Back to Nature (Published on - Oct. 26, 2006)
Autumnal equinox
Photo by Rick Tremmel
Brightly colored fall leaves float along a gentle mountain stream.
One of the perimeters faced in our Western society is that our concept of time is linear, only viewed through the lenses of the present with the past placed behind us and the future imagined ahead. Our industrialized world accepts this belief.

To view our system of life as cyclical is considered “primitive thinking.” If most people were asked if they’re aware that we just passed the Autumnal Equinox, they would respond with, “No.” Who notices?

We’re a progressive society unhindered by such things as seasons and sunsets. The sun comes up and the sun goes down and our lights automatically click on to fill in the darkness, as our world is artificially illuminated all hours of the day. We live in an unnatural world.

In Florida we’re still more removed from these natural cycles by our year round tropical climate producing a veil of green foliage. Most citizens are aware of the visual changes. Time is measured by the numbers upon our computer’s toolbar and the TV guide schedule.

Yet, it hasn’t been so long that civilizations based time upon a cyclical calendar centered upon celestial events, planets and what may seem to the untrained eye as a random array of stars. But this random array of the stars visible to us today has essentially remained unchanged since the time of the first written records.

One of the earliest complete lists we have today was compiled in about 120 B.C. was written by Hipparchus, the Greek mathematician, philosopher and astronomer. All the stars that he described can be found with the same brilliance in essentially the same place as in our skies today.

The 12 constellations of the Zodiac, that were painstakingly researched by the Greek, Hindu, Persian, Egyptian, Chaldean, Hebrew, and Chinese astronomers, create an imaginary belt in the heavens. These constellations along the ecliptic were given special significance and became known as the “signs of the zodiac.” The Zodiacal circle formed by these constellations is close to being aligned with our celestial equator. When the sun’s plane crosses the equator on the first day of spring, we could ask ourselves which of these same 12 constellations is out behind our brilliant sun.

“Since Biblical times, the months and years of the Jewish calendar have been established by the cycles of the moon and the sun. The traditional law prescribes that the month shall follow closely the course of the moon, from its Molad (birth, conjunction) to the next new moon. Furthermore, the lunar months must correspond to the seasons of the year, which are governed by the sun.” (Spier, pg. 1)

Time keeping and the creation of calendars are among the oldest branches of astronomy. Up until very recently, no earth-bound method of time keeping could match the accuracy of time determinations evolved from observations of the sun and the planets. Since antiquity the beginning of the year has been regarded from the start of spring, called the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox and the autumnal equinox are the two days twice each year when day and night are equal in length as the sun crosses the celestial equator.

An imaginary line through the sky appearing directly above the equator divides the earth into the northern and southern hemispheres. The vernal equinox is one of the two points where the sun crosses the celestial equator. While the earth orbits around the sun, the position of the sun changes in relation to the equator. Since the sun is on the celestial equator at the autumnal equinox, it has a declination there of 0°. Between March, or vernal equinox, and September, or autumnal equinox, the sun appears north of the equator. It appears south of the equator in the time between the September equinox and the March equinox.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the autumnal equinox will occur either on Sept. 22 or Sept. 23, depending on the earth’s position in a given year. This day also marks the beginning of autumn. The word equinox is derived from the Latin word aequinoctium (equal night). This season is also known as fall.

Until I researched this subject I had assumed this referred to the falling of the fall leaves, but on further pondering that phenomenon would not take place everywhere in the world, so what did this expression refer to? It seems that the ancient reference to fall, which is found in most cultures around the world, was pertaining to the sun falling below the equator.

Ancient and modern cultures associate this time with religious and spiritual connections. The season to reap what we’ve sown, good or bad, from our spring planting is also the time for thanksgiving. Since day and night are once again equal, this cycle is considered a time that is in balance, but in this balance may also bring with it a time of disturbance.

This year the autumnal equinox has also been marked with a full moon. Many cultures around the world consider this a powerful time. The abundance of the harvest is present, but so are our senses in preparation for the dark winter and the death or deep sleep of nature and the arrival of a new millennium. It is a cycle of change.

Imagine our world without change. Our planet could not exist without change. Volcanoes and earthquakes create our atmosphere and are the birth places of a new earth. Imagine all our days and nights being the same length of time. As we proceed along our linear path of ideology in pursuit of progress we create visions of a new world upon space stations and villages. It will be necessary to reconsider time and our “perceived” reality as we have understood it: linear.

Unless we’re prepared to accept alternate concepts of time we will be unable to embrace alternative realities. How will we adapt to life as we continue to push further from our “known” natural elements into a world of the “unknown”? Our ridged concepts of time must be altered to accept new worlds, new philosophies; something akin to the rethinking of the world is round as opposed to flat.

We have only been on this planet for a short time, yet we’ve managed to pollute its waters, cut down its trees, drive whole species of wildlife to extinction, soil the air we breathe and poison our bodies. Our Western society has difficulty accepting other levels of reality. For example the ant goes along building his world, living within his world. He is not aware that his ant mound is on Mr. Brown’s front lawn and Mr. Brown’s front lawn is in the city of St. Petersburg, in the county of Pinellas, in the state of Florida, of the United States on the continent of North America, on the planet of Earth as a part of our solar system, universe and beyond.

For the sake of humanity’s future, it might be wise if we all stopped for a moment from our linear duties to watch the cycle of the sunset and the full moon rise. We can try to understand and predict the forces of the universe, but we are only humans. The universe continually reminds us, through the awesome power of nature, that we are not the equalizers. The power of nature will eventually win out over us, our sanctified concepts and preconceived ideas. Humanity is in need of a fresh new outlook. We are but a blip upon the universal measurement of time.

As another season comes upon us it’s a reminder that no matter what we do or build or how many calendars we print or appointments we keep, the earth and all the planets and stars within our universe and beyond will always return … back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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