Tuesday, September 21, 2010

So When Is the Autumnal Equinox (First Day of Fall) Anyway?

Today is the Autumnal Equinox, or at least it should be. Having Googled the equinox, I found out that some say it's on September 22 this year, and some say it's on September 23. Traditionally, the Autumnal Equinox has been September 21 and the Vernal Equinox has been March 21 and all of that scientific fact is just getting in the way I tell you. Does anyone really care that the suns rays cross the equator at exactly 9;43 AM EDT on September 23? Just made that fact up, so don't quote me on it. The Naval Observatory tells me it occurs at exactly 11:29 PM on September 22. Another source assures me that it occurs on September 23. Google it yourself if you're so insistent on being to the minute scientifically correct for goodness sakes. September 21 is close enough and traditional enough for me.

If the truth were known, everyone would know that my wife's birthday signals the beginning of Fall for me, and that occurs on September 20. Happy birthday Babs. Happy beginning of Fall. Equinox Schmequinox. The trees are beginning to change colors. The days are getting shorter. Let's not get picky. Next thing, you're going to tell me that summer doesn't actually begin on the day that school's out.

What's that? The Summer Solstice. Yes I know a Solstice is a Pontiac. Yes I know Pontiac's are not being made anymore. Can we get back to the point? Yes I know the summer solstice is when the sun's rays are northernmost in our hemisphere and this occurrence can vary from June 20 to June 23 from year to year. Once again, who cares? As a kid, my summers always began precisely when I picked up that last report card of the year and went home until September. As a teacher, my summers begin when I have handed out that last report card, turned in my keys to the school office, and when I head out the door with the idea of going home and changing into shorts. Actual solstice dates be damned. Got nothing to do with real summers.

Vernal Equinoxes? Okay I know that they occur somewhere between March 20 and March 23, but let's get real. This has nothing to do with real spring. Hours of sunlight be damned. In the city of Chicago, right next to Lake Michigan, it is cold and wet until sometime in late May or early June. Spring lasts maybe two days and then someone flips the switch and it's mid-summer temperatures. Fifty one day. Eighty-five the next day. There are some in the City of Chicago who think Spring is a myth as elusive as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Just something you teach your kids. Doesn't really exist. Of course there are those who say the same about Jesus and religion as well, but that's a topic for another day.

Now I've gone through both equinoxes and one solstice, and that leaves one lone seasonal marker that I haven't mentioned. That is the Winter Solstice. Yes we know that it is traditionally December 21 (in the Northern Hemisphere) and can vary from December 20 to 23. And we know that in my mind it is not likely to be quite that scientifically exact. Yes I know all about the sun shining its hardest on the opposite end of the planet and circles around said sun and days getting longer after that, but when does actual winter set in in my mind, in your mind?

This brings to mind a serious digression. If you think the days get seriously short in the Northern U.S. in mid-December, try going to Iceland at Christmas sometime. Did that. One word to describe most of the day, dark. The sun comes up for a few short hours somewhere around 10 AM and goes down shortly thereafter, at about 2 PM. The sun never achieves any serious brightness, but has that late afternoon yellowish slanting light look that you get in late afternoon, only it's like that all day, all 3 or 4 hours of it. Got to see the Northern Lights up close and personal though.

Anyway, I was trying to decide when the Winter Solstice (First Day of Winter) actually is. You know, living in the Upper Midwest of the U.S. it gets crappy cold somewhere around the middle of November. I could make those last couple of weeks of November the last gasp of Fall and December 1 the actual first day of winter. Makes sense to me. I could make the first serious falling of the snow the first day of winter and that varies from year to year, but it's usually somewhere in December. (This is not to be confused with winter in Minneapolis. I lived there for a while and it snows from the end of October to the beginning of May. I defy you to tell me that Fall or Spring have intruded on that long-assed winter.)

Of course winter sometimes signals its beginning by the beginning of Winter Vacation from school. We could go with December 25, Christmas Day, as the beginning of winter. The Christians made it a holiday so they didn't have to take the winter festival away from the pagans. That could work. All in all, though, the beginning of my winter is pretty loosey goosey. When it gets cold and crappy, it's winter. Has nothing to do with hours of sunlight. Has nothing to do with actual scientific solstices. So when does winter begin this year? Don't know yet.

All of that being said, I guess the seasons of the year are a state of mind, and right now it is Fall, Autumn, whatever you want to call it. Forget the fact that the scientists are telling you to wait a day. Forget the fact that it was 88 degrees today. It's Fall now. Drive north and look at some leaves for goodness sakes. Enjoy it. Embrace it. It's part of the cycle.

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