The leaves are tinged with vibrant colors. A chill is in the air. And today, as of 4:21 a.m. Eastern time, it’s official: Fall has arrived.
At that moment the sun was directly above the Equator, marking the first day of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of spring in the southern.
“On the day of the equinox, the sun rises due east and sets due west all over the world, with everyone worldwide receiving approximately equal portions of day and night,” Earthsky.org reminds us. In the Southern Hemisphere, of course, this means spring. “Everyone along Earth’s equator on the day of the equinox—and for a day or two before and after it—will experience that noonday sun more or less overhead.”
Marking the equinox dates back millennia, to cultures whose people are today termed indigenous, but who back then simply considered themselves people.
“They used the sky as both a clock and a calendar,” Earthsky.org points out. “Our ancestors built the first observatories to track the sun’s progress. One example is at Machu Picchu in Peru, where the Intihuatana stone, shown above, has been shown to be a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods. The word Intihuatana, by the way, literally means for tying the sun.”
Today, we think of fall colors, apple picking, pumpkins and impending winter as Mother Earth’s 23.5-degree tilt toward the sun brings us to the end of summer.
It’s also the day that, at dawn, several young Diné women held offerings of white corn meal the eastern horizon and asked for guidance and strength before embarking on a 300-mile Nihígaal Bee Iiná [Nih-hi-gahl Bay Ee-nah], Our Journey for Existence. The fourth of four walks the group has undertaken, this journey marshals the forces of the ancestors and the planet during a pivotal point in tribal history.