Blog: Reflections on the Fall Equinox

Blog: Reflections on the Fall Equinox

By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.

I am sitting in the garden at the Sacred Stream Center as dusk is falling on September 22, the fall equinox. Usually, we would be calling the community together at the fall equinox drum circle, and the garden would be humming with conversation. It is quiet here now. There is just the sound of the bubbling fountains and the calling of the birds enjoying a late afternoon bath.

This is the third season where we have not been able to come together for our quarterly drum circles, which have been held on every equinox and solstice for the past 25 years. Last March, at the spring equinox, we were all adapting to the new reality of coronavirus as we practiced social distancing and pondered what would come next. We could not join together holding hands in circle, which is part of how we begin the celebration to welcome the new season. By June, at the summer solstice, we were hoping that the solstice would mark a shift in the pandemic and our ability to join together, but a resurgence of coronavirus in California dashed that hope. And now, here at the fall equinox, I am reflecting on the passage of time as we continue to socially distance, concerned about yet another predicted resurgence of the virus between now and the winter solstice on December 21.

It strikes me how strange it is that these important points on the calendar are colored by this illness. And yet, these are moments that go far beyond human experience. The position of the sun in relationship to the earth that each solstice and equinox mark have been occurring literally since time immemorial. The vastness of this thought grips me as I watch the plump towhee bathing in the central fountain of the garden. It reminds me of an oddly friendly francolin, also a plump bird, who befriended me several years ago at the Ring of Brodgar, a stone circle in the Orkney Islands of Scotland.

That circle, made of huge 15-foot tall stones, was first built in Neolithic times to mark the solstices, the equinoxes, the phases of the moon, Venus, and the stars. I reflect on all those who have observed the fall equinox there, and at other ancient astronomical observatories. I think of the ancient medicine wheels of North America where the Sioux, the Cheyenne, and other Plains Native Americans marked time in the vast skies of the great plains. I remember the ancient sundials, the Jantar Mantars in India where generations of sky observers have made detailed observations of the sun’s movements. I remember the Wurdi Youang, an arrangement of stones in Australia that sky watchers have been using to track the equinoxes for at least 11,000 years. Around the world, across time and space, the sky has brought all these observers together in a common purpose as they marked the movement of the celestial spheres.

In these times of separateness, of political polarization and social isolation, the sky reminds me of the common experience we all share. That experience is not only of the vastness of the sky itself, but it is also our kinship with the celestial events and the way their rhythms guide our lives. As I focus on these cycles of time and imagine connecting with everyone who has ever observed them, I feel myself part of a collective that spans time and space. I find my perspective simultaneously expanded and grounded.

The equinoxes occur at the time of year where the day and the night are of equal length. To remember that moment of sameness, in the midst of so much inequality, is to ground ourselves in the power of the natural world and find what we share and hold together. We share this beautiful planet and we share the vast sky. We share the seasons and we share our awareness of the seasons.

As I watch the rounded belly of the towhee meet the gurgling fountain, I remember that francolin, a world away, who was so interested in the pool of water that had filled my drum in the fall thunder showers on the heath. The shared experience of these two birds is held, cradled by the earth, by the sky, and by the awareness of the connectedness of all things.