Tag Archives: #equinox

Spring Unfolding

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Today marks the vernal equinox, and looking out at my garden, I’m eager to get outside and be a part of the day by getting my hands dirty.

The air over the past few days has been soft with warmth, spiced with the scents of new grass and turned earth, sweet with birdsong.

Nomadic harvest dress.
Artist: Nicole Dextras

My garden and I will be engaging in our usual dialogue, the one that starts when the snow melts and goes on until the snow starts falling again, usually some time in December.

It’s not a one-sided conversation; the garden talks more than I do, tells me what it wants or doesn’t want, and I try to come up with a witty or timely response. We don’t always speak the same language, and I know that’s my fault.

Cutting down a line of long grasses yesterday, I found the winter nest of some small mammal hidden beneath a particularly imposing clump. There was a thick ball of moss, leaves and grass that had been a home. I had just been telling myself that I should cut back these grasses in autumn for a tidier look; now I’ll be sure to leave them long as an invitation.

Weedrobes
Artist: Nicole Dextras

I’d like to think I have some say in shaping the garden. Often enough, the garden laughs me off and does as it pleases. Mostly, the garden shapes me.

I wouldn’t call us friends, because I impose myself on the hospitality of this small space. I try to listen. I try to be companionable. I don’t always succeed.

I suppose that’s true for my life outside the garden, too. We are a work in progress.

Weedrobes
Artist: Nicole Dextras

The Third Season

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Word taxonomies have shown that there was a time, at least in some cultures of northern Europe, when there was only one season worth mentioning: Winter.

Sure, there was the warmer part of the year that wasn’t winter, known early by its Germanic word “sumer,”, denoting something like “half.”

So there was the warm half of the year, summer, and the other half of the year, winter.

The spaces in between, transitional moments more ephemeral than a long and heavy blanket of snow or days and weeks of heat and sun, went by various names until quite recently.

One of the apple trees in our small garden, a reliable producer of too many tart, delicious apples every year. All photos: PKR

One of the apple trees in our small garden, a reliable producer of too many tart, delicious apples every year.
All photos: PKR

Technically, that is to say, astronomically, the autumnal equinox denotes the point at which the day and night on Earth are approximately the same length.

Once, it was the time when the harvest took place and the lively, outdoor, active days of warmth began to turn inward, cooling off and withdrawing for a dormant season. The season itself was once referred to mainly by words denoting harvest, and this is still the case in German – the word “Herbst” has the same root as “harvest.”

These days, though, not many people are actually involved in gathering a harvest of the agricultural kind – the harvest as a season has been replaced by year-round availability of food.

The terms autumn and fall replaced harvest in English in the 16th century, with fall becoming more popular in North America.

I leave the fallen apples on the ground between infrequent mowings - the birds love them. The brown spots on the lawn are the scars left from a very long and hot summer.

I leave the fallen apples on the ground between infrequent mowings – the birds love them. The brown spots on the lawn are the scars left from a very long and hot summer.

I prefer the sound of the word autumn, with its sense of changing colors and a cool wind that slices through the heat of summer – but fall has the concise utility of being descriptive. The fruit falls, the temperature falls, the leaves fall, the rain starts to fall, and all that growth of summer pulls into itself until winter has passed.

The season holds a different promise from spring, that giddy season of birdsong and budding forth. Fall speaks of reflection, it’s the coppery flip side of spring’s exuberant coin, a time to prepare, a time to take time. It starts softly and ends quietly, almost before it’s even announced its presence.

So today, I offer a gentle salute to the Autumnal Equinox, a marker on the vague road that leads from one half the year to the next.

This year, late summer finally brought rain just as the season was turning - the grass is turning green just as the leaves are starting to fall, a sort of double season.

This year, late summer finally brought rain just as the season was turning – the grass is turning green just as the leaves are starting to fall, a sort of double season.

Stopwatch Pause

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Yesterday I promised myself, while out running, that I would not dally to take pictures. And before that thought had even come to an end in my inner monologue, I came around a corner and saw an oak tree ablaze in the first autumn sunset of the year.

So I switched off my stopwatch, climbed under the electric fence (it’s meant to keep the horses in, not me out, right?) and stood very close to but not within a perilous patch of stinging nettle to catch a bit of equinox fire.photo 1_3

The newly orange and yellow leaves on the oak are not necessarily set apart from the golden hue of the sun’s rays in the last moments before it dipped below the crest of the Jura mountains.

The phone camera, wonder of technology that it is, still isn’t quite made for this kind of light – or perhaps I should say, in my impatient and unskilled hands, it wasn’t easy to catch both detail and light.

I opted for light.

Welcome, Autumn.photo 3

 

The Official Chestnut

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The Official Chestnut

The Official Chestnut

Apparently, it’s the first day of spring, even though the Spring Equinox is still a couple of weeks away.

But here near Lake Geneva, the oracle has spoken – and that oracle is the Official Chestnut of the city, located in the Old Town’s lovely Promenade de la Treille. The apparition of the first leaf on this tree signifies the start of spring in this region, as determined by a Geneva city functionary known as a sautier, a grounds watchman (an official post in Geneva since 1483) . This is the third tree to be dubbed the official season starter, in service since 1929. The previous two trees are gone, but the tradition dates back to 1818. The tree has its own official plaque.

And I must say, it is feeling very springlike out – the sun is shining, there’s a brisk but unwinterly breeze about, and I am definitely hearing the siren song of the garden calling.

The Official Chestnut if full leaf. Source: City of Geneva

The Official Chestnut if full leaf.
Source: City of Geneva

Summer Farewell

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A walk during the last evening of summer on the Autumn Equinox.

The images aren’t as sharp as they could be, much like my memories of this long season.

Mont Blanc across the Lake  Geneva basin. Photo: PK Read

Mont Blanc across the Lake Geneva basin.
Photo: PK Read

Welcome autumn, season of harvest and provision, of warm golden days and crisp evenings.

Jura mountains, facing the Rhône Valley. Photo: PK Read

Jura mountains, facing the Rhône Valley.
Photo: PK Read

A favorite season, the season of new seeds ready to be hardened by winter in the trust that, against all expectations, they will sprout in spring.

Autumn field, just plowed for winter planting. Photo: PK Read

Autumn field, just plowed for winter planting.
Photo: PK Read

Renewable Spring

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Polyethylene strand

Polyethylene strand

In the spirit of eternal renewal, on this first day of spring I thought I’d talk about plastics. Infinitely adaptable, modern plastics are integral to modern life more than almost any other material. Plastics are the very stuff of modernity. Take away the excessive packaging, the unnecessary plastic bags, the plastic drink bottles and even the plastic baby diapers (none of which will ever really leave us, long after we have stopped producing and using them), we would still have a life based on some kind of plastic.

What is one of the best ways to know we are watching a film about old-timey times, or to make light of a backward culture? Everything is made or being done with wood, metal, horn, stone. No plastics.

A 17th-century definition of plastic describes something that is “capable of shaping or molding,” from Latin plastics, and from Greek plastikos “able to be molded, pertaining to molding, fit for molding.” Our human inventiveness has demanded nothing less than materials which can be shaped to our demands. It has only been during the last fifty years that the term ‘plastic’ has come to mean ‘false’ or ‘artificial’ in a perjorative sense.

We used to produce plastics that were based on natural materials we could mold. Horn, and later hard rubber. But, like all natural things, these have the tendency to break, to deteriorate, to lose their form.

So we adapted, and made better plastics. And now here we are, with a vast array of plastics based mainly on polyethylene, a material that is made from one of our other favorite elements of modernity, petroleum. Not only do we have plastics that do whatever we want them to, we also have them forever because even when are finished with them, they are not finished with us. We have mountains of plastic trash on land, vast , island gyres of plastics in the oceans, plastic molecules in our water and in our food.

It is impossible to think away plastics, no matter their immense downstream costs. At an annual production rate of 80 million metric tons (2008), plastics are big business, and they make big business possible wherever they are used.

Still: We can cut down our production and consumption, even if that process tends to come up against our stony stubbornness as humans rather than our plastic adaptability. We can find new materials to mold to our needs, ones that are lasting but also fall into their respective components after a reasonable amount of time has passed.

So, on this vernal equinox of 2013, I salute our ongoing ability to renew, to mold and adapt our expectations, to grow and find our way ahead even after a long, dark winter.

Oceans of GarbageVia: stokereport.com

Oceans of Garbage
Via: stokereport.com

 

More:

Plastics Are Forever website

TED2013: The Young, The Wise, The Undiscovered – Plastic Eating Bacteria

Mother Jones Magazine article – Biodegradable Plastics

Addicted to Plastic (documentary preview)