasures you can find. Gather a few and arrange them in artful configurations on a nearby flat surface such as a rock or path. Take photos of your creations, then return the items to their home in nature. This way, you both respect Leave No Trace outdoor ethics (“Take only pictures, leave only footprints”) while also reminding yourself of one of the messages of the season: All things are in a state of constant change and transformation, and trying to hang on to things does not make them static.
● Visit local farms and orchards, such as Wilson’s Orchard or Kroul Farm, to wander among the pumpkins, explore a corn maze, or pick up a fall mum for your front doorstep.
● Go leaf peeping. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Travel Iowa will tell you where to go and when.
● Enjoy fall produce. Maybe even host a potluck feast to celebrate this season’s abundance.
● Hold or attend a bonfire. Music, dancing, drumming, and roasting marshmallows are all great ways to ring in autumn.

What are your ideas for celebrating the fall equinox? Share them with us below!

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