A Tremble In Time: Autumnal Equinox

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People of many cultural traditions believed that this winter holiday symbolizes an annual battle between the forces of darkness and the powers of light. On this gray December day I woke as usual in the darkness. Let the dogs out, turned on the coffee, hopped back in bed with the chilled dogs, wrote in my journal and read until the coffee perked.


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Quietly, Jerry and I sipped coffee and read. Over my right shoulder, after a couple of hours, I glimpsed a faint line of gray light: the only sunrise available.

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The Norse believed the sun was a great wheel of fire that rolled away from the earth in the winter, then back again in spring. When the sun was far away, they built great bonfires outdoors and burned huge logs-- Yule logs-- on the hearth to lure the sun to return. Snowplows and trucks rumbled past on the highway with early commuters heading from the subdivisions into town to work.

Some drove more slowly than usual, others zipped along, perhaps unaware that the morning was not as clear and dry as the past few weeks have been. Jerry went to his shop; I went to my office. Outside my window, frost shone on the cedars in the windbreak and I wondered if we ought to get a Christmas tree this year. Bringing an evergreen tree inside is another Nordic tradition, as is decorating it with ornaments symbolizing the sun and stars.

If the hospitality was liquid, as I assume it was, the singing probably got more discordant as the night went on.

Opposite Sides & Seasons

We have friends who wassail us every year, but in daylight, sober, bringing tasty treats. Their fruit cake is waiting in my freezer. Midmorning, when I went to the kitchen to start lunch, I saw flashing red lights on the highway a half mile away. Two fire trucks, a highway patrol car, and one or two other big square vehicles clustered in the right lane.

Autumn Equinox Meditation

Minor fender-bender, I thought. I grabbed the binoculars. Several fire fighters were out of the trucks, standing beside the shiny red trucks, marked by bright yellow and neon green in the gloom. Then I spotted the other vehicle, far to the right, and focused my glasses on its black undercarriage and tires: upside down. The front of the car was toward me; the headlights made two round spots of gold, like miniature sunrises in the tall grass. A dark trail broken showed where the vehicle had left the road and rolled down the ditch until it struck the embankment of a turnoff at the pasture gate and rolled.

I know how a rollover feels and I've seen, or been early to arrive at, far too many automobile accidents. On the day I rolled my Bronco some years ago, totally destroying it, I rented a car and continued with my trip. A few hours later, creeping along on the icy roads, I was passed by a big SUV roaring at top speed. It flipped off an overpass just ahead of me and landed upside down, killing its driver. When I passed by a few minutes later, all the emergency responders were standing in a circle near their vehicles, shaking their heads.

Again on this day, while I watched, none of the people by the fire trucks went near the upside-down vehicle. I was afraid the driver was dead. But I did not see the usual tarp-covered shapes in the grass near the vehicle. Perhaps the driver escaped and was among the group standing in the cold; perhaps he or she was explaining to the professionals how the mishap occurred. Speed, probably, and a moment of inattentiveness.

Reluctant to leave the window, I got lunch simmering, then baked coffee date bread with almonds. Fruits and nuts are part of ancient holiday traditions. Northern and Germanic tribes also hung fruit and candles on evergreen trees at this season. And the ancient Norse gave gifts of food and clothing to the poor as part of their celebrations. While the men stood near the fire trucks, dozens of vehicles passed in both directions.

All slowed down, and crept past, being reminded that driving in winter is dangerous. No doubt every driver gave thanks for not being in that overturned vehicle. I was thankful to be in my kitchen, doing mundane chores: baking, washing dishes, wiping the counters. One by one, the vehicles left. The highway patrol officer remained, parked on the highway's shoulder. The fog grew denser as ice built up on the porch railings, the power lines, and the highway. A small hatchback with an insignia I couldn't see at this distance arrived.

The driver talked with the highway patrol officer for a few minutes. I didn't see the new figure approach the overturned car. Then that vehicle, too, was gone. The highway patrol officer remained, lights flashing weakly against the gray sky. Waiting for the ambulance, or the hearse? The black shape, wheels up, seemed to settle deeper in the snow-silvered grass, its headlights growing dim. The officer's lights warned hundreds of other drivers about the dangers of the highway.

Did he, or she, pray for the dead or injured? Or try not to think about them? I felt compelled to wait and watch, to witness. Every few minutes I ran downstairs, writing about the dark turn the day had taken. Then a tow truck appeared, pulled into the pasture through the gap torn in the fence by the overturned vehicle, flipped it over-- it was a pickup-- and loaded it on the trailer. The highway patrol officer came down our driveway.

Someone had told him I own the pasture and part of his job is to notify the owner who will have to fix the fence. I gave him the required contact information for my neighbor. The two women in the pickup? He said they are injured severely but expected to live. The ambulance must have picked them up before I got to the kitchen. Even here, twenty-five miles from town during bad weather, someone was able to get help for them.

Emergency responders risked their own lives, as usual, to help. We should all give thanks for them at all seasons, but especially during this season of darkness.


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  • I hope the injured folks understand their good fortune and feel deep gratitude for the ordinary and familiar rites of living on this gray day, and appreciation for the folks who helped them to survive. They have been given the gift of light, the chance to see spring come again, bringing light and warmth. A part of me felt voyeuristic for writing about their ordeal. But I am a writer, responding in a familiar fashion to what happens around me.

    If you are a writer, start taking notes on what you see and do this Yuletide season. Even if you aren't a writer, taking notes isn't a bad idea. But any way you do it, gather your memories, the beautiful gleams of this season. Record them in your memory.

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    Turn on your own lights. As always I have so much to be grateful for.

    Equinox Local Time & Date

    But it brought out the best in humanity as people both close and far away proved their neighborliness with sympathy and aid to the ranchers who lost the most. The faith of many folks in human nature has been immeasurably increased. Join me at www. And yet, as is always the case, this ending is a also beginning.

    Tremble With Joy! What is an Equinox??

    As the gates of death and winter open, so too do the gates open to renewed life. People of many nations traditionally celebrate at this time, knowing that snow and cold will follow, and knowing too that the snow brought by plains blizzards an onomatopoeic word that probably originated on the prairie will melt eventually into the green of spring.

    The month preceding Samhain is usually fairly benign in the Great Plains, with just enough snow to remind us that we need to be prepared for winter. The shorter days seem beautifully long as we pick the last tomatoes and set them on the windowsill to ripen. The sun feels good on our shoulders as we pull the tomato vines and till them into the raised beds; we pile the pumpkins in the pickup.


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    In late September, Jerry was working on a project that produced great bags of sawdust so I spent several afternoons dumping the sharply-scented fir shavings around the new berry bushes that grew so well in this wet summer. A kestrel flew low over our heads when we were walking the dogs by the retreat house and we laughed, thinking it was eyeing the chubby Westies that outweighed it by twenty pounds. A moment later my hat was blown off by the flailing wings of a low-flying grouse as it dived into a cedar tree nearby and we saw the little hawk veer off with a shriek of frustration.

    Busy in my office, working on writing conversations by e-mail, preparing for fall retreats, I wondered several times where my Samhain home page message would take me this year. Though my writing is usually optimistic, Samhain demands that we face its contradictions; in the last bright warmth of autumn, we must acknowledge darkness. The beginning of winter is a time to reflect, to put all things in order for both contemplation and for physical life and comfort during the long cold.

    senjouin-kikishiro.com/images/wofyqaf/3747.php Mentally, I tick off the autumn jobs to be done. The Halloween or Samhain festival, though, was traditionally also a time of light-heartedness, when people played tricks, sang, enjoyed themselves before the cold sobriety and serious business of winter. During the first week of October, weather forecasters predicted the usual mild October snowstorm: temperatures in the thirties with three or four inches of snow and little wind. Such storms usually leave a pretty frosting on the hills and melt within a few hours; they remind us to look at the colorful leaves before they fall and to check our winter supplies.

    Predictions of a storm this early in the season was worrisome, but the weather forecast was reassuring. Best not to disturb the cattle unnecessarily by moving them this close to weaning and sale time. On Thursday October 3, the high temperature was 41 degrees.

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